Reflection on My Spring Semester in Florence

Anna Ascherio-Victoria, University of Maryland | ISI Florence Spring 2024

Let me start by telling you – your time here will fly by! It seems like I first stepped into my new apartment last week, beginning to process the fact that this was real and would be my life for the next three months. Today, as I walk through Florence, I feel a strong sense of familiarity and comfort. Moving abroad has felt like I’m living a double life, where one of those lives is on pause but is soon to resume. I look back on my time here with appreciation and gratitude for the countless memories I made, the people I connected with, and the way this experience has changed me. Navigating an unfamiliar environment and culture on my own required me to face my fears and strengthened my confidence; in fact, I feel an increased sense of independence and ability to problem-solve and deal with unexpected situations. Planning travels to other countries within Europe felt daunting and overwhelming at first, but three months later I feel like I could almost be a travel agent! I now feel comfortable figuring out public transportation wherever I go and using it as my default way to get around. This holds great importance because not only is using public transportation more cost-effective, but it also reduces my carbon footprint! Another thing I learned is the importance of anticipating challenges and planning accordingly. Especially when it comes to weekend trips, this is essential, as you quickly learn that you need to give yourself extra time to get to the airport, thoroughly research the area, and map out your travel route beforehand. Most importantly, I think, I learned the value of being present: realizing how quickly my time here has gone by has shown me the importance of taking advantage of everything there is to offer in Florence, while I still can. Every city has its uniqueness, from its architecture to its food, to its people ˗ by being fortunate enough to get to experience such a vast range of beauty and cultures, I have absorbed so much knowledge and appreciation for the diversity of our world. It also has shown how interconnected our world is: I have always loved traveling, but this experience has deepened my love for exploring new places and studying abroad will forever impact my future in that I know I want to continue traveling for the rest of my life. Moreover, studying abroad has given me a home away from home, and I feel so lucky that I now am so familiar with such a culturally rich and charming city of Europe that I can go back to.

I also learned how important it is to be respectful, curious, and considerate as a visitor to a new country. My advice to a student who is coming to Florence would be to talk to locals as much as possible, listen to their stories, and have fun while always remembering that you are a guest in someone’s home. While there are things I wish I had known before coming abroad, I also appreciate the way not knowing things and figuring them out made me grow and learn in the process. One more practical thing I wish I knew before coming abroad was to book travel further in advance to save money, and to try to avoid booking flights out of nearby cities rather than directly from Florence. While at first glance it seems like a train to Milan is quick and easy, the prices can get really high and this commute can take much longer than expected. I found myself arriving at my destination and returning home exhausted from unnecessarily long travel days for the sake of saving money. However, if you look into flights in advance, you are more likely to find more affordable travel options out of Florence, or cheaper and faster train tickets. Another thing I wish I did more was to take advantage of day trips! There are so many amazing cities that are only a quick train ride away from Florence that I wish I had given myself more time for Venice, Siena, Lucca, Viareggio, and Rome, to name a few. I also wish I had gone to the Carnevale di Viareggio which takes place during almost the whole month of February and is one of the biggest and most popular carnivals in all of Europe. I regret not going! Overall, my most valuable piece of advice, as corny as it may sound, is to seize the opportunity of being abroad to its fullest. And by that, I mean just be observant, present, and try new things!