What is your favorite memory from studying abroad?
The amount of lifelong memories I made abroad is immeasurable. Looking back, it feels like every second I spent in Italy is special in its own unique way. But if I had to choose a favorite memory, my choice my surprise you. While abroad, I visited countless countries, went on endless trips, saw extraordinary places, and did incredible things. But the most special memories I have of my semester abroad aren’t from my big exciting adventures. My best memories are those of studying in cafes near my apartment. Grocery shopping with my roommates before cooking homemade Gnocchi and watching movies on our couch. Walking by the Arno at night. While abroad, I traveled and explored and had adventures I’ll never forget. But the memories that are still the most important to me are the quiet moments I spent in the city that became my home with the friends who became my family. There are a lot of great big experiences to have abroad, but the things you’ll remember the most are the little adventures. They’re the most important.
What travel tips would you give someone studying abroad?
The best advice I can give to anyone studying abroad is to go out and get lost. Leave your apartment and walk without a plan, without a map, without a destination. Find streets you’ve never seen and go into neighborhoods where you’ve never been, because you never know what you’ll stumble upon. My assigned apartment in my host city was a 25 minute walk from the city center. It was far from where I took classes, far from the famous tourist spots, and far from most of the other student apartments. I was greatly disappointed when I learned this initially. But by the end of my semester, I realized that living so far from everyone else was the best gift I could have received. My friends spent their semester among the tourists, living in crowds, never experiencing my side of the city. I, on the other hand, shopped at small local markets on the weekends and made friends with the waitresses at restaurants off the beaten path. If you really want to experience your city, if you want to be more than just a long-term tourist, then get out and get lost. Go to the side of the city you wouldn’t normally. Eat at restaurants that aren’t on yelp. That’s how you become a local in a city filled with tourists, and I promise, you won’t regret it.
Share an example of how your international experience has improved your skills in communicating with others.
Before I went abroad, I was the kind of person who couldn’t stand the idea of embarrassing myself. I was ‘stand in the back and watch how other people do it’ kind of girl. I was afraid to ask questions and terrified of making mistakes. Spending 4 months in a country where I don’t speak the language has completely transformed the way that I communicate with other people and navigate unfamiliar spaces. When you’re traveling through France and you don’t speak french and you don’t have data so you can’t translate the street signs, you’re pretty much low on options. You don’t have any other choice than to ask questions, to make mistakes, to figure it out. That’s the greatest skill I learned from my semester abroad. I’m no longer afraid to charge into an unknown situation and ask questions. I’m not afraid of traveling alone. I’m not afraid of making mistakes. My study abroad strengthened my communication skills by making me more confident in my ability to conquer new challenges and use communication as a tool to facilitate my success. Nobody ever got anywhere by not asking questions. In many ways, that’s rule #1 of studying abroad. Just ask. Because, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Sabrina was a spring 2019 Florence student from the University of Missouri.