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I call my study experience in Italy a study abroad express. I spent exactly two weeks living with a host family and studying Italian at a language school in Florence.
You must be wondering why I spent so little time there. I’d say that it was the most interesting and economical (yes, economical! Keep reading to understand why) way I found to spend the two free weeks I had in Europe between two commitments in 2012.
Choosing the Country and the City
Choosing the country wasn’t hard for me. I had already studied Italian for a couple of months and I have always been fascinated by the Italian language and culture. Choosing the city, on the other hand, was quite difficult. There are so many cool cities in Italy that it’s really hard to pick one. I just couldn’t decide between Florence and Rome. After doing some research, I ended up picking Florence for two main reasons: the weather and the city size. I read on many websites that the heat in Florence was less intense than that in Rome during the months of July and August―which, I later found out, was not necessarily the case. Because Florence is way smaller than Rome and I only had two weeks, I figured that I’d be able to discover Florence in a deeper way than it’d be possible with Rome. If I had more time―at least a month―I’d probably have chosen Rome.
Choosing the School
I also chose the school after doing some research on the Internet. In addition to a good price, I was also looking for a school with good amenities, including air conditioning. During the summer months when temperatures often surpass 95ᵒF (35ᵒC), air conditioning seemed essential to me. I ended up choosing Linguaviva, which was the only school I’ve found that had good amenities and a good price.
I paid the €80 registration fee, €370 for 2 weeks of Italian classes (20 lessons of 45 minutes per week) and €340 for a host family accommodation (Bed & Breakfast, single room) for 2 weeks. The total was €790 (€56.4/day). If I only take the accommodation into account, I paid €24.3 per day to stay at a single room at a spacious and comfortable apartment with breakfast included, in addition to free WiFi access and other amenities. It’d be really hard (almost impossible) to find a comparable hotel offering rooms for this price during the high tourist season in Florence.
Linguaviva is very well located on a street behind the Santa Maria Novella station―the main train station in Florence―and a few minutes walk away from the city’s main attractions, such as the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio.
The school occupies three floors of a 19th century building and also has a small garden where students get together to talk, have a coffee or lunch. The school is located near many restaurants and a supermarket where I used to grab something to eat during the break. Although it’s better to start taking classes on the first Monday of the month, students who are not complete beginners can start taking classes on any Monday of the year. The course I took (Standard – 20 lessons/week) was held Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with a short break in the middle. I chose the Standard course because I wanted to have plenty of time to explore the city in the afternoon.
The school also offers more intensive courses (up to 30 lessons/week), university preparation courses, internship programs, art history classes, photography classes, cooking classes, among others. On the first day of school, I had to take a multiple-choice test, write a small essay and take an oral exam to known my level of Italian. For my surprise, I was placed in the pre-intermediate level (I thought I was a complete beginner, but I think my Spanish helped me a lot with the exams!). After the exams, I still had time to attend the last part of the class of the day. The classes were always very dynamic, with grammar, speaking, reading and listening exercises. I also had to do an oral presentation during one of my classes. The use of music for vocabulary memorization, which I particularly enjoy, was also common. I didn’t have to buy any books because I was only staying for two weeks. Students who stay longer need to buy a textbook that costs between €23 and €40 depending on the student’s level.
The school organizes many visits and excursions in Florence during the week and to other nearby cities during the weekend. I had the chance to participate in an excursion to the Villa La Petraia and to the Villa di Castello after class. The daily visits and other social activities organized by the school are often free. There weren’t any excursions during the weekend I was there because it was the last weekend of July and most students were leaving Florence. However, I went on amazing tours to many Italian cities (Siena, Chianti, San Gimigniano, Pisa, Cinque Terre) through a tour company in Florence (I’ll write more about these tours in the future).
I’ve met students from Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, France, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Colombia at Linguaviva. Most students were 25 years-old or younger, but I’ve also met some 30-year-olds.
I stayed with a seventy-something-year-old Italian lady called Anna. Anna is a typical Italian nonna: very friendly, talkative and a great cook. I chose the bed & breakfast option, for this reason, only the breakfast was included in the price I paid for the accommodation. However, I ended up having dinner at my homestay a couple of times due to Anna’s insistence. I had my own room, which was quite spacious. The apartment was also spacious and on the first week I was there, Jana, a very nice student from Slovenia, also lived there with me. Each of us had our own rooms, but we shared the bathroom. On the second weekend, Jana returned to her home country and I was the only student staying at Anna’s place.
Some of the amenities I had at my accommodation were WiFi, a TV at my room, a fan and the use of the fridge. My homestay was a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride away from the school. I used to walk to school and take the bus to return home. Talking to other students, I found out that my accommodation was one of the furthest; many students were staying just 10 minutes away from the school on foot. But I actually enjoyed staying a little further. By being out of the touristic area, I had the chance to see and experience the day-to-day life of the Florentines.
Final Considerations and Recommendations
Of course I didn’t become fluent in Italian after taking only two weeks of classes in Italy. However, I’ve learned a lot during my time there. I also found out that I knew more Italian than I realized. In addition, because I’ve chosen the host family option, I had to communicate with Anna in Italian all the time. If you’d like to immerse yourself in the language, choose to stay with a host family. Students who stay in apartments end up speaking English more often than Italian. I would recommend the school for those who are thinking about studying abroad in Italy. There’s also another Linguaviva school in Milan, so you even have the option to stay half of the time in Florence and half of the time in Milan.
However, I would not recommend studying abroad in Italy during the months of July and August. The heat in Florence was extremely intense when I was there. I often felt exhausted while walking around the city full of tourists under the Tuscan summer sun. Temperatures during spring and fall are way more pleasant. Next time you decide to travel, think about studying abroad instead. You can always see the touristic attractions everybody sees, but you can also choose to learn a new language and immerse yourself in another culture. Don’t be just a tourist, be a traveler!
Linguaviva – Florence
Address: Via Fiume 17 I-50123 Firenze
Phones: +39 055 29 43 59 or 055 28 00 16