OK. It’s time.
It’s time for the final installment of Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence and Italy. Seeing as a whole bunch of students have just arrived and are making their way through the streets of Florence and getting the hang of their new Italian life (covered extensively in Part I and Part II of this blog series), I would say it’s time to give them the next, and final installment, of Top Ten Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence or Italy. Wouldn’t you agree?
Besides, I was starting to feel bad that there were only really 7 amazing tips floating out there… Well, as promised, here are the final three tips in our study abroad tips series – a literal A to Z on studying abroad (and traveling and living) in Florence and Italy. From what to pack to arriving in style and from calling home to getting to a local doctor, we cover all the fundamental life needs in three easy-to-read blog posts.
As always, for those of you who are new to our Top Ten Tips blogs (welcome!), see below for a handy guide to the massive quantity of information into which you are about to dive. Use it to help manage the material. Want to know everything there is to know about international calling? Want to get to the heart of the grocery store issue? Jump to that section now by clicking on the links below! Or, should you so desire, start with Part I and make your way through everything, in order. We love to hear from you, so if we left anything out, just let us know in the comments at the bottom!
Part I: Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Pre-departure & Arrival
3. Arrival Info
Part II:Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Getting Settled & Learning The Ropes
4. Phone & Internet
5. Getting Around
7. Daily Life
Part III: Tips for Studying Abroad in Florence
Advanced Travelers & Beyond
8. Italian Apartments
9. Study Spots
10. Tips for Meeting Real Italians
Tips Part III is geared towards those of you who have basically mastered your day to day and are ready to make this new city (and country) more of a home. You’ll need to be prepared in case of emergencies at home (heat, water, gas, oh my!), you’ll need some local haunts where people can start to get to know your name (and you can actually do your work), and of course, it’s time to make Italian friends. So let’s jump in!
Part III: Advanced Travelers & Beyond
8. Italian Apartments (Some of the most dramatic cultural differences can be found in the various ways a typical Italian home runs. Don’t be scared. Be prepared.)
9. Study Spots (It’s called “study abroad” not “party abroad,” so let’s find some places to get that homework done, shall we?)
10. Tips for Meeting Real Italians (You won’t learn nearly as much about Italy from your American friends, so start chatting up some locals.)
8. ITALIAN APARTMENTS
Home Sweet Home:
While some of you may live in school dorms while studying abroad in Italy, the vast majority of you will either stay in apartments or with families in their apartments. While your families will be able to explain some of the “uniquely” Italian features of your new Italian home, those without a guide will have to learn as you go. Even those with families may not have the Italian language skills necessary at first to understand the ins and outs of say, your classic Italian washing machine, for example, and in the hopes that you start off on the best foot possible, here are some key things to keep in mind while living in an Italian home.
Electricity in Italy is a costly resource.
Italians are very careful about turning lights off and not using any electronics that sap the power (hair dryers, powerful fans, and dryers). If you are with a family, watch them and follow suit. If you are paying your own electricity bill, beware! It really can get up there. Try being as monk-like as possible and see how you do.
On the left, your typical fuse box. On the right, a close up of the switch that should be pushed (back) up if your electricity goes out.Now, the electricity is also very sensitive. If you ask too much of it (with those dryers and electronics) you will blow the fuse. Luckily, in Italian homes this happens fairly often and is easy to fix. All you need to do is find the fuse box (ask your landlady or Italian host family where it is on your first day) and flip the black bar (which will have flipped down due to the electricity being blown) and flip it back up. This little box is either in your home or on the first floor near the entrance to your apartment building. Find this box. This box is your friend. Make sure you know who to call if, on the rare occasion, switching that little black bar doesn’t do the trick. This was a hard lesson to learn when it happened to me on a freezing Sunday in January.
Laundry is probably one of the shifts in cultural expectations that I hear the most about. Here are some basic facts:
• Italians almost always have a washer but almost never have a dryer.
• Washers are almost always very small and run on very long cycles so as to use as little electricity as possible.
• Make sure you know the proper cycle to use for each laundry type (you would be amazed how many settings there are on one washer).
• Using a dryer is very expensive due to the high cost of electricity. It is also, just FYI, very hard on the clothes. Italians are used to washing and hang drying their clothes. They sell lots of products that help make the clothes extra soft and they are very good at timing it just right so the clothes don’t feel cardboard-like. This is an art that is hard to learn for those of us that are used to dryers.
• If you are very attached to drying, you will have to take your clothes to a local laundry facility and pay a pretty penny – again, electricity is expensive! If you would like to give the hand drying a go, just keep in mind that the longer they hang, the more cardboard-like they get and fabric softener can really help!
• If it’s warm enough to hang clothing outside, go for it, but be sure you secure items carefully. Try layering multiple pieces of clothes on top of each other so that clothespins are holding larger quantities and holding them tighter otherwise your neighbors may become the unknown beneficiaries of your wind-swept items.
Keep in mind: It is generally considered rude to run your washer later than 10pm!
