A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

July 30, 2015
A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

Following a much-needed conversation with my college advisor, and a last minute class addition for the spring semester, I felt more at ease about the decision to halt my original plans for a semester abroad. I planned and saved for my move to New South Wales, Australia for months, but I just didn’t feel prepared. Among the many factors which played into my final decision, these three weighed most heavily on me:

  1. It would have been my first time abroad – alone and away from my friends and family for longer than ever before.
  2. The cost would have been almost equal to the tuition I paid for two full years at home — including travel, tuition for credits I was already in excess of, and room/board.
  3. I paid my way through college on my own by working part-time during the school year and when I learned I would be restricted from working as a student in Australia, I knew the savings I could muster up wouldn’t last.

A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

Ultimately, cancelling was the best decision, but I knew I would be heartbroken for quite awhile. An alternative plan formulated when my advisor approved my late addition of a study-travel seminar called Geography of Florence, Italy. This class would satisfy my Cultural Geography requirement of my degree (the one requirement I missed), and it would give me the experience of traveling overseas as a college student.

A Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany
Rubbing the nose of Porcellino in Mercato Nuovo (“the little pig” in the New Market) for good luck!

This seminar was unlike traditional study abroad programs where the student travels to and lives in another country for a semester or a year and receives credits from that school. Instead, it consisted of weekly classes at my college leading up to a week-long trip to Italy during spring break. Once we were in Florence, our assignment was to “soak up the Italian culture” and pass in a portfolio at the end of the semester.

After landing in Milan, which followed the first red-eye flight I’ve ever taken, and traveling to Florence on a fancy motor coach bus, all I could think about was creamy, frozen gelato. It didn’t take much to convince my class and travel mates to drop our bags off at the hotel and head right out to find the nearest gelateria. My first Italian meal was a heavenly combination of hazelnut and strawberry, and I savored it while walking along the walled banks of the Arno River.

A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

A Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

Florence was my home base for the week, but I ventured off to the small Tuscan towns of Pisa and Siena, and took a fast train to Rome as well. It was in Rome where I discovered the perfect cappuccino. As dazed as I was from the pre-dawn train ride, I vividly remember this fleeting moment. At a train station café, lit with buzzing florescent lights that made the white tiles glow with a dull green tint, I sipped it out of a tiny paper cup while standing at the counter, as all Italians do. As understated as it first appeared, it continues to be the finest cappuccino I’ve ever tasted.

Once we were in Florence, our assignment was to “soak up the Italian culture” and pass in a portfolio at the end of the semester.

I shopped in open air markets, enjoyed hangover-free house wines with each impeccable meal, gazed upon truly stunning buildings and artwork, and walked among ancient ruins.  I was an A++ student in Italy. I documented my experiences in both written and photographic form that I submitted to my professor as part of my semester-long portfolio of my Tuscan studies.

A Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany
Enjoying some wine and a panoramic view of Florence from across the river at Piazzale Michelangelo.

One particular piece of the portfolio was a comparison essay about Italian markets and American grocery stores, and my first eye-opening experience as a foreigner. It was an awkward time, for me and the market cashier equally, but this was the type of experience I was craving and hoping for during my time abroad. I spoke very little Italian and the cashier almost no English, but together we figured out the price of the apples, which I did not realize you were supposed to weigh and price before getting in line to pay. Despite frustration (mostly his) and miscommunication (completely mine), I left the market with the vision of his warm smile.

A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

Although I spent just a week in Italy, I believe I had a truly authentic study abroad experience. I appreciated the focus on Italian history, culture, and geography of the pre-trip classes because I am a complete glutton for information and it helped me feel much more prepared. This alternative to a traditional study abroad experience left me with lasting memories with college friends, zero additional student loan debt, and a hunger for more.


A Budget-Friendly Study Abroad Alternative in Tuscany

About Brittany Quaglieri

Brittany QuaglieriAfter years of exploring the Pacific Northwest as an AmeriCorps member, I moved back to where I grew up — beautiful Cape Cod. Now I help AmeriCorps members make an impact on the environment, the youth, and the communities across the Cape. Since moving home, I’ve taken advantage of the booming tourist season to pay down a crippling credit card debt. Mostly debt free now, I travel as much as possible and document my experiences on my blog, Transformed Thru Travel.

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