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Walking in Florence
Walking in Florence
Photo by Jillian Weeks
Life > Experiences

A Year Since Italy

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at TAMU chapter.

Looking Back on my study abroad & what I did right.

On June 16th, 2022, I decided not to transfer from Texas A&M.

On June 17th, 2022, I applied to study abroad in Siena, Italy for the Spring 2023 Semester.

To say I had a rough freshman year would be an understatement. I was on the brink of transferring for a few weeks that summer. But, ultimately, the abundance of study abroad opportunities at Texas A&M is what convinced me to stay. The fall of my sophomore year was also a rough one, so we can fast-forward to January, but let it be known that having Italy on the horizon kept me sane.

On January 29th, 2023, my parents drove me from Austin to George Bush International Airport in Houston where I boarded a flight to Paris. A blurry, sweaty, double-digit-hours layover later I was boarding another flight to Florence, Italy. I spent the night in a hotel by the train station and the following morning I took a bus to Siena where I joined the eleven other girls in my program and commenced the best three months of my life.

Now I’m back in College Station. It’s been over a year since departing Houston and surviving the blurry, sweaty, double-digit-hours layover. Now I’m your local “when I studied abroad…” girl and honestly? I embrace it. I had the time of my life exploring Italy and learning more about the world than I ever thought possible. In retrospect, I absolutely have some regrets — there were some sketchy bus rides and many unnecessary purchases — but more than anything, I have a never-ending list of memories that I will cherish forever and decisions I am so grateful I made. Here are five of these decisions.

Going Alone

I went to Italy knowing absolutely nobody. It’s not uncommon for pairs of friends to go on these kinds of programs together. It’s three months in a foreign country; it makes sense that you’d want to know someone. But I am so glad I didn’t. I consider myself an introvert. Not to the most severe degree, but to the extent that going on this trip by myself is what forced me to branch out. I knew that if I wanted to connect with people and have the experience that I wanted, I had to be a yes-person. I said yes to so many excursions and adventures with my new friends and together we made the memories that will last a lifetime. I left Italy with some of the strongest relationships of my college career and I completely accredited it to the fact that I did it by myself and for myself.

Staying in Italian Borders

I am so grateful that we decided to keep most of our travels local to Italy. While we did have a few adventurous weekends where we ventured to Spain or Malta, most of our weekends consisted of travel by regional trains within Italian borders. Our unanimous favorite weekend was when we took a train to Riomaggiore in February. And our weekend in Rapallo in April was a close second. Exploring these less-popular-but-still-tourist-towns during the off-season made for the best memories. We had the most picturesque pieces of paradise all to ourselves. We were able to feel immersed in the culture and connect with the locals in these smaller towns. Looking back, these slower Italian weekends spent on trains were the weekends when our friendships bloomed and our favorite memories were made.

Chinese Food

I love to tell people that our favorite restaurant in Italy was a Chinese restaurant. It never fails to receive a reaction. What is crucial to understand is that it does not matter how good Italian food is — you do get sick of the nonstop pizza and pasta after a couple of weeks. We learned quickly that we needed to explore the non-Italian cuisine in Siena. We found a great burger and fries, one of my friends found some sushi, but the non-Italian place that we became absolutely obsessed with was Ristorante Shanghai. Located a short walk from the main piazza, this Chinese restaurant became a place that we frequented at least once a week. We had to learn to order in Italian for this restaurant because the owners only speak Italian and Mandarin. We would point at the menu and most certainly be the table that asked for at least six orders of “ravioli alla griglia,” or fried dumplings. We all still dream about those dumplings.

Shooting Film

“Wait, can you take one with my camera?” was a sentence uttered by me approximately nineteen times a week while I was in Italy. I love film and I brought my point-and-shoot film camera (a Nikon L35AF) to Italy along with eight rolls of my favorite film, Kodak Gold 200. I captured so many memories with my phone’s camera but my most cherished pictures are my film. The way that film captures a memory is so special to me. The grain, the energy of the moment, the way that light looks — I love it and I am so glad I have so much film to accompany my memories. While yes, it was exceptionally expensive to develop when I got home in May, it was so worth it.

Getting Tattoos

Studying abroad is undoubtedly the best decision I’ve made in my collegiate career thus far. I wholeheartedly believe that it will be an experience that I never forget a moment of. It still feels like I just got home. To conclude our experience, three of my friends and I got tattoos. On each of our right ankles is a tiny “+39” commemorating our three months in the Italian area code. While I bought many souvenirs, from snowglobes to handmade ceramics, my favorite souvenir is the tiny scribe of ink on my ankle. It’s a simple, lifelong reminder of the memories and friendships I took home with me and I genuinely love that this huge part of my life is now a tiny part of my body.

Jillian Weeks is a first-year member of the Her Campus at TAMU chapter as well as a part of the Public Relations Committee, where she has the opportunity to write press releases and create and distribute merchandise for the chapter. Her content for Her Campus largely consists of pieces about travel, life, and music. Jillian is currently a junior at Texas A&M University, majoring in communication with a certificate in social media. Beyond Her Campus, Jillian serves as the Vice Chair for MSC Town Hall at Texas A&M. As Vice Chair, she leads the planning, promotion, and execution of 30 to 40 concerts and events annually alongside her Chair. She also oversees member development, alumni outreach, and fundraising efforts. Jillian is also involved with Texas A&M's student-run radio station, KANM, where she hosts her own radio show once a week. Through both MSC Town Hall and KANM, Jillian is exploring her passion for the music industry through both concert production and radio broadcasting. In her free time, Jillian enjoys rock climbing with friends, film photography, writing songs, and occasionally performing around College Station. She aspires to work in the music industry in Nashville or New York City after graduating.