Growing Pains and Catching Trains
Madison, Florence, Spring 2017
May 23, 2017

If you asked me a year ago from now if I ever saw myself living in a foreign country for an entire semester, away from everything I know and that is comfortable to me, I may have looked at you as if you were crazy. Little did I know that when I took the leap of faith to study abroad in Florence, Italy, that I was making the best decision of my entire life. Studying abroad has been amazing, and I have hundreds of memories that I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life. As my semester studying abroad is sadly dwindling down to an end, I can’t help but think of all the wonderful things I have learned about life, the world, and myself during the past four months. Here is a short list of what I consider to be the most valuable life lessons I learned during my time abroad:

My roommates and me in Capri, Italy. These women helped make my studying abroad experience so special.

1. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing.
When I first stepped off the plane in Florence, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Here I was, an American college student who has never travelled the world before with absolutely no knowledge of how to speak Italian. It’s safe to say I was terrified because I was in a foreign country completely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t know this then, but that is exactly what’s supposed to happen. I learned in the past four months that not knowing what you’re doing is part of the studying abroad experience. Those moments where you have to figure out something new are exactly the moments that help shape you. Since stepping off the plane on my first day, I learned how to navigate many different situations where I was completely out of my element. From turning in circles trying to figure out which train I needed to take, to finding the airport in a country that speaks something on the opposite spectrum of English, to even trying to understand what the clerk at the grocery store is saying, I have learned about more of who I am as a person because of these moments. I now understand better how I react in stressful situations, and I have even learned how to better problem solve all because I decided to step outside my comfort zone and not know exactly what I need to be doing all the time.

One of my favorite images of the Duomo and Bell Tower.

2. Spend time doing the things that make you happy.
Yes, I know this sounds very cliché, but it’s so true! Life is too short to do anything other than chase your dreams. Being abroad has taught me about which foods I enjoy eating, what subjects I like to learn about in class, what types of destinations I like to travel to, and even what I value in friendships. Additionally, being abroad has taught me that I cannot wait for opportunities to come to me. I have learned that it is up to me to chase my passions and my dreams in order to make them my reality. Life will not sit around and wait for me. Time is always ticking, and that’s why it is so important to not waste time on something that doesn’t make you happy. So from now on, I’ve promised myself to focus more on doing things that make me happy after I return from my time abroad.

The Eiffel Tower sparking at night.

3. Step outside your comfort zone.
Living in a country far different than the one I was raised in has taught me just how important it is to step outside my comfort zone. Italy and studying abroad has taught me that there are so many wonderful things to experience in this world, and that in order to have those experiences, I have to step away from what is comfortable to me. Since being abroad, I have traveled to many places I did not think I would, I’ve tried various kinds of different foods, and I have tried new activities that I never thought I would. All of these taught me more about who I am as a person, and I’ve learned to appreciate stepping outside my own bubble to see what else the world has to offer.

An image of me enjoying the stunning Swiss Alps.

4. The world is a beautiful place.
As someone who aspires to become a teacher, I fully believe that the best way to learn about the world is to go out and see it yourself. One of my goals this semester abroad was to take advantage of every opportunity I could to travel and to see as many places in Europe as I could, meanwhile learning about the culture and history of each place. While traveling, I learned just how many beautiful cities and countries the world has to offer. Ranging from the Swiss Alps, the beautiful sea grottos of Capri, the historical landmarks of Krakow, and the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, Europe has so many breathtaking and captivating sights to see. What’s more, there is still so much to see. Europe alone is full of beautiful cathedrals, impressive architecture, impressive natural landmarks, and rich, historical sights, yet there is still such a large world out there yet to be explored. The world is a magical place, and I can’t wait to discover even more on my next adventure.

Paragliding in Switzerland!

5. Life is about relationships.
While studying abroad, I had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. Not only do I feel as if I’ve made friendships that will last me years, but each individual person I met taught me that life is all about the relationships we make. When reflecting on some of my memories abroad, almost every single one of them included a fond memory I shared with my friends or with someone who I met abroad. I can’t help but think of my favorite gelateria in Florence without thinking of the three incredible women who work there. They always took the time to ask us about school, how our days went, how we adjusted to living in Italy, and even gave us the occasional Italian language lesson.

One of my favorite ways to step outside my comfort zone was to try new foods. This is a delicious taglieri board! 

6. Savor every moment.
For this life lesson, I want to thank the Italians because they taught me this the best. On my very first day of class, my Tuscany and its Wines professor briefly talked to us about the differences between Italians and Americans. My professor explained that in Italy, citizens are not in a rush all of the time, and they actually take the time to slow down and enjoy where they are at in life. From what I observed while abroad, this is very true. In restaurants all over town, I saw people coming in from work with all of their friends to enjoy each other’s company during their lunch break. I also saw people out at the markets and in the streets everyday leisurely walking, enjoying the sights Florence has to offer. When comparing this lifestyle to the always-on-the-go lifestyle of an average American, I learned how important it is to actually take time to rest and to do things I actually enjoy doing. Especially now that it’s my last remaining weeks in Italy, I have taken this lesson to heart and have tried to absorb every moment abroad as best as I possibly can. It feels like just yesterday I was starting my time in Florence, but now I have learned that life does move quickly and we must pause to enjoy even the smaller things in life before the moment passes us by.

Me at the top of the Duomo. The view of the city from up there were amazing!

I consider studying abroad to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far. Being in Florence has taught me more about life, the world, and myself than I could ever possibly learn back at home.

– Madison was a spring 2017 SAI Florence student from Washington State University.

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About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.