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Understanding the Culture While Studying Abroad in Florence

June 13, 2024
by Ava Shelton
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A market vendor standing behind a stall and table full of goods for sale

How to Live like the Locals While Studying Abroad in Florence, Italy 

Leaving home to study abroad in a new country alone can be a lot to take on. However, if you explore your city and talk to the locals, you will quickly adapt and become more comfortable.  

How to Get Comfortable in Your Host Country 

Much like your first year of high school or college, the sooner you get to learn about your environment, the quicker you will feel at home. Although everyone’s experience is different, I would like to share how I made the most out of my time and stepped out of my comfort zone in Florence, Italy.  

A view of the city of Florence from an elevated height at sunset

View of the Duomo.  

SHOPPING AT LOCAL MARKETS AND SHOPS 

Not only does it make a difference to the shop owners and employees when you shop locally, but you are also supporting their economy. When I shopped locally, I was happier with my purchase, and I found that the things I bought had more meaning than buying a top from a chain store.  

The Santo Spirito Market is one of the most well-known markets in Florence and is only open the second Sunday of every month. My friends and I luckily got to go on the second Sunday in January. The market is known for vintage clothing, houseware, and jewelry and is popular amongst the Florentines. At the market, I bought a vintage Italian leather jacket and a handmade Italian Euro-age Italian leather jacket and an Italian Euro made into a charm that I can put on my necklace. We figured, what better to do on a Sunday than shop at a local market?  

A market vendor standing behind a stall and table full of goods for sale

One of the vendors at the Santo Spirito Vintage Market, which occurs the second Sunday of the month. 

Another way to feel welcomed into your host city is being a loyal customer at food shops. In my first week in Florence, I tried out a sandwich shop that was recommended by a friend back home called Pino’s Sandwiches. They have a variety of sandwiches to choose from as well as refrigerated items made in the shop. The best part is that they give you a punch card where you can eventually earn a free sandwich. During my second week abroad, I went back to Pino’s and after only going once before, Pino remembered my order. The impression you make on locals is what makes you feel like a local. It is so important to them to get service from you and know that you want to support them. 

Two people standing behind a counter preparing sandwiches

Pino and Nirvana making their famous sandwiches at Pino’s Sandwiches.  

EXPLORING FLORENCE ON A BUDGET 

While traveling abroad will have you spending money on all the unique experiences, there are plenty of great things for students to do for free. One of the most popular things to do in Florence is watch the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo. The walk is slightly uphill, but well worth the view and the occasional musician who plays at the top. This is one of the experiences that is breathtaking but can be done at no cost. My point in this is to not stress about spending money on everything you do. The more you try, the more your horizon expands.  

A tip that even Florentines could use would be that museums in some European countries are free on the first Sunday of every month. Although not all Florentines take advantage of this, it is something that will help you learn more about the local culture and its history. And best of all, it’s free! 

A small indoor shop full of coffee machines with a window open to customers

A photo from my favorite to-go coffee shop in Santo Croce where you pick up your coffee from the window.  

EATING IS ITS OWN ACTIVITY 

After going to restaurants to enjoy a pizza or a bowl of pasta, I realized that a meal is not just something you eat—you enjoy it and you cut out time in the day specifically for a meal. Something unique about Italian food culture is the structure and timing of every meal. They have a name for every meal and a specific shop you go to buy the best version of it.  

For example, from 8–10am you get breakfast and the best place to get it is at a pasticceria. After taking my class in Food and Culture, I learned that it is most common to sit down for a meal and finish it in the restaurant. Italians take their time and often do not multitask because they designate time to specific events throughout the day, food being one of the most important parts of their day which should not be interrupted.  

Although it was delicious and I wanted to experience picking my coffee up from the window, I stood out like a sore thumb when I took my coffee to-go. In Italy, coffee is also thought of as a time when you sit down to enjoy with friends. When Italians eat at home, they wait to eat with their entire family and do not start until everyone has their plate. It takes patience to eat like and learn to be a local but it is most certainly worth it.  

A person's hand resting on a small leather-cutting machine on a worktop table

Getting a leather souvenir personalized from one of the local leather shops. 


Ava Shelton is the Content Creator - Blogger in Florence, Italy, and is currently studying at University of Utah.
 
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