1. Explore the history of the city.
Here’s the thing about Firenze (aka Florence): There is at least one building per block with a plaque on it saying something along the lines of, “This is where someone had lived that you’ve read about in school your entire life.” My school building is where the woman who inspired the Mona Lisa was born. Down the street from my apartment is where a Dante is buried. Each piazza has its own history and personality. A personal favorite is Piazza David; mostly because it has the most statues and a giant gold turtle. But imagine this: that same piazza was here in the medieval times, when they were envisioning where those statues were to be placed and creating the columns which they stand under. I have been in Florence for about a month and I still stand in awe that I am in the same place where these famous, historical people have all passed through.
2. Find the lesser-known art and beauty.
Don’t get me wrong, every piece of art here is gorgeous, but there is more beauty to see besides the paintings or sculptures of the Renaissance artists. Art is everywhere here — literally everywhere. You can find it in places beyond the famous museums, like the Uffizi or the Museum of Academia (both are a must, by the way). Art can be admired in each church, each small museum — like I said, it’s everywhere. My apartment even has oil paintings inside and angels on the ceilings for goodness sakes. Florence is overflowing with art of every medium from the brush to the bridge!
3. Familiarize yourself with the Italian language.
I cannot stress this enough! You are in Italy and, yes, many Italians speak English, but you are in their country. Just try! A simple “buon giorno” (“good morning”) goes a long way. It shows the Italians that you respect them and are trying to acclimate to their home. Even if you completely butcher the pronunciation, which you more than likely will, they will smile (probably chuckle) and then help you out. When in doubt, Google Translate can be your BFF.
4. Get out of your room and beyond the meal plan spots.
AIFS provides an immaculate meal plan. Restaurants and eateries included in the meal plan are all over Florence’s historical center, making my friends and I expand ourselves through the city. As a result, we end up finding our own spots too! Try to find places that don’t have English menus. I know its scary, but these will be the best food places. Sometimes cooking is fun, but I think seeing the city is much more worth it. I suggest going somewhere outside of the meal plan once a week so you don’t get stuck in a rut! A very easy way to do this is speaking with the locals. They will tell you their favorite spots, which will be away from the tourists.
5. Be friendly with the locals.
Here is a secret of the Italian people: They are friendly! When I first arrived in Italia, I was nervous to speak to anyone but my American friends. I recommend trying to overcome that feeling as early as possible. My perception is that Italians can have an intimidating look, and Americans don’t always have the best reputation in Europe, but if you approach the Italian locals as someone who is trying to learn, they may become a friend. It’s an inclusive culture, just try to put yourself out there.
6. Revel in the Tuscan charm.
Wow, stereotypes about the Tuscan landscape could not be more accurate. It is gorgeous. The rolling hills, the vineyards of grapes and olives, the sunset or sunrise, the countryside filled with farmhouses and sunflowers –gorgeous! Florence should be a destination for you for many reasons, but if nothing else, go because it is in the heart of Tuscany. And Tuscany is a special place.
7. Embrace the feeling of transition.
Very quickly you will notice the differences between an Italian, an American, and a non-American tourist. As hard as you might try, you will look like an American, and it is something very hard to disguise. Not too fear, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. There will be a point on your trip abroad that you will not be a tourist, and still an American, but feel like you belong; that Firenze has become a home. You may not particularly feel like an Italian (even though you will aspire to be one), but you will sit on the Arno one day with your gelato watching the tourists with their selfie sticks and feel this warm feeling deep in your chest. That feeling. The one that is you making Firenze home. If you’re like me, it will come every day from that point.