If you have any desire to study abroad, I implore you to make it happen for yourself. I had been wanting to study abroad since high school, so, for about 7 years. Italy had always held the top ranking. One, because Italy houses some of the most beautiful landscapes and quaint towns, and two, because my ancestry ties back to this country and I wanted to visit my homeland one day. Little did I know there are so many other reasons to study abroad. My hope is that by reading my article today you can gain better insight on just how much study abroad can change your life for the better via the snippets of adventures and lessons I learned while studying in western Sicily this past June.
Before diving right in, I think it's important to note my experience with applying (and receiving!) scholarships and grants. Like countless of other students, I heard of these but never thought little ol' me could actually win one, especially among the giant pool of other applicants out there applying for the same reason as me. Let me tell you this: when it comes to the final days approaching the deadline of when you need the money in for your trip, these scholarships can be the Hail Mary you need. Because let's be honest. Study abroad finances can be A LOT of cash flowing out of that wallet. Ask your program director, financial aid advisors and your CGE departmental faculty about popular grants they know of in which past students have won. A good portion of my trip was paid for by the scholarships I earned. But I know that if I would have applied for more earlier in the year, I could have had my entire expenses paid for. Have confidence in yourself and all you have accomplished and apply for those scholarships.
When I do anything in my life, I rate the value of the experience by how much I learned from it, and most importantly, how much I learned about myself. From the moment I stepped into the airport and said goodbye to my family to all the little moments in the car rides, the restaurants, the field (the purpose of our trip was archaeology), and the times us girls braided each other's hair at night, I could feel myself growing mentally, and simply, as a human being. To be separated from what you know, ie. your comfort zone, for a month or however long your trip is, you learn more about responsibility and how to look out for yourself, but also, setting free your inhibitions.
Whether you identify as being an extrovert, an introvert or somewhere in between, the adjustment of being with a group of people you don't know in a country you've never been in can induce quite the anxiety spell. For me, I'm more on the introvert side when meeting new people, so I didn't quite open up until about midway through the trip. And that's okay. It also helps when your group is accepting of all personalities and is able to create an environment in which there is no judgment. Fortunately, my group fit that criteria from the get-go (I'll get to them later).
Any career you pursue and any job you apply for, you will be dealing with all sorts of individuals. And you will be expected to work professionally together and to arrive at a solution if a problem were to arise socially. Studying abroad, especially if your program deals with the constant teamwork setting as mine did, will help increase the basic skills of patience and understanding. Always practice these, as well as kindness, in any educational environment you happen to find yourself in; when it comes down to it, that is what your peers will remember you for.
Another thing you will learn, or shall I say appreciate, from your overseas journey is everything you easily take for granted. For instance, the fact that everyone speaks the same language where you live. In Sicily, we had quite the language barrier. Thankfully, our professor was able to translate for us. And as minute as this seems, the WIFI was basically non-existent the whole time. Now, I'm not complaining about not being able to post my every move on Facebook or Instagram. The struggle came from the inability to communicate with my family as much as I wanted to. Back at home, we can just walk across the house or drive a few towns over to see your friends and family. But while abroad, its much more difficult to get in contact with loved ones. Although I knew I would be returning home in a few short weeks, sometimes we forget the luxuries and conveniences we harbor back at home. This trip taught me to be more grateful for everything I have, and it showed me just how blessed I am to have people around me who help me every day live my dreams.
At last...the people you share this beyond amazing experience with. Any of you crazy dorks reading this, the next few sentences are for you guys:
Although we may not have met naturally, we all became so close during that month-long segment of time that went by with the blink of an eye. With all the inside jokes, the car ride sing-alongs, the late night rooftop parties, the incredible food, cramming in study sessions for those quizzes, those damn brambles, beach days, the spontaneous trolley ride, that random German washing machine, all the castles, those fancy salami sandwiches, the nightly gelato and the countless other gems, grazie mille for the memories that will forever be a part of me.
One last tip: you may take hundreds of photos in the attempts of capturing the beauty of the land and the people you come across, but those photos will never ever compare to the ornamental grace of the atmosphere you capture with your own eyes. So please, put the phones and cameras down and really enjoy every last second. Feed your soul for a while and live for the numbered days you have in your host country. I sure know I did.