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. I spent the eve of my journey 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 adventure as stress-free as possible. My theory was valid, I thought, until I reached the borders of a completely foreign country.
My three flights were long but bearable, and my passengers couldn’t have been more ideal. For my first flight, I sat next to a sweet grandmother and her six-year old granddaughter who had her eyes glued to her iPad screen playing Dora the Explorer.
For my long flight, I sat next to a math wizard. He wore wide-rimmed glasses, slicked his hair back, and made mathematical magic on a steno pad. He did advanced calculus for 10 hours while I read a brainless Nora Roberts novel and ate my Sour Patch Kids.
I wasn’t particularly nervous about navigating foreign airports by myself because I figured being able to speak decent French would suffice as a back-up plan. Gratefully, my assumptions were right. In the international airports I travelled through, there were signs posted in the host language, English subtitles below, and French subtitles as a supplement. Even still, I was surprised to learn that almost everyone I encountered spoke a little bit of English.
It wasn’t until I arrived in Bologna, Italy from Frankfurt, Germany did things become chaotic. Somehow, I had to catch a bus from the Bologna airport to the Bologna train station, catch the train from the Bologna train station to Florence, and then make it from the Florence train station to my check-in point via…taxi? If you’ve never done any of this before, here is how to do it:
- Get euros before you travel internationally to Europe. To catch transportation in European airports (bus, taxi, etc.), you almost always will use cash. 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 three toddlers who keep knocking over your suitcases, just for an attendant to make you pay 50 euros to receive only 45…like I did.
- Bologna has a “L’Aerobus.” It takes you from the Bologna airport to the train station. It costs six euros and it’s right outside of the airport exit. There are marked signs with symbols to help you navigate. Also, be aware that euros have “1 euro” coins and “2 euro” coins, so again, don’t be an embarrassing American 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…like I did.
- Train stations are like airports. There are gigantic, lighted monitors in the entrance hall displaying arrivals and departures. There are fast-purchase ticket booths all around the station and an office where there are English-speaking Italians from whom you can buy your tickets if you don’t want to use the machines.
The tickets were VERY confusing to me, especially since I didn’t know any Italian yet. I honestly still can’t say where the ticket listed my platform number, but if you simply ask someone, they can point you in the right direction. Everyone seemed to be helpful.
Lastly, sit in your assigned seat. Yes, those exist. Each car of the train is numbered and you are assigned to one of those cars. Don’t accidentally sit in first class and have the train attendant make you carry six weeks of luggage from car three to car 11 for half an hour…like I did.
- Taxi rates aren’t too hefty and they are the best means of transportation from the airport to your destination, if you don’t already have a ride.
Aside from traveling logistics, try to eliminate any expectations of what you will see. I came into this trip with a pre-determined image of Italy and was disappointed when I saw dilapidation and grime. Bologna has beautiful spots, but as far as I could see from my point of travel, I only saw power lines, graffiti, floating litter, and scuffed structures. It was also raining in Florence when I arrived, so my glorified expectation of a majestic metropolis was substituted with realities of lackluster infrastructure, worn buildings, and gray skies. Italy may be rich with culture and grandiose landscapes, but just like the U.S., it is still 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 might skew because of it. Take some time to unpack, sleep, and discover a completely new view in the morning.
That’s exactly what I did. And now, Florence, Italy is one of the most fascinating and ornately beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.