One aspect that made my Study Abroad Experience so unique and special was when my family came to visit me during Spring Break. A break from classes, and reuniting with my family was much needed, as I was beginning to feel the effects of homesickness and that middle of the semester slump we all know so well. As an out of state student who attends university a full day’s drive from home, I was surprised to experience any level of homesickness at all, since that was never something I struggled with at my home university. However, I’m also extremely close with my family—the kind of close that means daily phone calls home, and regular lunches with my little brother who also goes to the same college as me in the States. Since our schedules were no longer aligned, and it took more coordination on our parts to stay in touch via FaceTime and iMessage, I attributed our limited communication and the fact that I couldn’t drive home whenever I wanted, to the slight homesickness I was beginning to feel abroad.
Knowing my family would be the ones to cheer me up, I began counting down the days until their arrival. My little brother would be flying in first, then my parents. The plan was to all meet in Rome, at a hotel outside the city center that none of us had been to before. Details and advanced planning aren’t exactly my family’s forte, so there was a lot of uncertainty and a sort of “let’s just go for it” attitude. I was able to time my train from Florence perfectly with my brother’s connecting flight from Paris, and from the bustling Roman airport we caught a Mercedes Benz taxi to our hotel because he was the only one who would pick us up. As a disclaimer, I have never been more afraid of flying off the highway going 100 mph and crashing into a guardrail. We quickly found out that the stereotype of fearless (and crazy) Italian drivers is very much a real thing! Although my brother was pretty exhausted and disgruntled from his day long travels, I dragged him out with me in search of what else? Pizza. After a debacle with the local Roman metro system, we eventually found ourselves at the edges of the Roman Forum and enjoyed a nice meal, while we caught up and people watched from the table.
Once my parents finally arrived and everyone got their much needed sleep, we set off to discover the Eternal City. Over the course of the next several days, we ate and drank our way through Rome while experiencing some of the ancient city’s greatest historical landmarks—the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica, and finally the Vatican Museums. There was something extremely special about being able to take in and appreciate all of these famous destinations with my family. Although maneuvering through the bustling city of Rome was confusing and frustrating at times, with several yelling matches, a misplaced Passport crisis, and almost missing our train to Sorrento, we loved our time spent in Rome.
Several platform changes later, we did eventually make it onto our train headed for Sorrento—to finish up the last half our weeklong family vacation. Unlike the chaotic city streets of Rome, Sorrento was a sleepy little coastal town, tucked into the jagged cliffs overlooking the Bay of Naples. Waves of relief washed over us as the hotel came into view. Our travels from Rome to the coastal town had been long, and stressful and there was nothing we wanted more than a meal and warm bed. My mom had mistakenly booked a hotel package that included brunch and evening meals—a mistake we soon came to appreciate because the food was absolutely amazing. Each night, the rotating menu featured regional meals from around the country, including one of the best Risotto dishes I’ve ever had. Since I had been taking a Regional Food course at FUA, I liked being able to explain to my family the different cooking traditions of Italy, where things originated, how they were cultivated or manufactured, and different ways in which similar foods were served based on where you were in the country.
Food has always been something that has brought my family together; my dad loves to cook and that passion has rubbed off on the rest of us. Being able to appreciate Italian cuisine, which is such a huge part of their cultural identity, in a location as beautiful as Sorrento was yet another bonding experience between myself and my family. Also, the fact that we could freely explore the town, peruse local shops, and take in the surrounding coastal landscape without a care in the world, or time constraints and obligations was nice. Rather than feeling the need to just go, go, go and see as much as we could in the allotted time we had, we truly lived in the moment, and enjoyed ones’ company.
I think there’s something to be said about getting thrown into an unfamiliar environment and learning to make it work, while simultaneously taking in everything at the same time. This is something that every study abroad student goes through in the first initial weeks of arriving at their study abroad destination, and it’s also something I went through with my family as we traversed the Southern region of Italy. Having never traveled abroad as a family before, I was so thankful to share this special experience with my family. I definitely think it brought us closer together, and provided memories and pictures that will last a lifetime. If future study abroad students have the option to travel with their family for a portion of their time abroad, I would 100% recommend it. It is something that made my study abroad experience so unique, and I can’t wait to go abroad with them again in the future!
Halie was a spring 2016 SAI Florence student from the University of South Carolina.
University of South Carolina at Columbia
I had the privilege of studying abroad this past Spring in Florence, Italy through SAI. During my four months in Florence, I made amazing friends, experienced a unique and beautiful culture very different from my own, ate a little too much pizza (oops) but more importantly I gained a new sense of self confidence and independence that I didn’t have before. Having never traveled outside the United States before, I was obviously nervous about living in a foreign country but it was one of the best decisions I could have made and I am so excited to share that passion with other prospective SAI students! Even though I traveled extensively throughout Italy, the immense beauty and rich history of Florence will forever hold a special place in my heart and I’m already planning my next trip back!