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Sophie’s tips for a successful year abroad experience: from Florence, Italy

BySophie Aristotelous

Oct 29, 2017

A year abroad can be an extremely daunting experience. From imagining your life abroad and applying, to arriving and settling in a new country. Here is a complete guide of the process that led me to where I am now, one month into my semester studying at the Universitá degli studi di Firenze.

Deciding where you want to go

As there are a lot of options, and the deadline for most study abroad applications is the end of October, the process can be extremely overwhelming.. Do you want to study or work? Which type of place would you like to be in, country, coast or city? While maybe ridiculous, I tried to find the Italian equivalent of Edinburgh, i.e. a city with lots of culture, but that is small and easy to navigate without the need for public transport, and close to some beautiful landscapes for day trips. Using Google to research places you perhaps haven’t heard of can help you to make an informed decision. Year abroad blogs are also useful, but remember everyone likes different places so try to look at facts rather than opinions.

The Application Process

The application form, for an Erasmus exchange, consists of writing your personal details, listing your three university choices in order of preference and then writing two 500 word statements about why you wanted to go an exchange and why you’d be a strong ambassador for Edinburgh.

When writing these statements, I included explanations of why I study languages – particularly why I chose Italian – and why I chose these specific universities; mostly due to the cities. For example, I chose Florence due to my interest in art and culture, and then explained how I would make the most of my year abroad experience in Italy. For the second statement, I wrote about occasions where I had been an ambassador for either my school or at university.

Settling in

The biggest difficulty when I arrived in Florence was the never-ending admin. The countless forms for both my universities, getting the codice fiscale (the Italian tax code), opening a bank account and getting an Italian SIM made my first few weeks extremely chaotic.  

There was also a slight culture shock with the differences in the university experience. So far, I have had to leave a lecture as the class was full, I was told not to bother turning up to said class because it was not compulsory, and even witnessed professors sending people out of lectures for talking.

Meeting new people

Meeting new people definitely helps with settling in and a great way to do this is through the Erasmus organisations. Meeting people who are in the same situation is really nice and Erasmus events are a great way to socialise with people you’ve only just met. They offer activities ranging from day trips, quiz night and nights out.

The biggest difficulty for me was knowing what language to start speaking to someone in. I had been in Florence for just 11 hours, nine of which I had been asleep, when I went to a welcome event for Erasmus students. I remember thinking that I needed to make friends here and after sitting down for the talk, I started panicking. So when I noticed the girl next to me writing in English, I decided I would just start talking to her at the end. While it is great to practise your languages, it is nice to meet other English students in the same situation as you.

Other ways to make friends are in the university’s offices and your classes. I was told by fourth years that Italians can be cliquey but so far I have found everyone really friendly and welcoming.


image: jdedj via pixabay

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