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Why Every Student Should Study Abroad: A Reflection On My Experience

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Throwing yourself into a foreign country without knowing the language, the culture, or anyone around you might sound like the beginning of a nightmare. It also sounds like the beginning of the most adventurous and rewarding summer of my life.

This past May, I left the comfort of home in the U.S. to spend six weeks in Florence, Italy studying abroad. I had never been to Italy before nor knew much about Florence at all, only that it was one of Italy’s oldest cities and therefore had an abundance of history. That was enough to encourage me to apply on a whim back in January because I knew I needed to do something with my summer. What better way to spend it than traveling abroad? I don’t speak Italian, and I didn’t know anyone else applying to the program, so going in totally blind is probably both the craziest and best thing I have ever done.

The adventure began with flying alone for the first time, around half the globe. I was so excited to get to Florence that I didn’t start to worry about how anything could go wrong until I sat down in my Italian apartment after 24 hours of traveling, where the reality of what I had just done finally hit me. I willingly flew myself over 4,000 miles away from anyone I knew, I was going to live in an apartment with eight strangers, and I didn’t even know how to do something simple like get food for myself. Why did I decide this would be a good idea? I was running off airline food and sleep deprivation, would I feel this awful the entire six weeks I was stuck here?

Most people who I’ve asked the question “What’s the one thing you regret about college?”, immediately admit to me that they wish they studied abroad. It’s unfortunate, especially with COVID in recent years, that many students have had to miss out on this opportunity, as now on the other end of my trip I realize how wholly unique and incredible my experience was. I quickly made friends with the other students in my program, many of whom also came to Florence without knowing anyone else. We all had the same goal in mind, to put ourselves out there in this situation and meet like-minded people who want to make new friends and make the most of our time abroad. Spending time amongst another culture is so valuable, it’s a chance to learn and respect another way of life, to take a step back and acknowledge you don’t know what’s best and learn from that. My friends and I were even able to pick up a decent amount of Italian phrases. We would get so excited after holding an interaction fully in Italian, even if all we had to say was “Ciao” and “Grazie”. We were able to not just live in a foreign country, but experience it with other people to create an incredible bond, and I’ve learned to love the people I’ve traveled with just as much as I loved our destinations.

With accessible travel opportunities, I was able to see so many other parts of Italy like Venice, the Amalfi Coast, and Cinque Terre, allowing me to create memories taking a gondola ride, going cliff jumping, and taking a sunset boat ride along the Italian coast. These are events I’ve only ever dreamed about before this summer, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have made them come true. Not only was I able to check some places off my travel bucket list, but I also left Italy with the skills to have more experiences like this in the future, and a greater appreciation for the comforts of home. I feel so much more confident taking on responsibilities like booking hotels, making dinner reservations, and planning train times. I never planned trips like this before, let alone in a foreign country, and being forced into this role was the only option because sitting in my apartment for six weeks certainly was not one. I feel so much more confident and equipped to handle these tasks, which is a lifelong skill I’ve been lucky to learn sooner rather than later.

While my energy for traveling was definitely sinking by week six, by this point I was able to navigate the city of Florence without a map and walk around it as if it were my home on the UConn campus. Moments of exhaustion and homesickness did not outweigh the adventures I had, and I would recommend everyone study abroad while you have the chance. Having additional resources and fellow students to assist you in your travels only ensures that you will have an incredible experience while abroad, and anyone can and should pursue these opportunities.

As I made memories, I also learned to be more at ease about planning events and how to get along with people who are different from me. Not everything went smoothly, but doing research and being patient can go a long way to help any travel experience be worth it. Traveling abroad teaches things you can’t learn in a classroom, and yet the skills you gain are invaluable to making you a more equipped adult and even better person.

Jessica Tusa is a writer at the HerCampus UConn Chapter. Jess loves to write about film and TV, pop culture, and unique college experiences. Outside of HerCampus, Jess stays involved in local media with her two positions at her college newspaper, The Daily Campus. She is also involved with Page to Stage Productions at UConn as a performer, director, and writer. She is currently a junior at UConn, majoring in English, with minors in Communications and Film Studies. In her free time, Jess loves to crochet, write in her journal, and catch up on the latest TV and movies.