What did you learn about yourself when you were abroad? How have you changed?
While abroad, I learned how to be at peace with being alone and that sometimes your own company can be the best kind. This peace came to me in a bit of a watershed moment on my last day in Florence. I was sitting by myself in the shadow of the Duomo, watching the hordes of tourists and locals alike pass by, and I wondered who I would choose to share that moment with me if I could. Suddenly, I realized that I needed no one but myself. As a very social person, this realization shocked me a bit. However, throughout my time abroad and the traveling I did throughout the semester, there were many instances in which I found myself exploring both my host city and new places alone. It allowed me to discover each place’s secrets slowly, and often by accident. Without even realizing it, I became my own favorite travel partner and I think that has been the biggest change I have seen in myself. I no longer fear the loneliness of experiencing something companionless because I found my solo ventures to be some of the most worthwhile ones yet.
Do you have any tips for learning the language while students are abroad?
Though I only learned enough Italian to have brief interactions such as getting a coffee or asking for directions, it made quite the difference. Locals in your host country and city will appreciate the effort, regardless of your level of fluency. I would advise future students going abroad to try to familiarize themselves with simple greetings and questions before leaving for abroad, such as “hello, how are you?”, “where is the restroom?”, and “how much does this cost?”. Not only do people appreciate it when they see you are trying, but you also have richer and more meaningful interactions when you can unite on the common ground that language provides.
What is your favorite memory from studying abroad?
I had countless experiences abroad that are irreplaceable and will forever stand out in my mind. From drinking wine in Tuscany to standing atop a peak in the Swiss Alps to picnicking under the Eiffel Tower to seeing a musical in London’s West End, all that I was able to see and do still feels like a dream to me. This being said, the most memorable moment of my semester abroad was not an enriching cultural experience but rather a very lucky weekend. I was in Dublin, Ireland, meeting up with a friend and we had a weekend packed with plans to see historical sites, explore Grafton Street, tour the Guinness Brewery, and go to a Shawn Mendes concert, who just so happened to be in Dublin the same weekend as us. For quite a few years now, I have been a fan of Shawn Mendes and his music, so I was excited to get to see him live- and in Dublin, of all places! Little did I know, I would see him more than just in concert, but on the city streets too!
I met Shawn twice that weekend, bumping into him outside of a restaurant and in a park the next day. I got a photo with him the first time we met and he said he remembered me the next day. Both times, I invited him out to grab a drink at Temple Bar- I’m still waiting on his answer! It may not have been the most educational or cultural moment of the semester, but I will certainly never forget it.
What was your favorite thing to do in your host city?
My favorite thing to do in Florence was to get a panino from Panini Toscani (I really miss those paninos…) and find a sunny piazza to sit and people watch. I also liked sitting along the Arno and watching the street artists paint the sunset. Life in Florence was a bit slower than I was used to, but I quickly came to appreciate the relaxing pace of Italy.
Kathryn was a spring 2019 Florence student from the University of Missouri.