While studying abroad, I expected to learn fascinating things about the history and culture of Italy, but I never imagined that I would also unlock a new future passion. I chose to study abroad in the Fall of 2022 and had planned my schedule accordingly to take mostly general education classes. As a biochemistry major, I typically take science-heavy course loads, so I was excited to slow down my pace a bit for a semester while learning about a new culture. I chose courses on Italian culture, the history of the Italian mafia, horticultural therapy, and meditation as well as one course entitled Drug Abuse and Behavioral Addiction. At the time, I was looking to fulfill a social science credit, and I thought it seemed like an interesting topic.
On the first day of class, I was shocked to realize that the instructor was a medical school professor who only came to my school once a week to teach the class! Each class, we would learn about a different drug including the structure, how it affects the brain, and what addiction to that drug could lead to. He would talk to us about real case studies he had seen or use pop culture references to link the symptoms of withdrawal to people’s personal experiences.
In the past, I had always been told to avoid drugs (which is definitely a good idea), but I was never given any information on specifically why they can be so harmful. I looked forward to coming to class every day because I was so interested in hearing what the professor had to say about different topics. It helped me to build an understanding and empathy for people who suffer from addiction by learning about how drugs of abuse hijack our brain’s normal reward system and manipulate it to keep us hooked.
My favorite part of the class was a field trip that we took to the professor’s medical lab at the University of Florence. We all met at the train station, and he helped us take the right public transportation to get there. Once we arrived, we listened to a presentation on his research and then we were given a tour of the lab. My favorite part was looking at rat brains that had been treated with various substances!
While it might seem a bit unusual, I really fell in love with the field of study. After returning from studying abroad, I picked up a psychology minor and have continued to take coursework related to how people develop different psychological conditions and addictions. I then went on to work in a forensic toxicology lab over the summer! I am considering doing further research on these topics in the future! I never expected a general education study abroad course to lead me to so many different places! To me, that is one of the beautiful parts about studying abroad! You are able to take classes that are way outside of the scope you would normally take, and those classes can sometimes take you towards a future you had never imagined before. To anyone considering studying abroad or currently planning their course, I would definitely encourage you to challenge yourself and try something different than you usually would take back at your home university! You never know what might unlock something new!
Written by: Josie, Fall 2022 Florence Student from University of South Carolina