The other day, a younger friend from home reached out to ask for advice about studying abroad. She’s applying to study in Florence next spring through a program at her school, the University of South Carolina. I immediately began inundating her with tips – go here, but not there; eat this (and a lot of it); save money by adopting these practices – to the point where I think she felt a bit overwhelmed. Similarly, one of my best friends is considering studying abroad next year, so I have taken it upon myself to persistently pester her with words of encouragement on why she should, and why she should choose Italy as the destination.
Looking back on this semester, I have come a long way since I arrived. Before I traveled to Italy, I was admittedly terrified. I had never traveled so far on my own, my language skills were poor, and I lacked confidence in my ability to overcome the challenges to come. I experienced homesickness, FOMO, loneliness, and got miserably lost in every country I visited. I also made a new best friend from Peru, speak a significant amount of Italian and Spanish, gained confidence and independence, and opened my mind to the perspectives of people from all over the world. Above all, I have matured significantly this semester. The academic obstacles that felt impossibly heavy last semester, now seem trivial compared to the problems facing our global community. The anxieties of graduating and finding a place in the “real” world seem less urgent. I am confident in myself.
Needless to say, my taste buds have thanked me eternally for studying abroad. Rome is the fifteenth city that I have visited, and there has been incredible food at each and every place that I have visited. Here’s a quick recap of some of my favorites and where I had them (in no particular order):
- Fish and chips – Now this is a classic favorite, but I could not get enough of this when I was in the UK. There is something about a fried fish that just really hits the spot (or anything fried for that matter)
Study abroad: you travel, you explore, you eat, and you study. But I’m not here today to talk about how incredible that has been (because it really has). I want to talk about one of the most underrated values a study abroad semester can offer: a mental break.
In my now numerous travels throughout Europe, I have met many amazing people, and had some mind-opening conversations. Most recently I spoke with an Australian man in Seville, Spain. He said something that is absolutely true, and led me to think hard about my experiences this semester, as well as my desire to travel in the future:
“The more you travel, the less you are able to relate to people back home.”
I have become so comfortable in my home of Milan, Italy. The culture of Italy does not seem foreign anymore, and the feeling when I return from a trip elsewhere in Europe is that of comfort and relief. This is my airport, my bus station, and my metro line. This is my neighborhood, my apartment, my grocery store, and my school. It no longer seems strange to me to switch on and off the water heater each morning and night, or to hang up my clothes instead of throwing them in the dryer. However, there is one thing I may never get used to that is a problem in Milan and elsewhere in Europe: chronic homelessness.
This past month has been potentially the most rewarding and fulfilling portion of my study abroad. I had the opportunity to join the UVA GCI group in Dublin. From visiting Newgrange to
to seeing the book of Kell and Dublin Castle, I was able to take advantage of Dublin’s best attractions and even took a carriage ride through the Georgian district. Touring the Guiness
Factory,I was inspired to experiment with homebrewing beer, a new hobby I will be exploring when I return to Milan. Nonetheless, what was most memorable was the chance to explore this new city with close friends. For all the exhilaration that travel and new environments provide, companionship is one of the most essential elements in a meaningful connection to any culture. The Irish were the most friendly and helpful people I’ve interacted with to date. They gave me free concert tickets when I mistakenly tried to look around the theater on a performance night and the elimination of the language barrier that I still encounter at times in Italy facilitates more natural and organic conversations. My Italian is improving and I can easily perform all daily tasks in Milan; however, I believe that the Italians who speak English are generally those with the highest level of education and the most international perspective. I would love to be able to talk to shopkeepers, bakers and waiters on more than a surface level, to learn about their lives and this is difficult with my limited knowledge of Italian. I am in Barcelona currently which has been amazing. I studied Spanish since high School and I am conversant even though I struggle with the speed of local conversation. Travelling alone for the first time, I have gotten the chance to speak with some very interesting people. I met a music student from Girona at the train station and ended up spending the night with him and his friends learning Catalan and gaining first hand exposure to the average night of local Spaniards. Yesterday I toured Montserrat with a Mexican woman I met on the rail car and we had a long conversation is Spanish dying which she relayed her travel experiences and explained Mexican culture. Using Spanish here in Barca and interacting with new people I meet in hostels and tours has been rewarding in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
For any of you out there reading this and haven’t traveled before, this one is for you. Now, I was lucky enough to have both my father and my mother come to visit me while I was here in Milan! I was thrilled to spend time with both of them and be their tour guide for the day. With that being said, their preparation for the trip differed in a few ways – let’s take a look at Dad (The Seasoned Traveler) and Mom (The Newcomer).
Just a few days ago, I returned back to Milan after two weeks of traveling around Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Germany for Bocconi’s “midterm break.” These fourteen days packed a whirlwind of both exciting and tumultuous experiences, and no shortage of cultural differences. Perhaps one of the most troublesome issues arose on our first night of travel, when we arrived in Dublin. One of our roommates had mistakenly booked the hotel room for two people instead of four. Lacking automatic doors (for which I have a newfound appreciation), the security guard at this hotel had to manually unlock the front door for us, meaning he definitely knew we were four, not two. After telling us that more than two people absolutely could not even be in the room at the same time, much less sleep in it, under any circumstances, and that all other rooms were booked, we realized we were in quite a pickle. For the remainder of that night, two of us went and wandered the streets of Dublin while the other two slept, and then returned to switch off. Thankfully, I found a more sustainable solution due to the generosity of a fellow Hoo. Remembering one of my blockmates, Will, was the sole McIntire student in Dublin, I sent him a message humbly requesting a couch in his apartment. Ever the gentleman willing to help out a classmate in need, Will allowed Nidhi and I to stay at his apartment for the remaining two nights we were in Dublin, thus keeping us from wandering the streets at night again.