Study Abroad: An Experience Beyond the Classroom

            Two Summers ago, I had the privilege of studying abroad in Italy for two weeks. Being in quarantine for so long has made me nostalgic about being out and traveling, so here are some post reflections about my experience. While I learned a lot in the classroom between Italian language classes, street reporting, and crafting a feature article, my experiences stretched way beyond the classroom. I was immersed in a culture I once knew nothing about that transpired into a culture of my very own. Besides gaining friendships with fellow students in the program, I created newfound bonds and relationships with the student interpreters we worked with. With each day that I walked the streets of Bologna, Italy, I learned more and more about the city’s history. Beyond the cultural aspects, I learned independence and self-sufficiency in a foreign country.

            You gain so much more than just learning in a classroom with the exceptional backdrop of a foreign country. You learn the culture, the way of life, and the values of its people. The food culture was not hard to adjust to during my time there. Normally, they have a light breakfast consisting of espresso and a pastry, and late dinners. My favorite thing to get accustomed to was the tradition of “aperitivo.” Aperitivo is a pre-dinner meal that consists of a drink and snacking. The food is traditionally cured meats and cheeses with pieces of bread. I loved being able to indulge in this tradition with my friends after a long day of classes and street reporting. 

            The home base for my study abroad program was in Bologna, Italy, and while it has a long rich history; I was also lucky enough to also see how it has changed. Bologna is a progressive city in Italy, probably the most progressive in the country. And while times are changing, during my time there, the interpreters said many places in Italy remain traditional. The fusion of modern vs. traditional could be seen and felt throughout the city. Bologna is a very big college city because it is where the prestigious University of Bologna is located. Many students from around the world come to receive an education there and as such, there is a large Chinese population that saturates the city. There are also many immigrants and refugees who live in the area, making for an array of cultures. This could be seen in the people walking the streets and at the restaurants in the area. This environment was actually comforting as it reminded me of my usual surroundings at Rutgers, making the city feel like my very own.

           It’s assumed you’ll make new friendships and bonds with fellow classmates in the program with you, but what I didn’t expect was the friendships I’d be able to make beyond that. The program I went abroad for required that we worked with interpreters who attended the University of Bologna in order to conduct offsite interviews with locals. Since they were around our age, it was really easy to get along with them. We would talk in-between conducting interviews and not only did I learn a lot about their lifestyles and growing up in Italy but I forged memorable bonds with people I would’ve never met if it weren’t for this program. Many of them actually want to move to America and, if they do, they know they’ll have a friend nearby!

           I’ve never been afraid to do things on my own or without the comfort of my parents’ protection, but admittedly, being by yourself in a foreign country can be daunting. It’s especially hard when you don’t speak the language and concerns about safety come into play. However, I was there for long enough that the street and its names started to become familiar. I always passed the same cafes on the way to class, the same bar on the way home. If I saw the Asinelli Towers, I knew I was close to our residence. I started to understand the public transportation system, whether it was the bus schedules or the train routes. I started gaining favorite gelato shops and pasta restaurants. I knew what areas to avoid when it got late at night and where to go for late-night pizza. By the end of my two-weeks, to me, everyone else was the tourist. There’s great unspeakable satisfaction and pleasure to be able to reside in a country long enough that you feel like a local. 

            My time in Bologna, Italy is an unforgettable moment in my life that I still look back on. I gained so much more than just skills and experience to help me in my career. It was an enriching experience that stimulated all aspects of my time there. If you’re on the fence about studying abroad, just go. You might be pleasantly surprised and gain something more meaningful and significant than you would’ve ever expected.