A semester abroad is a dream-come-true for many university students — and their family members who come to visit. We recently interviewed Mike, a recent college graduate, who shares with us his wisdom on “do’s and don’ts” for visiting your son or daughter who is studying abroad in Italy.
I spent an undergraduate semester in Italy and loved that my family visited for a week. Together we had an Italian-style Thanksgiving in a great Florence vacation rental apartment. Visiting abroad is similar to visiting your student at their university, except that they probably miss home like crazy. Study abroad students miss some of the major and minor conveniences of living like driving a car, choosing from 100 different brands of cereal and, most importantly, spending time with friends and family.
“Together we had an Italian-style Thanksgiving in a great Florence vacation rental apartment. “
Do visit your student abroad, they will be so happy to see you and you will find special insight into “their” Italy. Consider these tips and ease the “nostalgia di casa” (homesickness) that your son or daughter is feeling:
- Bring a poster or picture of home: Something to hang in their room to remind them of home.
- Stock up on their favorite snack: something they crave but can’t get in Italy — whether it’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or mom’s homemade snickerdoodles.
- Bring warm clothes: Although the winters are more mild than in my native Boston, the temperature turns down in November. When my parents visited I asked them to bring an all-weather raincoat.
- Treat them to some really good restaurants: Your student has been eating mostly pizzas, pannini and pasta; make every meal a feast with antipasti, primi, secondi and dessert. My family prepared an Italian-style Thanksgiving in an vacation rental in Florence. We bought the biggest chicken in the market. Surprisingly, the local grocery store was wise to my autumnal cravings because they stocked canned cranberry sauce!
- Let your student be your guide: Let them lead you on a walk through their adoptive city. Visit their school, the market, their favorite cafe, pizzeria, and bar. Let them set the pace of the tour in museums and at monuments. They have probably seen all the sites in their city and may just want to do the highlights. Let them reel off art history factoids. If they’ve been studying art history they have a bunch.
- Go shopping for their apartment: Rent a car or hire a driver and go to Ikea or a department store and get them situated with the items that aren’t in their apartment. Maybe that’s a lamp for their bedside table, a percolator coffee maker, a dish drying rack, an electric fan or more crucially a Vape (mosquito repelling appliance). My room had no lamp or fan until my parents bought one when they visited.
- Go sightseeing on your own while you student is in class. They’ll probably also be studying for mid-terms or final exams and attending class so give them some space on those days. Take yourself around to the must-see Florence tourist attractions that your student has probably visited several times already.
- There is no drinking age in Italy so if your child is under-age at home; they probably have developed a taste for wine. While that may be worrisome, Italians have a different culture around alcohol than you may be used to; allowing children to enjoy wine at an earlier age and avoiding a lot of the problem drinking by college students. While I was studying abroad, I didn’t play a single game of beer pong. However, I did find myself enjoying a bottle of wine with dinner with my classmates.
- Go for a big grocery shopping run. Load up on basics and goodies alike. You can cook meals in your rental apartment and then leave the extra food with your son or daughter when you leave. Ask your son/daughter to invite their friends and roommates to your rental apartment for a simple home cooked meal.
- Take a day trip to another locale. While my parents were totally content to stay in Florence, I wanted to take them out of town and show them some of the charming spots I’d discovered. So we took a day trip to Bologna and another to Cinque Terre after I had enjoyed both places with friends. If your son/daughter is studying in Rome, hire a private driver for the day to take you to a scenic hill town for some sightseeing and a long lunch in the countryside.
- Rent a nice apartment with a spare bed so your student can spend a few nights. Lounging in the living room is a great way for a family to regenerate together, share stories and maybe your student needs a break from their roommates. Cooking for your student is another great way to show how much you miss them. My folks rented an apartment in Florence that was much nicer than my dorm style apartment and I enjoyed staying with them for the duration.
Together we had a great time and I’m glad they came and stayed in Florence while I studied art history and painting. They said it was a great change from the vacations they were used to and I definitely enjoyed them and the flavors of home.