Study abroad: Fitting in with the Florentines

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Courtesy Ralph Unden/Flickr
Florence at night

Florence is hugely popular with the study-abroad crowd, which makes it tough to break away from packs of fellow American students. It’s easy to get by speaking English; bars ply foreigners with drink specials and hip-hop nights (pronounced rather comically as “ip-op” by Italians); and low-fare airlines tempt students to zip off to a new European city each weekend.

But with some extra effort, you can begin to live like a local. To help others hit the ground running, The Florentine, a bi-weekly English-language newspaper, has enlisted former students to share advice for making the most of a semester or two abroad.

One useful column covers how to navigate the city’s library system, buy a bike, and get bargain haircuts. In others, writers recommend becoming involved in community service and offer tidbits like theories behind the city’s classic unsalted bread and ways to blend in. #1: Ditch the flip-flops.

Curiously, the Supermarket Smarts column leaves out some key differences that surprised me when I arrived in Florence as a student: There are scales for weighing and pricing produce before you get to checkout, there’s a minimal charge for each plastic bag (busta), and many supermarkets are closed on Sundays and cash only.

Learn from my mistake! I was mortified years ago when a cashier at La Coop by Piazza Beccaria tallied my purchases—only to call a coworker to restock them when I discovered I had 5,000 lire (worth only about a few dollars) in my pocket and credit cards that didn’t mean a thing.

Have any study-abroad tips of your own?

PREVIOUSLY IN BUDGET TRAVEL

What to Ask Before Studying Abroad

A Pre-Departure Checklist for Parents (opens as a PDF)

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