I toured St. Joe’s for the first time when I was sixteen years old. Out of all the information our Hawk Host, a senior at the time, threw at us, I only remember her saying the one thing she regrets most about her college experience is not studying abroad. Despite my lack of international travel experience, I was determined to make sure I didn’t graduate St. Joe’s having the same regret as her.
Before taking the plunge and applying to go abroad I threw the idea around in my head for quite some time. In regards to housing and picking classes it would be inconvenient. I’m also very much a homebody. I’m lucky enough to live close enough to school where I could drive home once a week to do laundry (and see my dog, of course). On the other hand, I love to travel. By the time I was applying to go abroad I had been to Italy, England, and France, and was determined to add to that list. While I knew I would definitely travel later in my life, studying abroad would be the one time I had to really travel, really explore, and really immerse myself in different cultures. A two week paid vacation from my 9-5 job would never be the same as four months in a foreign country.
In the weeks leading up to my departure it still hadn’t hit me that I’d be living in Italy for four months. I wasn’t necessarily regretting the decision, but I often found myself wondering what it was going to be like being away for so long, and if things would change at home, at school, with family, and with friends. I dreaded the imminent change. Life at home would move on without me and that was frightening to me. Eventually I realized that while life would continue as normal in the States despite my absence, I’d be starting a new life in Europe filled with excitement and new experiences. Finally, after landing in Florence and unpacking my belongings into my new apartment I’d be sharing with four strangers and one friend from school, it felt real. Florence would be my new home.
While I am taking five classes, a majority of my educational experiences have taken place outside of the classroom. Through daily interactions with local Florentines, visiting museums, and traveling to different cities and countries almost every weekend I have learned countless things about myself, about the world, and how to navigate the world without the help of professors, parents, or anyone’s direction. These are lessons I would have never received in a classroom in Philadelphia or in Florence.
As cheesy as it may sound, studying abroad has also allowed me to evolve as a person. I’ve always been fairly independent (that’s one of the perks of growing up as an only child), but studying abroad has made me even more independent. I’ve learned how to confront people when necessary. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life like the simple pleasure of strolling through an art museum or through a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside, while also still pursuing and enjoying the big things like hiking the Swiss Alps. Most importantly, I’ve learned to become completely comfortable, and almost 100 percent confident in myself and who I am.
Reflecting on my time abroad, I can’t think of anything I regret about my experience. Not only have I become well-traveled (and also well-fed which can be attributed to the pasta I eat almost every night), but I’ve learned so much about life and about myself that I look forward to bringing back with me to St. Joe’s and eventually when I graduate and enter the real world. I suppose I never really lost myself, but I can definitely say I found myself in Florence, Italy. Though my bank account is slightly emptier (and by slightly I mean completely) my heart is filled to the brim with a passion for traveling, love for Florence, and a deep appreciation of what life has to offer. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, do it. I promise you won’t regret it.