Annabelle Marenghi appreciates her walks along the Arno. One of her favorite bookstores, Todo Modo, has a cafe built into the back, where she can drink a coffee and be surrounded by stories — the perfect environment for a junior English major. Finding a new and different coffee shop every week is a fun activity she and her friends enjoy in the cooler fall weather. When a cup of coffee in the U.S. can cost an average of about $5, some cappuccinos in Florence only cost a euro and 50 cents.
“Even today, I was with two friends getting coffee and then walking around, and we ran into two other friends from our class, just out in a store, which I feel like doesn’t happen in a major city,” Marenghi said. “There are a lot of study-abroad students in Florence too, which I personally really enjoy. It makes me feel like there’s a community here. Everyone’s connected somehow.”
Marenghi’s time in Florence is half complete. She is studying abroad for the year through the Wells in Florence program. Since 1980, Wells in Florence has been one of the oldest U.S. study-abroad programs in Italy. The college has sent thousands of students from more than 200 colleges and universities to its partner institution, the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, in the heart of downtown Florence. Marenghi, who currently studies at the University of Michigan, said she chose the program because she had heard good things from another student who studied in the spring.
“He had amazing things to say about it, and the more research I did, the more I learned about the program,” Marenghi said. “We’re treated so well here, and they provide so much for us. It just seemed like it was going to be the best program that I could find.”
Resident Directors Milva Porfidio and Luca Casaglia provide academic assistance and consult on cultural adjustments for the students while they’re abroad, like providing recommendations for study spaces around the city. The program has more spots available for the upcoming fall semester, so students who apply will receive a $1,000 discount. Both Porfidio and Casaglia said fall is also when there are fewer people and better weather in Florence, which makes it an ideal time to visit and explore the region.
“It’s a good opportunity to stay outside, enjoy walking the city, and visit other places,” Porfidio said. “For ourselves, a bunch of activities in the spring are harder to do because it can be colder and raining sometimes. If I was a student, I would choose the fall over any other time.”
So far this semester, their group has attended ACF Fiorentina football games, visited olive mills and vineyards in Tuscany, and traveled on day trips to Cinque Terre and Venice together. Wells in Florence offers many different activities for the students to immerse themselves in Italian culture outside of the classroom. Porfidio and Casaglia take care of them as much as possible on their excursions, which inevitably creates a strong bond between them.
“I’ve been a lot closer with them than I originally thought. I wasn’t expecting anything,” said Kyle McClun, a senior finance major from the University of Iowa. “When I first came into the program, I thought they’d be like my advisers if I needed help, like my advisers back in Iowa. But after we do all the trips and everything here, it’s just so much fun to see both of them. They’ve helped me out with a lot of stuff here, so I’m kind of indebted to them.”
Cristal De Leon, a Wells junior majoring in political science, also said Porfidio and Casaglia have been an amazing part of her experience studying abroad in the program.
“They are truly the most amazing and kindhearted people I have ever met,” De Leon said. “Talking to other students from different programs has really shown us that we are so lucky to have them both as part of our program. Whenever anyone from the program needs anything, they are always one text away. I don’t know what we would do without them.”
As resident directors, Casaglia said Wells in Florence has adapted over the years to prioritize students’ needs, and they’ve had many students confide in them on their new experiences with Italian or European culture, which shows them that the students are appreciative and willing to learn as much as they can.
“They really want to share what they feel with us,” Casaglia said. “This means that we have a good relationship, everything is going well, they’re having fun, and they enjoy the program. They are very important to us.”
Outside of excursions and activities, students can take classes that not only satisfy degree requirements but also teach new skills through different cultural perspectives. McClun said two classes that interested him the most this semester were interior design and history of Italian fashion.
“They didn’t offer anything like that at Iowa,” McClun said. “I was struggling to find classes I had left to take that I wouldn’t fall asleep in. So when I was studying abroad, I knew these were a lot different and probably stuff I’m more interested in.”
Delia Binetti, another junior from the University of Michigan, said she had traveled to Italy multiple times to visit family before choosing to study in Florence, but she always knew it was a great place to live.
“So much is offered here, there’s so much to do, and you’re really never bored,” Binetti said. “The program trips were amazing. I definitely would say those were the two top trips that we’ve taken. I’m so grateful for everything that we’ve been able to do. I’m still just discovering so many places that I've never been, even though I’ve already come to Italy since I was a kid.”
Each study-abroad experience is unique, but Marenghi said taking your time to appreciate the city or country you choose to study abroad in is something more students should consider.
“To each their own, but I know some people who spend every single weekend in another country trying to travel and get everything in,” Marenghi said. “Get to know the local spots, walk around and explore, and try to see parts of the city you haven’t seen every day.”
One thing Binetti said prospective students could consider is not rushing your experiences and taking them day-by-day.
“I was so nervous about being able to check so many things off my list,” Binetti said. “It just started to become very overwhelming. I got to the point where I just was like, ‘I’ll get to the places that I want to get to eventually.’ You don’t really have all the time in the world, but when you do rush those things, it’s as if you’re not experiencing them how you should be. It’s just that you’re trying to get it done and say that you’ve done it. Hopefully, Florence is always going to be here, so you can always come back.”