Coffee, Chianti and Coursework

6 February 2019

After term one studying abroad in Martinique, Jenni embarks on a new adventure for her second term abroad. Catch up with her latest blog as she settles into life in Florence.

jenni blog 3

Before getting on the plane to Florence back in February, I had a few ideas about what studying abroad in Italy would be like. I thought the food would be amazing, no-one would speak English, and the weather would be gorgeous. I had a mental image of myself chatting and laughing in Italian while sipping espressos in a sunny piazza, occasionally flipping through a textbook. 

Traditional food and Lambrusco in Bologna

Suffice to say that living in Florence has really surprised me - in a good way! The winter weather that’s hanging over England is also here, meaning I got to see snow over the Ponte Vecchio, which is very rare and very beautiful. Despite the freezing weather I’ve been able to travel around at weekends to Bologna, Siena, and a handful of tiny towns in the Tuscan hills, and it makes those glimpses of sunshine even more special when the sun finally comes out. The cold weather is also a perfect excuse for huddling in bars and restaurants to try as much local food and drink as possible. For example, last week I went to a Chianti tasting which had wine on tap and a buffet of traditional Florentine food - it’s not espresso in a piazza, but it’ll do. 

Something really unexpected is that I’m speaking English a lot of the time, because most Erasmus students have a better level of English than Italian. While this is great in terms of terms of meeting people easily, it means my Italian skills have not improved that much, and this has lead to Fear. As in, the crippling Fear that when I try to speak Italian to an actual Italian person, I will not be able to remember anything, and instead will blurt out assorted sounds and inaccurate hand gestures, and they will roll their eyes at this incapable foreigner. So another surprise has been that Italians are very forgiving when I butcher their language. Seriously, going on a semester abroad only 2 years after starting a language ab initio is terrifying, but faking confidence while tackling the imperfect subjunctive on the fly, I think, will lead to success. 

Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo

UCL is partnered with the Political Sciences branch of the University of Florence, for reasons unknown, so I’m studying Economics, International Relations and Italian Politics while I’m out here. As a languages student I’m finding this extremely difficult. Finding the study-life balance is tricky because I work more here than I do at UCL just to keep my head above water. It can be extremely frustrating to not understand everything in lectures, and have to go over literally everything. Often I come out of lectures not even knowing what I don’t know. To add to this stress, I have 18 contact hours a week and a 45 minute commute to uni every day, so I sometimes struggle to find time to fit in all the studying that I need to do. But! I am trying to make the most of the Italian lifestyle to counterbalance this, which generally means treating myself to as many cappuccinos as I need to get through the day, and going for an aperitivo after university. 

So while my move to Florence has been full of surprises, the city itself never fails to live up to its reputation. The food is fantastic, the art is phenomenal, and while I have not been swept off my feet by a man on a moped, I am going to meet Michelangelo’s David this weekend. Fingers crossed. 

Sunset over the Arno

By Jennifer Osei-Mensah