A great way to learn about a study abroad program or location is by connecting with its alumni! Hearing from an alum gives excellent insight into what it’s actually like to go abroad. By getting the inside scoop from a person who has been somewhere you’re interested in going or has done a particular program that interests you, it can solidify your decision to go overseas. We caught up with AIFS Alumni Ambassador, Carly Whiteside, who chose to study abroad in Italy with AIFS in the birthplace of the Renaissance: Florence. Read on as she reflects on her experience and gives advice.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Italy through the AIFS in Florence program? How did you learn about it?
I chose the AIFS Florence program because I knew I was interested in studying abroad in Italy, and after researching many different program options the AIFS program seemed to be the best fit for me. I liked the program because it was all-inclusive and I was looking for a program that was structured and would help me immerse myself in the culture through different activities, which was one of the things that stood out to me about AIFS. I was also sold on the flight package option, as well as the meal plan. I was definitely concerned about budgeting when I was planning my semester abroad and knowing that I wouldn’t have to pay for every single meal out of pocket was a huge factor for me. I loved the convenience of having my flights to and from the program taken care of for me, as well as knowing I would be able to experience true Italian dining culture through the meal plan offered in the Florence program.
What is your major and was there a connection to your choice of program location?
I am currently a History major for Secondary Education, but when I studied abroad, I was actually a pre-Nursing major. I knew I wanted to study abroad no matter how it would affect my degree path, and I knew it would be quite hard to fit a semester abroad in and still be on track with my degree, but after working with my advisor I was able to make it work. I ended up changing my major upon my return, so my semester abroad ended up not affecting my degree plan at all. I was not looking for a location where I could take science/pre-Health/Nursing classes, so this was not a factor when I was choosing my program location.
What are the strengths and unique features of the AIFS program in Florence, and the city itself?
I think the best part of the Florence program is hands down the meal plan. The meal plan in Florence is unlike any other, and truly allows for students to experience authentic Florentine cuisine and culture. With the meal plan you are given meal tickets to use each month, as well as breakfast tickets and grocery gift cards. There is a wide variety of restaurants on the meal plan, and definitely enough to not get bored the whole semester. Most restaurants have a special menu for Richmond students that typically consists of a first course, second course, and sometimes even desert or wine. It was so much fun to go out to dinner with my friends every night, and those are truly some of my favorite memories from my time abroad.
Can you tell us about some of the highlights of your experience?
Some of the best parts of my study abroad experience were:
- Meeting amazing friends that are still some of my closest friends today
- Getting to see historical sites that I have always dreamed of seeing like the Colosseum and the Vatican in Rome, Michelangelo’s David sculpture, or the magnificent Duomo
- Getting to experiencing living in another country and having to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings
- Having the opportunity to travel to many other European countries on Spring Break and on the weekends
- Experiencing cultural events such as Italian cooking classes, pizza making classes, and wine tasting — all organized by Richmond/AIFS
- Getting to go on field trips with Richmond to Venice, Viareggio for the Carnevale, and Cinque Terre
Was there anything you did not expect?
As cliché as this sounds, I did not expect it to go by so fast. Everyone who I talked to before leaving for my semester abroad told me to enjoy every minute because it would be over before I knew it, and they were definitely right. I thought beforehand that I would struggle with being homesick, but I really didn’t, and I adjusted quite well. I made amazing friends and I was constantly busy because of all of the activities and excursions offered, so it went by entirely too fast. Florence really did become my home away from home.
How did you learn, grow or change by studying abroad?
Studying abroad helped me gain independence and confidence that I never thought I would have. Before my semester abroad, I was most comfortable in familiar settings where I had a routine. Living abroad helped me become more comfortable being uncomfortable and being okay rolling with the punches. I also gained the confidence to do things on my own, whereas back home I always needed the company of other people. I was also able to realize what my true passions are in life which lead me to change my major from Nursing to Education.
Do you have any advice for future students who also study abroad in Italy?
Do everything that you possibly can and that is offered to you through Richmond/AIFS! They organize activities pretty much every day of the program, and it is a great way to immerse yourself in Florentine culture and make the most of your experience abroad. I only regret the activities that I didn’t sign up for, and the ones that I was able to attend were so much fun and made my experience so special.
Would you recommend the AIFS in Florence program to other students who want to study abroad in Ireland?
ABSOLUTELY! I think the AIFS program has so much to offer and you will really get the most out of your study abroad experience.