Stories that Shaped Us: Meeting My Local Italian Friends

Regan Prieto is an ISA Florence alumna at the University of Kentucky whose experience abroad during Spring 2023 led to discovering life-long friendships.

We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Italy and how she was able to connect with the locals. Check out this unique story below.

My experience in Florence was shaped by the locals. Going into study abroad, I knew that I wanted to pave my own experience and way. Therefore, I decided to room with completely random American students and go with none of my friends from home. I sought a sense of independence and thrill of the future. I had always wanted to travel and create an experience of my own.

I quickly came to know a new friend who had a family from Italy. She insisted that I had to come with her to the Chat Pal club at Florence University of the Arts. I told her I would go to learn more about the program, but I was very unsure. It was never a goal of mine to just spend time with locals, however, I was interested in this opportunity. I filled out the application and waited to see if it was meant to be. I finally heard back, and the next meeting was approaching quickly. I would soon begin to realize I would be meeting my best friends while abroad. I was nervous of all that could go wrong and all of the differences between us but knew that being scared was a good thing for me. 

Outside of my apartment

The day had come, and I was excited to meet my new chat pal. I met up with him and was pleasantly surprised at how well he spoke English. I was relieved to begin speaking with him and learn more about him. He then invited me and another chat pal group to go out with them after. They walked us to a more local spot, and we hung out talking for hours. When the night was over, we exchanged contact information and began to plan our next meet up. We had formed a small friend group of locals and American students. I would meet up with my chat pal once a week or so and talk for hours. I would laugh at the things he would tell me, and he would laugh at the things I would say. We talked about our schools, what we learned, and compared our lives. We would find common ground and then we would be in awe at the differences.

My Italian friends and I

My favorite memory of hanging out with them was a surprise birthday party I got invited to at a local restaurant. I was quite nervous to find out that none of the other American students would be attending. I knew that I would be happy going though, so I talked myself up and decided to go. When I got there, I was overwhelmed at how fast they were speaking Italian and the lack of people I recognized. I knew it was important for me to use this as a growing experience. I did my best to communicate with his friends who knew little to no English. It was challenging and at times we didn’t understand each other. I learned to use my facial expressions and emotions to help communicate. That night I realized the importance of connection with others when words can’t.  

Duomo at night

My time abroad was truly shaped by these experiences and the lessons they taught me. They taught me the value of true connections, family, and quality time. So often in the United States I get caught up in life and day to day activity that I forget to slow down. This time spent abroad allowed me to reconnect and recharge with what I value the most. I try to remember these nights and conversations to remind myself that life isn’t all about work and money, but it is about true connection and beauty in surroundings. I will forever miss my chat pals and the experience they shaped for me.

Indulging in the hidden local spots

Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from Italy alumni or explore other posts about language and culture.

Inspired by Regan’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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