At the end of the summer holidays of 2022 I left the then-still-warm Dutch grounds to fly to Florence, where I would start a research project at LENS, the European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy. I arrived a week before I would start on my project to get myself settled first and to get to know the city a little. I bought a bike, as any real Dutchy would do, which made the whole city much more accessible. I was immediately blown away by the beauty of Florence. Walking down the streets of Florence is like walking through the halls of a big open air museum. I also spend time inside though, inside the incredible museums, but maybe also a little bit too much time in restaurants. But hey, when in Italy right?

LENS is an interdisciplinary scientific research center which is linked to the university of Florence. At LENS I did research on liquid crystal networks as a scaffold for correct muscle cell alignment and differentiation. This project included both the synthesis of the liquid crystal networks and the seeding of muscle cell precursors on the material. I really enjoyed the biological facet of my project and I loved working with people with other, yet still scientific, backgrounds. I had a desk in an office with six PHDers who were super kind and immediately included me in their group. We would have lunch together every day, and included me in their dinner parties and bowling nights!

I quickly found out that there were several Erasmus associations which organized many activities for students. If you would like (and you had the time), you were covered almost every day of the week. During the weekends they would organize day trips to for example Siena, Lucca or Cinque Terre. Through one of those associations I met 5 really sweet girls, who became my friends during my stay in Florence. Although I had to be at LENS during the week, every weekend was like a mini holiday. The train network in Italy is quite well organized and not that expensive, so that made traveling around relatively easy. I was also very lucky with the weather, me and my friends were still able to have a beach day with 25°C in the end of October!

In my opinion, an international experience is mostly made by the incredible people that you meet along the way. These 5 girls, my friends LENS, but also the random people you meet at a bar, a restaurant or at the gym. Although we always joke that there is so much difference between the kinds of people at different faculties at the TU/e, Eindhoven is still quite a bubble with likeminded people. Being abroad helps you getting out of that bubble and encounter people with other backgrounds, interests and culture. If you are considering going abroad during your studies I would definitely encourage you to do so!