Deana C. Italy- Made In Italy, UC ACCENT Center Florence (Global Studies)

Academics

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? 

  • The UC Accent Center offers a language track and an areas studies track (a track to complete certain GEs or specific major courses). As a Global Studies major, I needed to complete my language requirement. I had already completed three levels of Italian and the program provided the best shortcut ever, where I could knock out three levels on Italian in one term! Thus this program was an easy and perfect choice for me. BUT, just because it’s a shortcut doesn’t mean you can slack off! Before classes officially start, you take a placement exam. Don’t worry if you don’t place where you’re supposed to be (I worried a lot), since you are still placed in the right level and will have reviews. The structure of the language class is similar to UCSB where you are graded on participation, attendance (very important), quizzes, tests, presentations, and oral/written finals. Like at UCSB, classes are four days a week but 3 hours long.  Though the track is intense, the instructors are the best as they are very experienced, attentive to your needs, caring, patient, and most of all fun. In addition, compared to UCSB, the class feels like a little family as the higher level courses had less students (mine had three in total!). Overall it’s hard work, but in the end, very rewarding!

2. What was your favorite class abroad? 

  • My Favorite class was definitely my language course. I loved that it was a small class because it was easy to get closer to my classmates and professor. In addition, we also went on multiple field trips. For example we went to food markets, a high-fashion brand museum, an old, famous opera theater, and more! But my other class on city sustainability was also a special class since it gave me deeper knowledge about the role of the cities within the environment.

3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

  • I volunteered with the Accent program once a week at the local library. There, we met up with local Italian children and gave simple English lessons. Though at times the children were full of crazy energy, it was still very fun and fulfilling to see them improve. I really enjoyed this experience since I was able to meet other people in my program, interact with locals, and learn to adapt and plan teaching lessons.

Host Institution

In front of the ACCENT center at night

1. How would you describe your host institution? 

  • Studying at the Accent Center was such a unique experience! Rather than being in a university, we got to study in an old renaissance mansion situated in the middle of the community, surrounded by cafes, restaurants, shops, and just a minute walk from Palazzo Pitti. What would be just big rooms were converted into our classrooms. You could really feel the antiquity of the space. There were staff members at the front desk always willing to help and it was easy to get to know your professors since the class sizes were not huge. Accent also had organized trips to visit other neighboring towns which were fun and saved money!

2. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? 

  • Though there were no real clubs/ organizations made by the center, they did for example have basketball and soccer teams students could sign up for to play with exchange students in different programs around Florence. The center also hosted numerous events for students each week such as movie nights, hikes, and city tours.

Housing

1. Describe your housing situation.

  • Before arriving in Florence, students were made to fill out preference sheets for housing, just like choosing dorms in SB. For example you choose whether you would like to be in a homestay or in an apartment, fill out your living habits, what size room (single – triple), or any special accommodations you would need. Once you arrive at the center you are given your apartment address/keys and the name of your roommate. For this program, students lived in different apartments scattered throughout the city. I was situated in an apartment that was one of the closer ones to the center (though still a 15 min walk) and right in front of a famous museum! I really loved my apartment as I loved the people who lived with me and the location made it easy for me to explore the city easily.

Food

1. Where did you eat most of your meals?

  • Because there is no campus dining, students are responsible for feeding themselves. I usually bought groceries once a week at Conad, COOP, or local markets, for about 20 euros (which buys a lot!). I cooked a lot at home but also made sure to try notable local cuisines.

2. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? 

  • Like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get by on 20 euros a week for groceries if you are on a strict budget. Going to a restaurant can get pricey but there are many cheaper options in Florence. Florence has many great cheap meals such as stuffed paninis for only 5 euros and full pizzas that can be a cheap as 5/6 euros! Also sweet yummy pastries and coffee, at the right places are usually 1-3 euros.

3. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary  restrictions to find meals? 

  • I don’t think it would be very hard for people to find and even make foods with dietary restrictions in Florence. However it may be a little difficult for people with gluten allergies and dairy problems as the Italians really do love their carbs and cheese. However since most Italians value freshness of their foods, there are many farmers markets all around the city where people will be able to find what they need.

4. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. 

  • I have many happy eating experiences while abroad. One of my favorites was finding out about the greatness of aperitivo in Italy! It’s essentially happy hour where cocktails and a mini buffet/snacks can be enjoyed for as little as 7 euros! Also there are “secret” bakeries that sell fresh warm bread late at night which were heavenly. Finding our favorite spot enhanced my experience and made living in Italy a little more special.

5. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? 

