Studying Abroad in Italy: Accommodations and Food

07/10/18

This summer I participated in the Italy Study abroad Honors College program for Florida International University. My trip completely opened my eyes to a whole new way of life. Everything was different from the baths to the food. Yet, as they say, different isn’t always bad—and my experience proved just that.

Living out of a suitcase while in Italy was definitely a change from my walk-in closet, but at least I had someone to make my bed every morning. All in all we actually had it pretty good. We stayed at four different hotels and they were all either three or four stars. Although it would make for some interesting anecdotes, unfortunately, I have no horror tales like those you hear from students who stay at hostels. Our hotels had great service and accommodations. The pillows were soft, the rooms were clean, and the size was decent for Europe.  The baths tended to be a bit small for American standards, the hair dryers shut off after ten minutes (because Europe is much more energy efficient), and none of us could afford the in-room wireless internet. But none of this was a real problem. After a while we got used to smaller sizes, we bought the right converters to use our own dryers, and found the cheap spots around town for internet (or even better, simply removed the need for internet from our daily life).

Every student had one roommate. I was one of the few students who knew their roommate before the trip (we are part of the same business fraternity) and asked to be placed together. Everyone else just threw their names in a hat and randomly chose roomies at a meet-and-greet dinner we had about a month before leaving. I never had a roommate before or even too many sleepovers so I was a bit apprehensive about it. An entire month with the same person in a tiny hotel room seemed a little bit too MTV Real World for me, but I was completely mistaken. After a long day of walking up and down hills it was nice to have someone by my side that was feeling the exact same way. And of course, even amid all the greatness of Europe, at one point you will miss home. So seeing the same face day after day proved to be a positive factor. Often my roommate and I would split up during the day and do different activities so coming back to my hotel room was almost like coming back home. We would share stories from our day and browse through pictures. Having a roommate was also a great alternative to an alarm clock. It’s hard to wake up at 9am after a long day but when there is someone else there you’re more likely to get up and get out there.

Another factor that pushed me out of bed was breakfast. Not only was it good, but also—and more importantly—it was free! In Italy nothing is free (not even going to a public restroom) so a free meal was very much appreciated. The breakfasts were buffet style and included scrambled eggs, muffins, ham, bacon, cheese and different juices. They also had cappuccino machines that, in my opinion, made delicious cappuccino! Some of the students got tired of breakfast after a while because every hotel served the same foods, but honestly I never did. I made sure to get up early and eat until I was past full so that I could delay lunch as much as possible. I often even grabbed some extra bread, ham and cheese to pack myself a sandwich for later. This was because finding a mouth-watering affordable lunch was no easy task for me. I am not a fan of pasta or pizza, and most of the lunch menus consisted of just that. There were also a wide arrange of Panini, but I found the bread much too hard. As you may have noticed I am a picky eater. Many of the other students had no issue with lunch and tended to split a pizza for about 8-11 Euros. Another popular lunch “food” was gelato. You could find a gelato stand just about anywhere and in every flavor imaginable. Gelatos are filling, cheap, and refreshing so it was definitely a good option.

Staying refreshed was another important issue for us. Some days were quite hot and with all the walking we needed to stay hydrated. But this often meant reaching into our empty pockets. Water bottles ran anywhere from 1-3 Euros and Coke was a luxury. I had a glass of Coke once for 4 Euro, and yes I said a glass, not a mug and no refills. After a while, we learned and bought our drinks at local markets, where they were much cheaper. I bought a liter of Coke for 1.50 Euro and a liter of water for 0.18 Euro! Also, water was only a problem in some parts of Italy. In Rome, for example, there are water fountains throughout the city and the water is completely drinkable and cold so we simply refilled our bottles.

Food was definitely an important part of my experience, especially at dinner. We had more time to “shop” around for dinner than lunch and thus it was much more enjoyable for me. Every restaurant has menus with prices outside so we would walk around checking out our options. This was when we tended to split up according to our appetite. This was great because the next day we would share reviews. I usually visited restaurants my peers had tried the night before and recommended. Our professors also served as great critics; having led the program for 11 years, they certainly knew what they were talking about. For me, finding the right place was key, especially since it was difficult to alter my taste buds from the burgers and N.Y strips to seafood and linguini. Yet, by following recommendations I was able to taste some of the most delicious plates I have ever tried. Dessert was also a new experience since there’s no such thing as brownies and cheesecake in Italy.

On the downside, getting too experimental with dinner could get pricey. Often students would grab some sandwiches or a pizza and take it back to the room to save a few Euros. Personally, I preferred eating out every night; it did get costly but it was worth it. And if you walked a little longer you were bound to run into a good place with decent prices. Besides, the walk there and back was often the best part of it all. You ran into other students, locals, and professors and got to see Italy. Walking around cobblestone streets filled with people on a Thursday at midnight is just something you cannot find in America. On special nights (usually the first night in each city) all 24 of us would eat together and our professors would cover dinner. That was definitely a treat.

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