What was your favorite class abroad and why?
As a biology major on a pre-med track, I chose my abroad program/school solely because I could take Organic Chemistry II. I knew that this course would be incredibly useful for my future plans of medical school and checked another box toward receiving my degree. However, I did not expect to have such impactful experiences in another class completely different from my intended scholastic path. I attended Florence University of the Arts which happened to have a Guitar Workshop course. I have played guitar since the eighth grade and jumped at the opportunity to play my favorite instrument and even receive class credit doing it. Taking Guitar Workshop was the most rewarding course-scheduling decision that I have made throughout college. My professor played guitar professionally, he was so laid-back, and he led classes like individual private lessons. I truly felt myself improve every week. Also, the school provided me with an acoustic guitar for the semester, so I could practice sitting on the school balcony overlooking the river and Ponte Vecchio with my roommates singing along. It was an absolute dream doing what I love in the place I love.
What felt the most “foreign” to you when you came back to the US?
Being able to drive my car was definitely the most “foreign” thing returning to the US. Living in Italy, I got so used to walking EVERYWHERE and using Uber/taxis/etc. to get around. Even going to the market would constitute at least 40 minutes of walking round-trip. It might sound tiring, but I absolutely loved my walks around Florence and the other cities in which I traveled. I felt as though I saw new things every day. I felt like more of a local, and I eventually knew my way around without using Google Maps every time I left my house. I realized that without having to stare at my cell phone map, I could enjoy my surroundings even more than before. Plus, in an amazing city like Florence, it was even fun to “get lost” and just allow myself to wander the city for an afternoon without a destination in mind. Returning to the US, I admittedly was excited for Target to be a five-minute drive from my house, but every car ride, no matter how convenient, cannot compare to my daily walks in Europe.
What has your experience taught you about the world?
A very important woman and mentor in my life traveled across the world as a young woman simply to learn and grow as a person. With her uncanny networking skills, she managed to obtain a press pass to wait on the steps of the UN meeting that would end in a major world treaty. As she waited with young members of the press from around the world, the internationals discussed the ways that they thought the world could reach peace and unity. After deliberating for hours, they came to the conclusion that the best way to create world peace is the meet people from other countries. By doing this, people would be able to “put a face to a country.” They realized that they would never want to go to war against the others’ countries because they would think of one another. Why would you want to go to war against a friend?
This story never left my mind as I studied abroad.
Each person I met in my host country and throughout my travels became not only a face but also a friend. Now, when I think of dozens of places around the world, I can “put a face to a country.” I can fondly remember my experiences in so many foreign places from Paris to Prague to Lisbon, and I would never want anything negative to take place in the cities that I love or to the local people that I love even more. I even met people visiting from other places in world to expand my friendships further across the globe. My abroad experience taught me that those young members of the press on the steps of the UN were wise beyond their years. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe that I experienced the baby steps to world peace in the spring of 2019, and now I have new connections all over the world.
Sarah was a spring 2019 Florence student from The University of Alabama.