Why Florence has a complicated relationship with the over 15,000 American college students who come every year
- Over 15,000 US students spend some time studying in Florence, Italy every year.
- The Association of American College and University Programs in Italy has 40+ members in Florence.
Florence, Italy, has long been a popular destination for US students looking to spend one or two semesters abroad, with the New York Times already writing about the transatlantic relationship back in the 1960s.
The Association of American College and University Programs in Italy, or AACUPI, has over 40 members with a presence in Florence, including Harvard University, New York University, and Stanford University. Over 15,000 American students flock to the city every year, according to local newspapers, with estimates of 18,000 for 2023.
Only Rome, which is considerably bigger, gets more university traffic from the US.
The relationship between Florence and the universities has been long and successful — with the city directly courting American universities and even attending the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers in Denver in 2022.
Back in 2016, it was estimated that American universities bring over 150 million euros to the economy of Tuscany, Florence's region, per year. More recently, Consul General Ragini Gupta told Italian newspaper Il Corriere that she credits American students in Florence for strengthening the relationship between Tuscany and the US, mentioning that between 2020 and 2022 US companies invested over 250 million euros in Tuscany.
Florence and its American students, however, don't always have an easy relationship, as has been recently highlighted by an essay published on Insider, in which an NYU student complains of Italians being hostile towards her during her semester abroad.
Whether the hostility was real or just perceived, there might be a reason why not all Florentines are happy about the number of students that come every year.
As of 2022, Florence has a population of nearly 370,000 residents, meaning American student visitors would account for roughly 4% of the city's population. And, according to plenty of social media complaints and local reports, American students could be more considerate of the city that hosts them.
"In my very personal experience, the young people who come to Florence have a tendency to behave like they own the city," Bianca Golini, a medical biotechnology student born and raised in Florence, told Insider. "It would be nice to remember that you're a guest and that when you're going to live abroad for a part of your life, you should compromise with the new place, so it can enrich you. The arrogance can be annoying."
Golini lives in Florence's city center building, where the majority of the apartments are rented to students coming from the US. While she stresses that she doesn't want to "paint everyone with the same brush," she says her interactions with them have not been the best.
"They often wake me up in the middle of the night, going to and from parties, and when they're drunk they urinate and throw up in the streets," she said. Once, she asked some American students to keep it down a little, and one of them told her to buy some earplugs.
Golini's complaints are echoed by local newspapers.
In March 2022, a neighborhood committee called Comitato Manoiquandosidorme – which roughly translates to the "When-are-we-supposed-to-get-some-sleep committee" – wrote a letter to the US General Consul in Florence Ragini Gupta complaining about how drunk American students seem to get, saying that "studying abroad doesn't mean taking an alcoholic vacation."
In a recent interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, a pub owner described Florence's city center as an "amusement park for tourists," and Italian journalists dispatched in the city's nightlife after Insider's essay made the news report of wild partying, and a full separation between Italians and Americans.
"I understand that there might be many cultural and linguistic differences, but respect and good behavior should be universal languages," Golini said. "And it's a shame these frictions exist because the cultural exchange should enrich both the guest and host. We should both benefit from it."
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