Real Life Italy: The Truth Behind Returning to Florence after Study Abroad

After studying abroad most students dream about the possibility of returning to Florence once again, this time to live and work. Is it all it's talked up to be? 

TIS team member Kelsey Gibson shares her stories of what it was like to take this major step in life!

It was midnight & pitch black in Florence. The streets were empty as I returned home after my first night of work. I could only hear the sounds of my own feet walking down the cobblestone street and the distant voices and laughter far off of students and locals who were going out that night.

the beautiful empty streets of firenze/photo credit kelsey gibson

the beautiful empty streets of firenze/photo credit kelsey gibson

But those faint voices seemed to be quieter than ever. In a city that felt so alive, I must have found the one street that made me feel so alone. It was then that I realized this was not another study abroad trip but reality. I finally had found a taste of what I have always wanted: to be completely immersed into the culture of a foreign city.

Yes, at that moment I felt more vulnerable and uncomfortable than ever, but strangely enough, I found myself smiling. I was ecstatic for what was to come. I knew that working in Florence, Italy would change my life forever, and it did.

Last spring, I decided to apply for Global Experiences in hopes of working for Max Amini, a co-owner of the restaurant Touch in Florence, who I had met the summer before on a study abroad trip. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane at the end of May headed that way.

the amazing food of touch/photo credit kelsey gibson

the amazing food of touch/photo credit kelsey gibson

 I was in a group of about 15 other interns, but my experience was a little different. Because this had to be counted as credit for me, I was not able to take the initial Italian course for the first 2 weeks, did not get to enjoy many activities that they had set up for us, and had to begin work right away.

At first, I was a little disappointed and lonely since I started work in the evenings and everyone else worked during the day. However, my schedule turned out to be one of the highlights of my experience. I was able to explore the city and really take it all in during the day, and continue learning and immersing myself with my local coworkers in the evenings.

enjoying la dolce vita with my new italian family 

enjoying la dolce vita with my new italian family 

Every day I woke up excited to go to work, and it never seemed to get old to me. I actually became to sad midway through because I knew it was nearing the end of my unforgettable adventure there.

Don’t get me wrong though, working over there was not easy at first. It was a hard transition coming from fast-paced and business based United States. I have worked in many restaurants before but this was different. 

Passion and love for the Italian food, culture, and people were the motivators behind this restaurant’s success. They cared more about giving an exceptional experience with quality food to the guests than turning tables.

Every day I would walk into work around 6pm to help set up the dinner table and around 6:30 we would start eating. We allotted ourselves a whole hour to eat together and catch up before the restaurant opened as a team.

They believed this was the most important part of the day. I realized immediately after my first night working that this restaurant was a family.

Once the restaurant opened, this comfortable feeling continued throughout service ensuring the finest quality experience for the guests.  I was able to serve tables and have conversations with guests from around the world every night leading me to learn more about myself and other cultures that I have yet to truly be a part of.

Throughout service, my co-workers and I were able to get to know each other really well and they have become some of my best friends today. After work and on Sundays, when the restaurant was closed, they would take me to local events, parks, concerts, movies, and restaurants to show me the ‘real Italian experience’ that my heart still aches for every day.

unforgettable nights out with my new friends 

unforgettable nights out with my new friends 

Working at a restaurant in Italy may seem like a basic job to some, but to me it was life-changing. It inspired me to take a leap of faith out of my comfort zone more often because that is when I learn the most about myself and who I want to be.

Even though it was hard to get used to being alone at first, it was a great lesson to learn. I learned how to be independent, responsible, and adaptable. I became more passionate and curious about the different perspectives around the world. It is said that once you travel to new places, you leave behind a piece of your heart. I left behind a large piece of myself there in Florence. It was more than work to me there, it was a chunk of my life that changed me forever.

My Italian co-workers taught me that life is supposed to be passionate and fulfilling, yet simple.

It’s about who you chose to take with you on your journey and invest into rather that where you think your destination lies. But all in all, they taught me that life is about working hard at what you are passionate about, finding happiness in the little things, and never ignoring the ache of curiosity.


“Travel, in its very motion, ought to suggest hope. Despair is the armchair; it is indifference and glazed, incurious eyes. I think travelers are essentially optimists, or else they would never go anywhere” – Paul Theroux

Has traveling Italy changed your life? We would love to hear your story below!


Meet Kelsey 

   Kelsey is the Part Time Assistant Travel Consultant for Travel Italian Style and a student at the University of Mississippi studying Hospitality Management with a minor in Spanish and Business Administration. Kelsey took part in an exchange program in Argentina in high school, which created a flourishing passion for travel and learning about other cultures. From then on, she took every advantage to study abroad and backpack around Europe. This past summer, Kelsey interned for a local restaurant, Touch, in Florence, Italy and fell in love with the Italian culture. She was able to have a real local experience by making friends with coworkers and locals. She wants to make it possible for everyone who travels to be completely immersed into the culture in order to gain another perspective and to be able to enjoy life even more!