This post is part of our Study Abroad Stories series, which aims to share the thoughts and experiences of students who have already taken the leap of faith and gone to study in a foreign country. With each of these stories, we hope to inspire, inform, and encourage anyone who has yet to study abroad. Want to share your story? Send us an email at [email protected] or tag us on Instagram using the hashtag #studyabroadstories.

  • Name: Kate McCulley
  • Country/place of origin: USA
  • Where you studied abroad: Florence, Italy
  • When you studied abroad: Fall 2004
  • College/university that you studied abroad with: Fairfield University
  • Describe your study abroad experience in 3 words: Hedonistic, illuminating, cultural.

Why did you decide to study abroad? Why did you go where you went?

I was totally set on studying in Paris, but I decided to apply to be an RA instead to save money on room and board (RAs work a full year and thus do not study abroad). When I was rejected as an RA, a huge shock to me, I decided in a split second to apply for Florence instead because it was a direct program at my university and there was still time to apply for the fall semester. I applied, got recommendations and everything and was accepted less than 24 hours later!

The direct programs at my university at the time were to Florence, Galway, or Brisbane. There was no question that Florence was head and shoulders above the others!

“Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I ever made and by far the best thing I did in college. It was the catalyst that led me to a life of travel, and I think part of me knew that.”

Where was your favourite travel destination while studying abroad?

So many! I had one of the best weekends of my life on the island of Capri, where my friends and I hiked steep trails, swam in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and ate tons of ravioli caprese. I really enjoyed Budapest, especially its grand boulevards and sumptuous desserts. And I had an adrenaline-drenched weekend in Interlaken, Switzerland, where I swung through canyons and paraglided through the Alps!

What is your most embarrassing/craziest study abroad moment?

There was this club that had a naked mannequin holding panties in her hand up on a tall platform. My friend dared me to climb the ladder onto the platform, saying she’d give me fifty euros if I kissed the mannequin on the ass. Well, I climbed up and kissed it on the ass! My friend took a picture. And then the bouncer ran up to me and yelled, “Dangerous!” so I had to climb down.

What was the best thing you ate while studying abroad?

Florence and Tuscany have some of the best food in Italy. Some of my favorites were the bistecca fiorentina (the most amazing steak), tagliatelle cinghiale (wide pasta with wild boar) and pappa al pomodoro (tomato, white bean and bread stew).

What did you miss most about home when studying abroad?

I missed the Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years! I’m not a huge sports fan, but this was culturally one of the most significant moments for Bostonians ever, and I was sad that I didn’t get to enjoy the celebrations.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while studying abroad?

There was a fair amount of drama among students in our program. Much of it related to our many romances. But I guess that comes standard when you’re a bunch of 20-year-old horny binge-drinking college students in a country where everyone’s single for a semester and they sell wine in every shop.

What is your fondest memory from studying abroad?

Despite the occasional drama, it was bonding with my eight (!) roommates. We had so many inside jokes and songs we listened to together. We were regular party hostesses, as our apartment was in a great location right off Santa Croce and our kitchen table was the perfect size for Frizzante Flip Cup. We hit the clubs together, shaking off the Italian men who insisted on grabbing our arms wherever we went, and we went on amazing trips together, even uniting for a few days in Paris.

Kate’s on the far left in pink!

How has your study abroad experience impacted your life?

When I came home, I was energized for more travel. I took a poetry class the next semester and almost every poem I wrote was about my travels. That travel obsession got me to take more trips and now I kind of travel for a living! When I arrived in Italy, it was only my sixth country; this month, I’m slated to hit my 70th country.

Any last words of advice for people planning to study abroad?

Before you decide on a destination, decide whether you want to study with other Americans or alongside locals; whether you want to be in a major city, small city, or small town; and whether you want to live in an apartment, in campus housing, or with a host family. These factors will strongly impact your study abroad experience, so don’t discount them.

Kate’s Top Recommendations (taken directly from

Know what kind of study abroad experience you want to have. Studying in a popular destination like Florence is very different from studying in a small city with few foreigners or an English-speaking destination where you study alongside locals. There are also big differences between having your own apartment, sharing an apartment with fellow students, living in a dorm-like environment, and staying with a host family, as well as the location of the housing. Those factors are just as important as the destination you choose. Don’t discount them.

Be very cautious about drinking. If you’re American and under 21, it’s easy to get swept up in the sudden freedom and extensive party opportunities. If everyone around you is partying hard, it’s so difficult to avoid it. Please be extra-careful about alcohol. Keep asking yourself, “Do I want to be more out of control than I am now?” and if not, have a water instead of another drink.

Consider taking lighter coursework while abroad. Most of what you learn is going to be outside the classroom. It’s worth saving up your electives for when you’re abroad. Try to keep Fridays or Mondays free of classes so you can more easily take weekend getaways.

But take courses specific to the destination. Both my class on Italian Baroque Art and my class on the history of Jews in Tuscany were incredibly valuable to learn on-site. My history professor’s father was the only Jewish child on the island of Elba during the Holocaust. That added so much to my experience.

Have you studied abroad in Florence? Or are you considering studying abroad in Florence? Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!