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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Illinois State chapter.

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy! I had never been to Europe before, and it had always been a dream of mine to travel abroad. Italy has always interested me with its tasty cuisine, intimate culture, and its authenticity. Experiencing life in the birthplace of the Renaissance and walking the same streets as Da Vinci and Michelangelo felt surreal. As I look back on my summer, I will always think of the weekend trips I took around Italy, those in Florence whom I had gotten to know, and the beautiful sights I witnessed with my own two eyes.

Before embarking on this new adventure, I was nervous and felt unprepared for what was to come. I didn’t know much Italian, didn’t study up on ALL of the cultural norms and didn’t *really* consider the emotional implications that the trip would have on me. Most of what I was feeling before my trip was a result of the disbelief that I was actually spending my summer in a different country. I knew that this was something I had always wanted and it was finally here—now I just had to get on the plane.

After an 8 1/2 hour flight, I was eager as ever to start my journey in Florence. As I rode in the taxi to check in with my host institution, I gazed out the window toward the unleashed dogs walking alongside their owner, the many small cars and Vespas passing by, and the narrow streets where people would walk freely. After checking in, I find my way to my apartment with a suitcase in each hand, fighting each bump as I walk through the cobblestone streets. I enter my apartment and meet my roommates, who are soon to become some of my closest friends.

During the following week, I experienced awkward encounters while ordering coffee, buying groceries and doing other things that I would normally do at home. English is widely spoken in Italy and across Europe, but I didn’t want to be perceived as an ignorant American, so I would order in basic Italian. Buongiorno! Un cappuccino, per favore! Grazie! Ciao! On my street, there were many great places to eat, enjoy a cappuccino or shop for small gifts. I became a regular at a cafe called Simbiosi where I would often speak with the baristas and enjoy breakfast pastries with my friends. I would often go to the Mercato Centrale for lunch and look around the first floor at the “deli-style” vendors to buy fresh fruit or meats. My roommates and I would often have dinner at Manzo, which was owned and run by an incredibly sweet couple who handled the prep, cooking and service all by themselves. Many places in Florence and around Italy are like this: small businesses selling products they curate themselves. This was much different than the States where the majority of places are large department stores and are corporately owned. The small shops along the streets are what made Florence feel so homey to me, there is such as sense of community here.

I would often visit the coworking cafe’s around Florence when I needed to study for classes. It’s not as common for a student to do their work in a regular cafe, so coworking cafes are there specifically for students to study and drink a cappuccino if they please. Some of my favorite places were Sit N’ Breakfast Cafe and Todo Modo, where I would often find myself studying or journaling about my trip. Many of my days were spent going to a cafe, attending class, long walks around Florence and having dinner with friends. I found my classes to be intriguing and the professors were very nice and accommodating. I took a course on the Pursuit of Happiness which incorporated the teachings of Plato, Socrates and other well-known philosophers in our own path toward happiness in life. This was especially enlightening as I was in Italy pursuing my dream of traveling abroad.

Each weekend I would go on a trip, either with my friends or by myself, to one of the near cities in Italy (or beyond). The first weekend my friend and I visited Milan where we visited the Duomo di Milano, walked through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, explored the beautiful Navigli riverwalk and tried a famous raunchy pastry. Citizens of Milan were gorgeously dressed, which was to be expected in the fashion capital of the world.

The second weekend I visited Cinque Terre (famously known as the inspiration for the movie “Luca”) and Pisa for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course. This was especially amazing because we took a ferry ride to Manarola and swam in the Mediterranean for the first time. We explored a couple of the villages, drank prosecco and had the most amazing view of Riomaggiore. My friends and I went on a boat ride around Porto Venere and watched as small goats climbed up one of the islands, truly an amazing sight to see.

On the third weekend, I went to Firenze Rocks, a popular rock festival held in Florence, with one of my childhood friends who also happened to be studying abroad in Florence for the summer! This was amazing to experience a concert festival in a different country with one of my closest friends. We watched Greta Van Fleet and Metallica perform, as well as Jerry Cantrell (my friend’s favorite guitarist). I also visited the city of Arezzo, just an hour from Florence by train, and adored its panoramic view of eastern Tuscany.

Around halfway through our summer, we were delighted to have a one-week break before the second half of the summer semester began. I planned a solo trip out of the country: three days in Paris and three days in Barcelona. I’ve always wanted to do part of my trip completely by myself, and this gave me the best opportunity to do so. I stayed in a hostel and used public transport to get to all of the places I wanted to go. I visited many museums, including the Louvre, Museé d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Picasso Museum, etc. I especially liked visiting local churches and taking in biblical artwork and architecture.

I visited famous spots like Basílica de la Sangrada Familia, the Arc de Triomphe, Park Güell, Shakespeare & Company and many others. I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, being in complete awe that I was standing in front of one of the most famous landmarks in the world. This part of my summer was so special to me since I traveled to these famous cities by myself.

When I returned to Florence, I took a course on the origin of meditative teachings and the yogic perspective. This class taught me the ability to control one’s own mind and allow thoughts to stay or go if needed. The instructor was from America but moved to Florence, away from the city center. She told us about her experience moving to Florence as an American and how she curated her own life here. Hearing her story showed me how possible it is to move to a different country. Not easy…but possible.

The next weekend my friend and I traveled to Genoa and Nice, which was a long but rewarding journey. We visited the aquarium and Doge’s Palace in Genoa and took a bus ride to Nice, France. Nice was one of my favorite places I traveled to during my Europe trip. I witnessed the most breathtaking pink sunset over the Mediterranean sea and enjoyed an amazing seafood risotto. We visited the Museé Marc Chagall and then hiked up to see a beautiful view of Nice. The following weekend I traveled to Rome and Vatican City where I spent the most time (four days). I visited the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked through the Villa Borghese and went to the National Modern and Contemporary Art museum on our last day.

For the last and final weekend trip, I decided to spend alone in the one city on my list I had not visited yet: Venice. My Airbnb host was a pure Venetian who was knowledgeable about the history of Venice and gave me great recommendations for where to go, like this widespread art exhibition I visited during my time there. I also went to the Ca’ Rezzonico, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the famed Peggy Guggenheim museum. Venice is known for its glass-making so I made sure to buy some glass figurines as gifts for loved ones. The entire city is built on water and there are no cars on the island of Venice, only water taxis were available. I walked everywhere, crossing bridges and watching gondolas rock back and forth on the water.

Throughout my time in Florence, I visited so many restaurants, cafes, bookstores, museums and nightlife, and still always made time to go to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is where you will find the most beautiful view of Florence. I felt safer in Florence than I felt here in America. The nights were always lively as there were always people around since Italians eat dinner around 8:30 or later.

Italians especially appreciate aperitivo, which are drinks before dinner, and the nightlife. My favorite bar to go to with friends was called Naima where they had the best drinks in Florence. In Italy, I would often wear a nice top and long skirt or a blouse and dress pants since it is encouraged to dress nice, unlike American athletic wear.

Florence will have a spot in my heart forever, this is a summer I will never forget. I met some of my closest friends, visited so many beautiful places, and got a taste of the culture that you can’t truly experience if you’re there for a short amount of time. I strongly recommend to any college student to study abroad, if you are able to. My time in Europe is something that I will cherish forever. Thank you for reading the recollection of the best summer of my life!

Kailyn Coleman

Illinois State '23

Hey guys! I am a Senior at Illinois State studying to become a Speech Language Pathologist! I love to meet new people, travel, and visit local small businesses :)