  • I very much miss the massive and cheap sandwiches I got at All’ Antico Vinaio. My fave, l’inferno, was the best with large amounts of porchetta, arugula, tomatoes, and a little bit of spice, and that crunchy, fresh bread!

Host City

1. Describe your host city

  • Florence is a very charming and of course an old city, especially the historical center. Everywhere you walk you see the glory of the renaissance and its rich history. It’s filled with great food and shopping and many of its people are welcoming. There are wonderful cafes where you can relax and talk with friends, and there are ample spots for a fun night out. If you love nature, Florence is surrounded by the green hills of Tuscany that you can easily explore. The city truly has something for everyone.

2. Was it easy to get around?

  • It’s very easy to get around in Florence as many destinations are close by and walkable. Bus and Trams are also available and are only 1.50 euros! But I recommend walking everywhere to see all the details of the city and save money!

3. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future?

  • Overall I felt very safe in Florence. Our center and UCEAP did a great job of sending out warnings and places to avoid during our stay. They made sure we knew who to call when in an emergency. Furthermore our apartments were in safe areas of the city. But of course, it is also part of our responsibility to make the right decisions when it comes to safety.

4. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

  • Through my class field trips I was able to see a more in-depth side to the make up of the city. I witnessed how the tram, water, and waste systems worked, and get a better understanding of sustainability, which was interesting to me.
  • While in Florence I went to a few cooking lessons. I went to a pizza making class, went to a cooking school with my Italian class to make pasta, as well as got to witness bread making for Eataly early in the morning, Where I received fresh, free bread afterwards!
  • Another fun thing I did was go on a vespa tour. Though I didn’t drive it myself (because I was bad at it), I got to see the nice view Tuscany has to offer and wine taste afterwards.

Host Culture

1. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. 

  • One cultural difference that threw me off in Italy was the time people ate dinner. In Italy most people eat dinner past 8pm and thus restaurants also open a little later. Therefore sometimes it was a struggle to wait for places to open when I was extremely hungry.
  • Another thing to get used to is how how strangers act with each other. In California, it’s not uncommon to see two strangers passing each other say hello. But for most in Florence, it’s more common to keep to themselves and not be overly friendly with strangers/customers. So don’t take things too personally if some people seem a little cold.

2. How did you handle culture shock? 

  • When something was unfamiliar or shocking to me, I usually made the effort to just observe at first. Then I would try to take note of the difference for future reference or if possible actually try something myself. If I was still confused about something I would ask questions or research about it later. Definitely travel with an open mind and be willing to learn new things to have a great experience.

3. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

  • My favorite aspect about the host culture was how in love they are with their food. As a foodie, I was easily able to try and learn about the different foods they had to offer- Not just pizza and pasta!
Christmas market in the Middle of Florence

Travel

1. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

  • My favorite travel story has to be the first trip my housemates and I went on. We went to Cinque Terre and there, we got to swim in the clearest ocean water I ever swam in, ate one of the best fried seafood, and explored almost all the little towns there. In the end, on our way home, we had to sprint in desperation to one of our connecting trains. Though it’s a simple memory it was one of the most exhilarating and hilarious moments of my life. This trip also brought my housemates and I closer which was very nice.

Reflection

1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? 

  • The biggest fear I had about studying abroad was finding my way to where I needed to be. Since it was my first time traveling abroad alone, I was paranoid about missing flights and getting lost. Though it was stressful, it’s a lot easier than it seems. You just follow the signs, and if thats still confusing, ask somebody who works there, or of course use your phone for directions. A tip to also have in mind, is to thoroughly research beforehand how to get to your destination so as to decrease anxiety about getting lost.
Traveled alone and made it safely to Lisbon, Portugal

2. What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

  • One challenge I had while abroad was definitely money. As I was on a pretty strict budget, it was hard not to stress out and feel sad if you couldn’t buy or do something. But I worked to change my mindset and found different ways to enjoy my time. For example I made sure I didn’t buy things that I didn’t need like clothes, since I could buy them back home. I always asked if people wanted to share when eating out to reduce the cost, or opted for less costly but delicious meals. For traveling I prioritized the places I really wanted to see. And lastly I researched a lot to get the best travel deals and to find free, fun things I could do in the city like free museum day!
Free museum day at the Boboli Gardens

3. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? 

  • After studying abroad I definitely gained more confidence and a better understanding of the person I am. I pushed myself through challenges such as meeting new people, traveling alone, and juggling personal and academic matters. Knowing that I came back ok, I know and trust that I have the ability to overcome and encounter other challenges and experiences that may arise in the future.

4. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? 

  • My advice for future UCSB EAP students is to just take the leap and go with an open mind– you won’t regret it.

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