Your typical Italian Terrazza is mostly used for laundry and storing cleaning products. Terrazza
The terrace of an Italian home is usually an extended “laundry room.” It is not used as frequently for leisure and outdoor enjoyment (that’s what the piazza is for). Obviously, in the center of the city where there are many more tourist apartments this fact may not be immediately apparent and in the end, do what you want. However, keep in mind that in Florence, and many other Italian cities that are still built around the principle of 15th century super-tight quarters, hanging out on your terrace until the wee hours is keeping nearly all your neighbors up and will not be appreciated if it continues, so be respectful!
Sound & Privacy
Along the same lines as mentioned above, sound travels much more easily in Florence and its tight stone buildings and narrow streets. If you go outside to make a phone call on the street or in your apartment complex’s stairwell, chances are everyone can hear what you’re saying. Even sitting in your windowsill to make your skype calls means you are broadcasting to the whole street. Walls and window panes are thinner here, and streets make sound travels further, so just be aware, we can all hear you! Try and keep your sounds inside your home as much as you can and others will thank you.
This same rule applies to what happens behind “closed doors” and, more specifically, windows. Italians tend to leave shutters and/or shades closed on their windows most of the time. Since most people live in such close quarters this just helps prevent any unfortunate “incidents.” I find this rather hard as I am particular attached to natural light. I just try and be careful and respectful of when I leave certain windows open. I learned very quickly that, for example, around dinner time, when one of my neighbors enjoys hanging his laundry for lengthy periods, is a good time to close up shop.
Like electricity, water is a luxury, and in particular, hot water. It takes gas to heat and so it costs money. A twenty minute shower is really not the best idea if you’re trying to make a good impression on your new Italian family or if you’re paying the bills yourself. Italians either shower in cold water (yes, they really do) or they very carefully turn the water on and off to minimize usage. This is also true when washing dishes. Watch your Italian family do it. Sinks in Italy usually have two basins. One basin is filled with soapy water where all the plates are soaked and cleaned and then placed in empty sink basin. Then, in a rapid and efficient manner, the soapy water is rinsed off and the dishes are placed on the drying rack. The water is never left running haphazardly. It’s jut money, literally, down the drain.
Now in each apartment there will be a boiler that will heat your water. Some are in the house, some will be outside on the terrace. These contraptions are amazing small. What does that mean? It means if one person showers for more than 15 minutes there will be no water left for anything else (this varies from place to place but chances are no Italian apartment will have endless hot water). So if you have roomies, make sure you come up with a shower schedule that leaves everyone with some hot water. For those of you on your own, make sure you ask your landlord what to do if the water pressure drops (a very common problem and easy to fix if you know how) or if something more serious happens (such as a water leak).
Another important detail about water in Italy is that it is very “hard,” meaning it has a very high mineral content. The most obvious effects of this will be that your skin will be a little dryer, and your sinks will need more consistent cleaning due to the particularly high calcium level. At your grocery store you will find lots of “anti-calcium” (anticalcare) cleaning products. These will help keep your sink and shower looking and working nicely. It is also recommended to use special anticalcare tablets for your washer that will help the calcium not damage your clothes and keep the washer working for longer.
What? You thought it would be some gross picture of trash?Trash
The trash in Italy is separated just like in the States (at least in most places in the States). Check near your house to see which kinds of trash bins you have. In general you will always find a bin for plastic/glass/other recyclables, cardboard, and regular trash. As you start to leave the center of town you may also have bins for organic matter that are generally only on found on the outskirts of Florence. Your families will almost certainly separate their trash accordingly and if you’re on your own it is technically the law (albeit not really regulated).
If you will be in Italy during the winter months, then listen up. Like water and electricity, heat is a costly commodity. We are used to spending our cold months in toasty homes, but in Italy the idea of average temperature may be slightly different than back home. Generally, you should be wearing slippers and a scarf in your apartment. If you don’t need to, it is way too hot and your bill will express that. I kid, but only slightly. My first heating bill in Italy brought tears to my eyes. If you’re on a budget, play it safe and just wear blankets around the house. I also try just heating one room and closing the door and spending all my time in there. Whatever works.
9. STUDY SPOTS
Time To Get To Work:
Not everyone is a library person, not everyone can work at home, and not everyone is equipped to work in a coffee shop. Even though you’re abroad that doesn’t mean you need to ditch those tried and tested study techniques. All you really need to know is their Italian equivalent and, luckily, there is a bit of everything available. In fact, some of these meccas of learning are also just great places to meet up with fellow students and see a bit of the city (outside your home and campus).
1. Library Lovers:
Address: Piazza dei Cavalleggeri, 1, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:15am – 7pm, Saturday 8:15am – 1:30pm
This is a gorgeous and historic library just off the Arno and near Piazza Santa Croce. Though they have rooms with more precious books and collections that require special letters to access, the main reading room is open to everyone. All you need is an ID to get your library card and you are free to come and use the facilities, even take out certain books (though most are in Italian and fyi, you’ll need a document to borrow books). The main reading room is on the first floor and though it can get a little cold during the winter, it is well lit and has good desks. The only learning curve involves the locker system (they require that everything besides books, computers, and writing utensils be left in a locker).
