When I began college three years ago, I knew I wanted to study abroad. Personally, I believe everyone should take advantage of this amazing opportunity. It was an easy decision for me because I truly have a passion for traveling and learning about other cultures. In my opinion, there was not a better way to do this than to immerse myself in a study abroad program.
With help from West Chester University’s International Programs office (Old Library 101B), I chose to go with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). Once I decided on AIFS, selecting my program was easy. I knew I wanted to go to Florence, Italy, and this program seemed like a great fit for me. It included roundtrip airfare, tuition, housing, meals, and two weekend trips; one to Rome and the other to Venice.
Before leaving in January, everyone told me the trip I was about to embark on would change my life. It wasn’t until I was in Italy that I fully understood the magnitude of what everyone had said. At first it was very hard, but as time passed, the unfamiliar became familiar, my new friends became my family, and Florence became my home.
Naturally, studying abroad meant I had to do some school work. I spent Monday through Thursday going to school in Florence. I took sociology of Italian women, Sociology of Italian soccer, and two Italian language courses, all of which transferred back to WCU. My course on women was especially great because I was able to complete field work in a foreign country, which made my research unique. In addition to taking academic classes, I also had the opportunity to attend many cultural events. I was able to learn how to make books in a paper making class, attend Fiorentina soccer games, get first-hand experience in Italian cooking, and attend lectures presented by Italian scholars. In my opinion, all of these events really helped me develop my love for Italy and its culture through interacting with locals, learning their traditions, and improving on my Italian language skills.
On the weekends, I traveled throughout Italy, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. My favorite weekend trip was to Munich, Germany where friends and I attended a beer festival. The festival was an incredible way to meet locals and other tourists. Everyone was so friendly, and I was able to learn a lot about German culture and tradition. I also really enjoyed London, which has always been one of my favorite cities.
Navigating through foreign places was sometimes a struggle, but in my opinion it was an important part of studying abroad because it taught me to be more mature and independent. Also, it was amazing to get to know other countries’ geography, culture, food, and people throughout my travels.
It was such a great experience and it seemed to end as soon as it had begun. I made lifelong friends, traveled through seven European countries, did research work for my major in a different language, and took more than 9,000 photos. After all of this my four months abroad came to an end.
Coming back to Pennsylvania was as hard as leaving for Italy had been just four months ago. Florence had become my home and adjusting back to life in the United States took time. I looked at my pictures daily, and often my eyes would tear up while reminiscing about the great times. My experiences over those four months really did change my life, just like everyone said they would. Because of studying abroad, I have grown as a person and matured significantly. These memories I have made will last me a lifetime.
I think everyone should study abroad during their college years. This may be the only time in a person’s life where he or she will be able to pack up and live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. I know many people are hesitant to go abroad because of money, language barriers, and culture shock, but these things are not important in the long run. You will be able to figure out the money between financial aid, scholarships, and loans. Do not worry about the language barrier, because you will learn to communicate in different ways, and most study abroad destinations have a large population of English-speaking residents. And, of course, you will experience culture shock, but it means you’re doing the right thing. You are going out of your comfort zone and putting yourself in situations that are unique to that culture. You are experiencing what other countries have to offer, which is what studying abroad is all about.
If any West Chester University students are interested in studying abroad, I recommend contacting Angela Howard, the assistant Director of International Studies.
Molly Byrne is a junior at West Chester University majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology. She can be reached at MB733893@wcupa.edu