What’s It Like To Be a Student at NYU Florence?

I was one of them, one of the ‘study abroad kids’ with fancy instagram posts that had captions in foreign languages. My freshman year in Italy was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me. I learned some Italian, albeit choppy and painfully accented Italian, I became familiar with the hoax that is the Italian public transport system, and started using the typical hand gestures as if I had suddenly become a local.

My first day as a nervous freshman was met with the picturesque NYU Florence campus on Via Bolognese. I walked around the campus in absolute and complete awe, the array of villas were surrounded by an olive grove with wisteria blooms and Tuscan cypresses that took my breath away. I was given the key to my room in the main villa (Villa Natalia), lugged my bags into the tiny elevator, and unlocked what would be my home for the next year. The thing I still miss most about Florence is the view from that room. I looked out over the courtyard of Villa Natalia, beyond that the valley between buildings with knee high grass and an amphitheater. In afternoons of essay stress and verb conjugation confusion I’d distract myself with the view, the occasional bird that would perch in the trees, the rolling Tuscan hills and the church bells that chimed me back to work. The most notable building on campus was Villa La Pietra, a former residence of the Acton family and now a museum of their art collection. Inside there were sculptures from Asia, paintings from France, Italy, England, novels with peeling titles and gowns stitched with velvet. We visited the museum a few times for class, each time exploring a different part of the building. On the upper floors we often listened to discussions and lectures about women in politics, feminism and racism in Italy among other topics. My classes as a Liberal Studies freshman included Italian, Social Foundations, Cultural Foundations and Writing. For Italian, we met the teacher for gelato on the first day of class! She pointed enthusiastically at the flavors pronouncing words I’d never thought I’d hear. Our classes were lively and embarrassing, because who can really get the pronunciation of ‘ghiaccio,’ right? We sang Italian classics like ‘Con Te Partiro’ and ‘Felicita,’ laughing at each other because of how bliss it felt to have the view of Florence behind us, wisteria flowers threading along the balcony right outside and romantic songs belted by our tiny Italian teacher. For my Cultural Foundations class we went to an opera downtown, visited a perfumery of Santa Maria Novella, indulging in the smells of flowers and herbs and strolled through the Academia checking out the David’s butt (if you know, you know). Florence has too many gems to be ignored, too many museums with beautiful paintings and massive sculptures of Greek heroes and deities. There’s never a moment of doubt as to where the beauty is. It never hides in Florence. Every uneven stoned street, every pastel building and every garlic wafting trattoria exudes it.

Our weekends were always three days, prime time to explore Florence or to take the train to another city nearby. In my year in Italy, I took the train to: Rome, Venice, Sienna, Genoa, Naples, Sorrento, Verona, Vicenza, Bologna, Merano, Pitigliano, Viareggio and Milan. There’s so much beauty to find in Italy, the little forgotten villages like Pitigliano, or the tourist trodden Venice - each place has character to it. I remember cities in Italy like I remember people, with their own accents, lines on their face, and song to their speech.

We were about 80 kids in the freshman first year abroad class in Florence, and by the end of that year we all knew each other. We knew who came in at three in the morning with a Mister Pizza box in their hands, we knew who spoke the best Italian for when we needed to weasel our way out of a bus fine, we knew we were all infatuated with Florence and bound by that. Being such a small group gave us the chance to find our friend groups and grounded ourselves in home away from home. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to make friends in New York with 5,000 other freshmen.  

My year in Florence was arguably the best yet. I’m incredibly tempted to hop on a plane and go back to my old room in Villa Natalia, practice my Italian in the 9am classes, and take the train to find more Italian cities to explore. I miss the Duomo, the tourists, the Ponte Vecchio’s gold, and, most importantly, the gelato.

Firenze, amore mio, ci vediamo presto. Image Credits: Taken by Author.