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Pizza, Piazzas & Palazzos: A Reflection of Florence, Italy, as a Former Study Abroad Student

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

As a former resident of Florence, I learned to embrace new adventures while navigating an unfamiliar territory with dialectal barriers. I wanted to dedicate gratitude to my study abroad journey by reflecting on the decisions and paths that landed me in the heart of Tuscany! If anyone is thinking about studying abroad, I hope that my journey and experiences help to develop a formal decision.

As I entered the fall semester of my junior year, I was pondering the idea of studying abroad. I was hesitant based on the fear of being away from my family and friends for an entire semester. I knew I wanted to study abroad in Florence because I’ve dreamt of traveling to Europe, especially Italy. But I knew there had to be other options besides an entire semester abroad. I attended a study abroad fair at my university and I got to talk with recruiters from various international programs. I also conducted my own research where I found a January 2024 winter session in Florence through Academic Programs International (API). This was an 18-day program in which I would take one class, earning me 3 credits towards my communication degree. I was entertained by this option, as it seemed to fit my desires and duration of stay. I also visited UMass’s International Programs Office to talk with former abroad students and inform myself of eligibility and financial requirements. The applications were due Nov. 1, 2023, and I was taking these steps in early October.

I also knew that I was more inclined to participate in the program with a friend, so I spoke to my roommate about it. She also felt the same way I did, and we spoke to our parents and we agreed that the winter session was a perfect fit for us. By early December, we had researched and booked our flights together! The duration of the program was from Jan. 2, 2024 to Jan. 20, 2024. And I had two weeks left to be at home before the spring semester began.

I had signed up to take a fashion consumer behavior course in Florence, which was an amazing experience. Although it was a 9:00 a.m. class, I felt motivated waking up in Italy and making each day count. I got to tour the Gucci Garden Museum for my fashion class and the pieces were amazing to view! The articles of clothing were vintage, and there was a floor-to-ceiling display of Gucci purses from different decades.

In terms of social life, I made new friends based on my housing assignment and people who were in my class. I lived in The Social Hub which was an amazing spot for student living, with a café located inside. There was a rooftop bar where I could see the Duomo from a distance. I also had a planned excursion from API that took us to San Gimignano and Siena, where I got to visit a winery and partake in a wine tasting class!

During the second weekend, my friends and I planned a day trip to Venice, where we signed up to ride on a gondola and tour the city. Venice was such a beautiful sight to see, and the food in Italy was amazing! Some of my favorite restaurants of Florence included: Osteria Pastella, Trattoria Zà Zà, Pino’s Sandwich Shop, Gusto Leo, Livio Pizzeria, All’ Antico Sandwich Shop , il Nutino, and The Rooster Cafe. I also got to try a wine window, where you press a bell and you order a glass of wine from a small window! It’s almost like a drive-thru window for fast food, except in Italy, it is wine!

The night life in Italy was so memorable and exciting, too. Lion’s Fountain, an Irish pub, is home to the study abroad bar where I met so many Americans also studying abroad. In fact, I ran into two people from my high school which was so insane! We also went to a club called Space and a karaoke bar called Red Garter; both super fun places to go for a night out on the town! I also got to visit the real “David” of Michelangelo which was an amazing view! The statue is so much larger than one would expect based on online photos!

Woman in Italy
Original photo by Sofia Tempestoso

I am beyond grateful to have all of these wonderful experiences from my study abroad journey, and I hope that this article elicits a spark to study abroad! Many people will travel throughout their life, but studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you shouldn’t miss out on!

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Heather Sarney

U Mass Amherst '25

I am a Junior Communication and Journalism double major on the public relations track here at UMass Amherst. I love to play tennis, watch shows and movies, and journal too!