SAI Ambassador Tara shares her story about how she progressed from a novice to seasoned traveller.
For some of us, going on vacation with family means going to the airport and following our parents to different terminals, trams and check-points. We get in taxis and mindlessly make our way to hotels. When I got dropped off at the airport, I looked up and around and realized I was by myself; this was an alarming and exhilarating feeling. I no longer had a guide to lead me not only around the airport, but in a different country. Thinking back at this initial feeling at the airport gives me goosebumps as I had no clue what I was about to experience.
Italy is more than just gelato. I picked Italy not only for the food but for the beautiful, intricate city rich in art and culture. Not only this, but Florence University of the Arts was right next to beautiful sites and marketplaces I passed by every morning before class. The Ponte Vecchio, a beautiful stone arch bridge over the Arno river and Basilica of Santa Croce, a church with a plaza boxed in with shops and cafes was only 5 minutes from the school’s main campus. Walking around a new city is unusual and was unsettling at the beginning, but after no longer than a week I nestled myself with a cafe macchiato and my book at my favorite cafe, La Ménagère. Having coffee at this special spot in the city became one of my favorite things to do and was a consistent leisure activity I did for myself. It gave me a sense of place as I would see locals and get to know the servers there by name.
Meeting locals became a very important part of my study abroad experience – I encourage all future study abroad students to go out of their comfort zone to meet new people and experience Italian life like a local! By walking around I became friendly with Sonia, a street artist who introduced me to a bass guitarist who played at some cafes, one of which had open mic on Tuesdays. This was special as I frequently went to these open mic nights with my roommate and made more friends along the way. I met a freelance artist through my local friends who had pop up art shows and exhibitions which inspired me to make my own art while I was studying. My host city offered so much more than what I had considered before arriving.
Throughout my experiences with new people sites and places I journaled. This was such an essential part of my study abroad experience. A dedicated instagram page, blog or journal is a great idea for someone going into a different city. Checking in with yourself and reminding yourself of how your feeling and what your doing is something you will absolutely want to look back on. After taking such a surreal trip, you’ll realize a lot of change in yourself and in your confidence. Keeping record of these changes will help your transition back to the U.S. Writing letters to myself towards the end of my trip aided me in going back home.
At the end of my trip, as I waited at my terminal with some other students, I realized that I am a seasoned traveler now. And thanks to my program and school, I made an easy transition between home and host city. I walked through the airport with my head up, already thinking of my next trips soon to come.
Tara was a spring 2018 SAI Florence student from Virginia Commonwealth University.