Christina Faliero is third year student at the University of Florida with a double-major in International Studies with a concentration in Europe and Political Science. She also has a minor in Geography and is working on a certificate in International Relations. This study abroad program is Christina’s first time traveling outside of the United States. This summer, Christina will be studying in Florence, Italy on the UF in Florence – Language, Art, and Culture program and will be taking Italian language and an Italian culinary course. She chose to study abroad because she wanted to take the opportunity to live in a place that is rich in culture and use her experiences to help her better understand her European studies at UF. More importantly, she chose Italy because it is a beautiful country, provides an escape from stereotypical American life, is known for world-class food and wine, and will hopefully leave her with lifelong memories and lessons that will propel her into success in the future.
On May 11, 2013, I travelled overseas for the very first time alone. I had spent the entire night before watching TV, eating cookie dough and aimlessly poking around on my laptop. Needless to say, I was winging it. I figured if I thought less, I would worry less and that would make my journey as stress-free as possible. My theory was true, until I reached the borders of a completely foreign country.
My 3 flights were long but bearable, and my passengers couldn’t have been more perfect. For the first flight I sat next to a grandmother and her spoiled granddaughter who had her eyes glued to multiple iPad screens the entire time.
For my long flight, I sat next to a scrawny genius. He was frail, wore wide-rimmed glasses, slicked hair and carried a steno pad. He said hello and goodbye and those were the only words we spoke to each other. It was fantastic. He whipped out a steno pad and did calculus problems for 10 hours while I read a brainless Nora Roberts novel and ate my Sour Patch Kids.
I wasn’t particularly nervous to navigate the foreign airports by myself, because I figured being able to speak French would suffice if someone didn’t speak English. Once again, my assumptions were correct. In most international airports, there are titles in the host language, English subtitles below, and French subtitles as well. Even still, almost everyone speaks a little bit of English.
It wasn’t until I arrived in Bologna from Frankfurt did things become chaotic. I somehow had to catch a bus from the Bologna airport to the train station, catch the train, get to Florence, and then make it from the Florence train station to my check-in point. If you’ve never done any of this before, here is how to do it:
1. Get Euros before you go international. To catch transportation in European airports (bus, taxi, etc.) you have to use cash. And airport withdraw fees are uncanny, so try to avoid waiting 40 excruciating minutes in a currency exchange line in an Italian airport in front of 3 toddlers who keep knocking over your suitcase, just for them to make you pay 50 euros when they only give you 45.
2. Bologna has a L’Aerobus. It takes you from the Bologna airport to the train station. It costs 6 euros and it’s right outside of the exit. There are clearly marked signs with symbols to help you navigate. Also, be aware that euros don’t have “1″ bills, but they have “1″ coins and “2 coins”, so don’t be embarrassing and ask the bus driver why he ripped you off when you gave him a 10 and he gave you 2 coins for a 6 euro bus ride.
3. Train stations are chaos. There are huge lighted monitors in the entrance hall displaying arrivals and departures like an airport. There are fast-purchase ticket booths all around the station and also an office where there are English-speaking Italians where you can also buy the ticket from.
The tickets are VERY confusing, especially if you don’t know any Italian. I honestly still couldn’t say where the ticket listed my platform, but if you just ask someone, they can point you in the right direction.
Additionally, sit in your assigned seat. Those exist. Each car of the train is numbered and you are assigned one of those cars. Don’t accidentally sit in first class like I did and have the train attendant make you carry 6 weeks of luggage from car 3 to car 11…
4. Taxis are NORMAL. The rates aren’t too bad and they are the best means of transportation from the airport to your final destination if you don’t already have a ride.
Aside from traveling logistics, try not to have any expectations of what you will see. I came into this trip having a pre-determined image of Italy and was disappointed when I saw what looked like the projects. Bologna has beautiful parts, but as far as I could see, I only saw power lines, graffiti and hideous buildings. It was also raining in Florence, and my glorified expectation of a majestic metropolis was substituted with images of ugly bridges, worn buildings and gray skies. Italy may be rich with culture and landscapes, but just like the US, it is still just a country with both good and bad parts. Try to keep an open mind and remember that on your first day, you are supposed to be exhausted and your perspectives are skewed because of it. Take some time to unpack, sleep and expect a completely new view in the morning.