I was the first person from my college to attend an SAI program. I did not have much background on the program going in, but all SAI staff members were very helpful and made me feel very safe and informed throughout the whole process. I chose SAI: Florence for the location (a dream city), course options (I was looking for fun cultural classes, like Italian cooking!), and the fact that FUA's academic calendar still allowed my to make it home in time to walk at my graduation.
During my time in Florence, I discovered many reasons why I would (and do) recommend this program to everyone. 1) The SAI Staff has thought of everything. Part of moving to a different country is the inherent fear of the unknown, but rest assured that the SAI staff is experienced, qualified, and have already addressed the concerns you don't even know you have yet. 2) The friends I made, especially my 3 roommates, are my friends for life. Together we shared our most life-changing experiences to date. I don't know how SAI chooses housing assignments, but they sure did a great job. 3) Our apartment was better than I could have dreamed. The 4 of us girls lived on the other side of the Arno river (arguably further from the city center than most students), but I absolutely loved the residential feel of the neighborhood. We got to experience both the big-city and small-town feels Florence has to offer. Also, being further away from the Duomo meant our apartment was huge! It was un-Americanized, for which I am very thankful; the true Italian nuances to our old apartment added to the entire experience. 4) Everything is within walking distance. One of the greatest disappointments I had when coming back home was realizing I had to drive to the grocery store. I miss the little Il Centro market around the corner. 5) The extra trips and activities offered by the program allowed me to make the most of my time there. I also utilized Florence4Fun and Eruo Adventures for weekend trips and spring break. There may never be another time in your life to travel as freely as you can while studying abroad, so take advantage of every opportunity to make lasting memories.
A few difficulties I encountered: 1) For the first month I was unintentionally using fabric softener instead of laundry detergent and coffee creme instead of regular milk for my cereal. Thank goodness for Google Translate, but learning experiences like these make for great stories. 2) You can spot an American from a mile away. While I wouldn't normally advise this, try your best to blend in. 3) Like many students, I got sick a lot while abroad. But SAI connected me with a great English-speaking doctor in the city who prescribed me the same medication I could get at home. 4) If you live in Italy for more than 2 months, you will gain weight and that's okay. Please don't be like some girls in my program and try to diet while in the food capital of the world. This is your free pass - eat all the pasta and gelato you possibly can.
Choosing to study in Florence through SAI was the best decision I could have made. I absolutely recommend this program to everyone - there is no way you could regret it.