Six Things Our Master’s Student in Art History Learned While Studying Abroad in Florence

Outside the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy
Outside the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy

by Jillianne Laceste (M.A. Art History)

This summer, SMU Meadows’ Art History graduate program (MA and Ph.D.: Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture) is letting students take over their social media while they’re studying abroad. Student Jillianne Laceste took the reigns first as part of her research trip to Florence, Italy. Follow future student social takeovers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Keep a running list of places you want to go. If I have no specific place I want to go to, I sometimes just wander. During my walks, I tend to find churches I want to visit or restaurants I want to try at a later time but there have been times where I can never find that place again (This was my experience when I went to Hong Kong a few years ago). If you see a place you want to go, take note of it. Write down a name or maybe the street. Don’t be like me and confidently think you’ll eventually find the place again without noting its name or location.

Inside La Specola, Florence’s Museum of Zoology and Natural History
Inside La Specola, Florence’s Museum of Zoology and Natural History

Plan ahead and early. As you saw in my social media takeover, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and see paintings that I may want to work on for my thesis that aren’t on exhibit. This one hour visit took a few months of email exchange. As a former museum collections professional, I know that museum staff members’ time is limited and that outside requests aren’t priorities in the grand scheme of things. Request as far in advance as you can!

Explore the smaller museums. Sure, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace are incredible but I equally enjoy the smaller museums. I recently visited La Specola, a museum with 18th century natural history models and anatomical human models from the University of Firenze and the Galileo museum, a museum about the history of science. Both museums were rewarding experiences and also had less visitors. Also, as a former museum professional, I know that smaller museums tend to get/have less funding so go and support the smaller museums! They’re just as important!

If you do want to see the larger museums like the Uffizi and Accademia, make a reservation. The Uffizi is already tiring enough to walk through, you don’t want to wait in a long line before your visit. It’s really easy to make a reservation online and you don’t even need to print anything (you can just show the confirmation email on your phone).

Drink a lot of water and take breaks. Walking around the city and spending hours in a museum is tiring. Don’t make it worse by not drinking water. Also, take breaks if you need to! The museums in Florence aren’t as cool temperature-wise as the museums in the US. You can get really hot being in a warm room with a lot of other visitors. Sit down for a bit, always keep water with you and prevent yourself from overexertion and dehydration.

Bring things you may need. Since I flew from Dallas to Florence, I’ve had motion sickness, severe jet lag, a cold, and now, a series of mosquito bites. I didn’t bring much with me except for some Dramamine and a few Tylenol pills. Luckily for me, there are many pharmacies throughout Florence. The Farmacia closest to me knows me by my face now. I have been a frequent customer there for the past few weeks! Although I’ve been able to easily find what I need (with a little help from the internet for translation), I have found that things like hydrocortisone cream and insect sprays are way more expensive here than in the US. If you have space in your luggage, you may want to bring these things with you.

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