Studying Abroad in Italy: Social Culture

07/10/18

My study abroad program over the summer was coordinated through Florida International University’s Honors College. The Honors College is a separate entity within FIU that selects students based on merit (GPA, SAT, community service, extracurricular activities etc.), as well as an essay application in order to be part of the program. The six-credit course taken in Italy is actually one of the ways in which students can complete their fourth-year requirement. Thus, all the students who enroll are from FIU’s Honors College. But because we are allowed to complete this option at any given time within the four-year period, we are all from varied years. Not only that, but we are also from all sorts of majors. The Honors College is open to all students so we had everything from English to biomedical engineering to education majors.

I think our diversity was actually a positive factor because there was never a boring moment in the group. One time we were visiting a small church and one of the students started singing a song from her choir. Her voice rang through the church walls with a truly angelic echo. Another student treated us to an unforgettable opera session as we looked out into the waters of Sorrento. And everyone always took notice of our only architecture student who drew numerous elaborate sketches throughout the trip. There was always someone who knew about something and would chime in along with the professors to enlighten us on little unknown facts.

But it wasn’t all studying, since a central part of studying abroad is becoming immersed in a new culture. Our activities outside of class were truly never the same. We usually split into small groups and simply went out into the city. Although strong bonds were formed, for the most part the groups varied and different people would tag along together depending on the activity. Some students liked to visit museums and art shows that were not on the course itinerary, some explored the cuisine, and others just looked for adventures. I for example tended to do something “different” during the daytime and then go restaurant hopping at night. One day we took a boat out to Lido (an island off of Venice) and rode bikes from coast to coast. Another time we got on a bus and took a 30 minute ride down to Capo Sorrento and took a dip in the Mediterranean! And I’ll never forget the day we took a 5am train to the foot of the Alps and hiked up a rather steep hill following nothing more than barely marked trees.

At night the adventures continued. Since we’re all from Miami, we are used to the club and bar scene, but in Italy it’s a bit different. In some places, like Florence, you can find students just hanging out in the streets, in front of a Cathedral, or at the foot of famous steps (like the Spanish steps in Rome). And that’s exactly what we did. We got dressed up and went looking for the locals. Some nights we explored restaurants and clubs (which played American music) and other nights we wound up just sitting in a park getting to know each other. It was unique in that you did not need a car or taxi to get around, but essentially the atmosphere was the same. Just places filled with young people, multicolored lights, and loud house music. And if all else failed we went back to our hotel rooms and hung out there. This to me was a new experience being that I have never lived in a dorm. The hotel of course had rules about not getting too rowdy or causing a mess, but I can honestly say we never did. And to make sure we didn’t we really did not spend too much time in the hall or lobby. One of the rooms had three people in it (due to the odd number of girls) so that was often the room we all ended up in since it was the largest. We’d turn on the television and get a kick out of watching MTV in Italian or American movies dubbed in Italian, we ordered and shared room service, and just talked into the wee hours of the night.

If I were to relate what I did on an everyday basis you’d end up reading a book instead of an article. But I can guarantee you there was never a dull moment or a time when we sat in didn’t know what to do.  In actuality there was actually too much we wanted to do and too few hours in the day.

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