Address: Via Cavour 43-47 – 50129 Firenze
Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:30am – 6pm
One of the more hidden and more beautiful of the public libraries, come visit even just for a day to enjoy the main reading room which is very historic. You will feel smarter just by walking in. Once again, get your library card by just showing an ID (you’ll need a document to borrow books). The hours are slightly more restrictive, but its just north of the Duomo so it’s easy to get to and, more importantly, quiet and beautiful.
Biblioteca Palagio di Parte Guelfa
Address: Piazzetta di Parte Guelfa
Hours: Monday – Friday 9am – 10pm
Saturday: 9am – 1pm
This library has slightly better hours for you night owls out there. It’s tucked away in a little piazzetta (small piazza) right near Piazza Repubblica (and next to a popular pub called the Old Stove, should you need a break or want to transition immediately into that evening’s activities).
Students enjoy the Oblate courtyard and one of the best views in town. 2. Room with a view
Biblioteca delle Oblate
Address: Via dell’Oriuolo, 26, 50122 Florence, Italy
Hours: Monday 2pm – 7pm; Tuesday – Saturday 9am – 12am
This study spot gets a section of its own as it is one of my favorites and one of the best kept secrets in Florence. Technically it’s a library, but the real winning feature of this complex (just east of the Duomo) is the courtyard area. Outdoor desks fill the top floor of an open loggia so that while you study you can enjoy some of the best views in Florence. Come here to cram, but also take advantage of their little bar with great primi for lunch, salads, drinks, and coffee. No need to sign up anywhere. Just walk up the spiral metal staircase (just to the left as you walk into the compound) and grab a table and chairs. One warning, plugs are very limited so either arrive early or use it to study Italian flash cards or tackle reading.
3. Coffee Bars and Relaxed Study Environments
Address: Borgo Santa Croce, 9
This is a very tucked away little bar near Santa Croce that has lots of seating, fair prices, good food, and friendly staff, which makes it one of my favorite places to study in the center. Make friends and make it your home away from home.
Address: Piazza delle Murate, 50122 Florence, Italy
We’ve mentioned this great little spot before. Near Piazza Beccaria and San Ambrogio with great outdoor seating, this is a springtime and summertime sanctuary. But the vast seating inside makes it perfect for winter afternoons as well. In fact, the interior is so vast that you can easily find a quiet corner if you need one. Enjoy coffee, brunch and lunch food as well while you hit the books.
La Citè Libreria
Address: Borgo San Frediano, 20r 50124 Firenze
Hours: Monday – Thursday 7:30am – 1am; Friday 7:30am – 2am; Saturday 10am – 2am; Sunday 3pm – 1am
If you’re living over on the Oltrarno, not to worry, there are some great places for you too. One in particular is La Citè Libreria, reminiscent of your classic Brooklyn café-bookstore. Comfy chairs and big windows make it an ideal place to study while enjoying the food, drinks, and perhaps even a quick transition into their nightlife once studying is done.
10. MEETING REAL ITALIANS
Ciao, Come Stai?:
1. Turn away from the tourists…
Rule number one, if you want to meet Italians you gotta go where they go. I know, I know. This is obvious but easier said than done! You’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone. If you walk into a bar and all you hear is English, turn around and find somewhere else to spend your evening. Even if you do it once a week at first, it will get easier and then those local spots will become your favorites. Also, you are just so much more likely to learn some real Italian, and for many of you, that is the goal.
2. Take your hobbies with you…
If there are things you do at home, do them in Italy! There are many hobbies you can still do over here and some of them provide a wonderful way to meet Italians interested in the same things. Some possible outlets include sports like tennis, swimming, and (obviously) soccer; art classes (outside your school) like photography or painting; volunteering with kids, helping the elderly, or working with a religious community in town. Really anything you can think of is available here as well and while sometimes you do it because it is required or you feel obligated, rest assured this is also a great excuse to get out there and meet people.
3. A conversation partner.
Maybe you’ve heard this one before too, but listen, this really is a great way to 1. Speak Italian and 2. Make Italian friends! I have made really great friends spending many really fun afternoons having coffee and talking. Not only in Italian, but also about Italy. This has been my greatest source for getting the real inside scoop on Italian culture, food, festivals, and general happenings.
If your own school does not have access to local Italians who want to speak English with American students, then swing by some local language schools and just ask about “uno scambio linguistico” with an Italian student at your same level. You can also try posting signs up at local universities. So many people would love the opportunity. And if you want to feel like you really LIVED here then you’ve got to get involved. Meet people. Talk to them.
Ok. I think that’s it. If you’re not prepared after these top ten tips, you’ll never be.
Go forth and prosper, people.
And eat a huge ball of mozzarella for me!