This past summer, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Rome and Florence, Italy through North Carolina State University. Going into the program, I knew I would experience culture shock, home sickness and general confusion (from not knowing Italian). Coming out of the program, I have changed into a whole different person. I knew it would change my perception of the world, but I did not think it would be to this degree. This experience changed me for the better from the good and the bad that comes with living in a different country for a month.
North Carolina State University offers the Environmental Change and Evolution study abroad opportunity in Italy. During the program, our group spent four days in Rome and about two to three weeks in Florence. We were also completing two classes (Environmental Change and Paleontology), which were three credit hours each. Two amazing professors from NCSU were sent with us to teach these courses. While taking these classes, it changed the way I now view the courses I complete and how I do that. Before this program, I was in my freshman year, stuck in a cycle of completing courses because I had to and not really taking in as much of the material as I should have. Yes, I completed those classes with good grades, but I was not really interested in learning those subjects. As soon as we started the courses in Italy, I was interested in them so much that I would spend time researching the topics outside of class. It wasn’t just because the subjects were interesting on their own or because I was in Italy learning about it, but because the professors loved these subjects and you could tell. We were not shoved into a classroom and forced to listen to a lecture, we were interactive with the environment around us and learned from it. While having classes six days a week does not sound ideal, the way we were taken around the cities and shown how these courses related to Italy is what made going to class fun. Having class in the gardens of Pitti Palace and walking through the city of Florence, looking at the water markers of the great floods, helped me truly digest the information being given.
It was not only the location that made this experience wonderful, but also the people I was surrounded by. Being placed in a wonderful group of peers made this experience half of what it was. Knowing I would never have met at least half of the people that I did without this program really cements how lucky I am. Living in an apartment with three other girls and one bathroom does not sound ideal, but it was fun either way. From cooking together to debating what we should wear became a habit. I still talk to a lot of those students now! Whenever I see them, I get flashbacks to events we went too that I will never experience again. Sure, I will definitely have trouble getting into my door late at night again, but the feeling shared between my roommate and I as our other roommate came to the door after hearing us struggle, will never hit like it did that one time.
While in Florence, we were given two free weekends with encouragement from our professors to see other Italian cities close by. One weekend, one of my friends from freshman year went with me to Manarola. Manarola is a small coastal town with more tourists than walking space. In fact, this area was so small that there were no cars, and that made it so much better. Two other girls from the program had invited us to come with them, so after a three hour train ride we were there exploring a place that never crossed our minds prior to two days before. Swimming on the Italian coast surrounded by people from all over the world was an experience that will never leave my mind, and I am so glad I got to do it at 19 years old.
While I acknowledge I am extremely privileged to have done this, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone if the opportunity is presented. After going through a freshman rut, learning to adapt to college in a new city, and the difficulty of meeting new people while busy with school, I never would have thought that studying abroad would have helped with those things. I thought that having to go through all the things I just listed, but in a different country with only 13 other students, would have made freshman year look like light work. However, it was one of the best months of my life. Even with all the uncertainty and last minute plans, it taught me how to adapt to the situations I was put in. This program restored my drive for education and I could not be more thankful.