Why did you choose this program? Even in my first semester as a freshman here at IU, I knew I wanted to study abroad. Moreover, after learning that my degree requirements included four semesters of a foreign language, I quickly deduced that I wanted to take Italian and that I wanted to study abroad in Italy. After those decisions were made, choosing Florence kind of seemed like a no-brainer. The quaint, artistic nature of the city, along with the overwhelmingly positive reports I had gotten from friends and family who had travelled there, were enough to seal the deal for me.
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. My class schedule abroad was incredible--I mean how could I complain when I got to spend my mornings putting my Italian linguistics to good use at cafes and grocery stores around the city center, my Tuesdays viewing and studying Contemporary Italian Cinema, and my Wednesdays exploring the city's copious museums studying Renaissance Art History. However, I'd have to say that my favorite days were Thursdays when I would spend the early afternoons appreciating the beauty of Florence through expression in Beginning Watercolour Painting followed by exploring the cultural and personal differences between Italy and the US in Cross-Cultural Psychology.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? Perhaps the biggest blessing that I was given in my time abroad was my incredible host-mom Maria. Initially, I was nervous about how my homestay would turn out, but within seconds of meeting Maria, I knew I had made the right decision. A former Italian teacher who is now in her sixties, Maria spent her days volunteering at hospitals and teaching Italian to immigrants trying to get jobs in the city. Although she was able to speak English, the majority of our communication was in Italian and took place during the delicious home-cooked meals her and I shared in the mornings and evenings at her apartment. Living with Maria opened my eyes to so much more of the history and of the authentic culture of Florence simply through the conversations we engaged in and the friends and family I was able to meet. Truthfully, I could not have imagined my time abroad without Maria or in any other living arrangement.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? The biggest piece of advice that I would give to any prospective study abroad students is that the most rewarding experiences come when you choose to step outside of your comfort zone. You may not know exactly where you want to go right now or what you want to walk away with, but I can assure you that any amount of time you spend abroad (and trust me, take all of the time you can allot!) will leave you with experiences that you will cherish for the rest of your life. Seize every opportunity and enjoy the journey!
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? Some of my best memories from my time abroad came from when my friends and I would just simply be exploring Florence and taking in all of the beauty and the allure that the city had to offer. One specific instance that comes to mind was when my friend and I took our art supplies into the Boboli Gardens, found a quiet little grassy area, and painted until the sun went down and the park closed. There was something about the peacefulness of that moment that made me realize how fortunate I was to be where I was, and I knew it was a memory I would never forget.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. Prior to my departure, I think I underestimated how much culture shock would affect me. It was almost as if the excitement and anticipation kind of overruled it, until I arrived. It was the littlest things that took the most getting used to, like being surrounded by a language other than English or adjusting to different amenities, and realizing how many luxuries we have here in the US. Studying abroad opened my eyes to a whole new mentality of "maybe I don't have to do it that way when I get back home," and I think undergoing culture shock played a major role in that.
“If I could do it over, I would…” utilize every possible second of my time abroad. I feel like there were a few days or a weekend here and there where I could have done more with my time--visited one more museum, hopped on a train and did one more trip. Your time abroad goes by in the blink of an eye, so I would encourage any prospective study abroad student to not waste a single second!
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? One thing that I wish someone would have talked to me more about before I left was that there is a transition period for the first week or so and that it will take some getting settled to no longer feel out of your element. I feel like this timespan often gets overlooked because, once everyone gets adjusted, they completely forget about the uneasiness of the first few weeks. Yes, making a foreign city feel like home takes some time, but rest assured that that feeling of being a foreigner is temporary and, once you adjust, you'll be embarking on a journey you'll never forget.
Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.” Not only did studying abroad ignite a passion for travel that has always dwindled within me, but it also opened my eyes to so many aspects of myself and of the world that have impacted the person that I am today. The four months that I spent exploring Florence and other facets of Europe pushed me, humbled me, and gratified me in ways that I do not think would have been possible without the abroad experience. I developed a vast appreciation for the aesthetics of the world, I established a deeper understanding of how fortunate I am living here in the United States, and I learned that the most rewarding experiences come when you are forced to step outside of your comfort zone.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? One thing that I feel like was touched upon quite a bit by my native Italian professors was the Hollywood portrayal of Italy, you know like the "Under the Tuscan Sun" depiction of the country. Yes, Italy is an absolutely breathtaking country, but it's not all wine vineyards and Italian heartthrobs. At the end of the day, Florence is a city just like all of the others around the world and it too has its issues. But that's the beauty of studying abroad, you develop a connection with the city--imperfections and all.