Our first week at the Florence Health Institute (FHI) has been eye-opening, to say the least. We have gone on countless tours to help immerse us in the rich Florentine culture, and the FHI staff has taken the time to begin helping us understand Florence in terms of its healthcare system. All this has taken place while getting to know our fellow FHI students as well as the Florence Summer Institute students.

To start out the week, we went on a walking tour through the city. We saw the local pharmacies and hospital as well as some other relevant structures and locations in Florence, and we discussed some health-related behaviors and characteristics that we witnessed throughout the city. Next, we began working on getting a baseline understanding of the U.S. healthcare system so that we could begin comparing it to that of Italy. We also began looking at basic microbiology and the history of such pathogens as those that caused the bubonic plague. We looked at not only the morphology of the “black death,” but we also looked at how the significant losses contributed to the culture and development of Europe after the plague subsided. We were able to make connections between the bubonic plague and other diseases that have occurred that could be considered plagues, such as the Flu of 1918 and 1919, which wiped out a quarter of the U.S. population. During these first few days of class, we also began practicing our basic Italian language skills in class and were encouraged to continue this practice out in the city with the locals.

On Wednesday, we visited Poggibonsi Public Hospital and received a guest lecture from Dr. Benaim. This allowed us to get an inside look at an Italian hospital and the healthcare system and compare their facility and practices with those of U.S. hospitals and healthcare system. On Thursday, we took a great deal of time to debrief about what we noticed on our trip. Both Dr. Woolverton and Dr. Pamela Stephenson guided us in discussion, prompting us to really digest the things that we learned and observed and consider how it related to what we have been discussing in the classroom.

Overall, this first week has been wonderful, and we are all very excited to continue our studies throughout the next 3 weeks. Likewise, we all look forward to continuing our explorations of Florence and surrounding areas on the weekends. It is both challenging and invigorating adapting to the local culture, but we would not be here if we did not want a challenge, so it has been wonderful to be pushed out of our comfort zone while also being eased in to our new way of life for the next month.