To study abroad or not to study abroad? It’s a question that confronts college students on a frequent basis, introducing an inevitable flurry of related questions that plague us: when should I go? Where should I go? WHY should I go??
Well, in an attempt to help you tackle those questions for yourself, our editorial intern shares his experiences of studying abroad in Rome and lists the 5 things you will reap by the bucketload should you decide to take the leap (and take it from us, you definitely should!):
“You don’t need to lose it to know that you had it good.” John Mayer puts it perfectly in his song “Another Kind of Green,” playing off the metaphor “the grass is always greener on the other side.” How many times in your life has it taken losing something to make you realize how good you had it? Although the song was referring specifically to relationships, this is true of so many other situations: a tough job, a class that’s giving you a hard time, an initially socially awkward moment, drudging through practice for a sport…
I’ve had this happen to me many times in life. Partly because I’m a fickle person by nature and always second guess my decisions. A girl I swore I wanted nothing to do with seemed like the greatest thing in the world the second I broke up with her. The one time this hasn’t been the case is when I studied abroad. This was the one time in my life that I knew I was having the time of my life while it was happening. That’s a really cool feeling to have. I remember FaceTime’ing my mom while walking through the cobblestone streets of Trastevere (my neighborhood) with a huge smile on my face explaining my new life on the other side of the world (between her sobs and complaints that she missed me).
I lived and studied in Rome for four months the fall quarter of my senior year. I stepped foot for the first time into this unknown city and experienced a foreign culture, a brand new language, and a completely different way of life. What’s more, I knew no one on the other side. I made the trek from Los Angeles to New York to Rome all by myself, and nervously walked into my apartment and university solo. I felt like a freshman again. But I was rewarded.
To say that I had the time of my life is an understatement. When people ask me how the experience of studying abroad was, it’s hard for me to speak words that do it justice. It was the most fun, unique, rewarding, and liberating time of my life. I can break up all my experience into five different aspects of my life that were satisfied like never before:
1. Culture: I’ve been a Southern California boy my whole life, growing up in Orange County, taking trips to San Diego, and attending college in LA. I’ve ventured to other parts of the US, been to Mexico, but never have I fully integrated myself in another culture. The only way to do this is by living in another part of the world for an extended period of time, and opening yourself up to another culture’s differences. It can be difficult at first… I remember trying to ask for a cup of water at a pizzeria and the whole process took a full minute before the cameriere, or waiter, understood what I wanted. But this was perhaps the most rewarding part of my journey. Learning the ins and outs of a culture and its people allows you to rediscover yourself. I finally learned to dress appropriately; I stopped wearing athletic shorts and sweats to class and dressed like the Italians (although I refused to wear a jacket and scarf when it’s 75 degrees out like them). Speaking the language with locals and soaking up all there is to know about life in Italy was invaluable. Experiencing the “siesta” or brief close in the middle of the day for shop owners to go to lunch was frustrating and unpredictable, but a natural part of life in Rome. Meals can seem like marathons at first; Italians sit down for several hours, with the focus on the gathering of friends and family rather than the consumption of food. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Food: The food in Italy is the best in the world. I don’t think many would dispute this. Rome is in the heart of Italy, giving it both a tremendous history and a solid blend of the different Italian dishes, from the seafood in the north to the pizza in the south. Every meal is a breathtaking roller coaster that cannot disappoint the taste buds. I found a new appreciation for “dell’acqua frizzante” or sparkling water, and improved my cooking talents from poor to mediocre during this time (I’ll just never be good). I could never get sick of a pizza margherita, although I did get to consume a wide variety of other foods in other parts of Europe while I was traveling. And the gelato… Regular ice cream will never satisfy you again!
3. Travel: About every other weekend, my friends and I would pack up our backpacks (only one carry-on allowed), and take off (usually on RyanAir, a super cheap airline that can cost as low as 50 euros for a roundtrip flight!) for another part of Europe. This took careful planning and a few nights of staying cooped up in the apartment on the laptop with a couple Peronis. But now I’ve seen every part of the world I’m from (Italy, Germany, Ireland), as well as exploring other countries like Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, and England. Talk about adventures!
4. Friends: I was anxious at first about going to an unfamiliar place, attending an unfamiliar school, and speaking an unfamiliar language, let alone going with no one I knew! I was randomly placed into an apartment with seven other dudes, so I was hopeful that I would find someone I clicked with. Within a week, I had a tremendous group of friends and was stoked I hadn’t bogged myself down with anyone from home. The experience would have been great either way, but making new friends with people who knew nothing about me was a great experience. I ended up meeting so many great people from all across the US and Europe alike, forming many great friendships. I still keep in contact with four or five of my friends from there, and if I had my wedding today a few of these people would be standing beside me. I learned more about myself and about what is important in life from these new friends than anyone else. I also picked up a few habits from them. My roommate was an avid guitar player so I developed up a new fascination for music, and picked up playing the guitar the day I was back in California.
5. Independence: I grew up more in my four months abroad than I did in four years of being at college. Fending for yourself, traveling on your own, protecting yourself from gypsies, doing your own laundry… these were all new concepts to me that started to make me feel like the mature 22 year old I was supposed to be. Being away from mommy and daddy for four whole months was a new experience for me. I’m by no means a momma’s boy, but this time away from home was novel to me. However, I was never once homesick, and was eating up every second of studying abroad so much that I actually dreaded the return flight home (even with all the extra legroom a regular airline provides). I remember staying up til 4am, saying my last goodbyes and talking to my buds about our favorite restaurants, trips, laughs, and good times in Europe.
I’ve heard great things about people’s study abroad experiences from all over the world. No matter where you choose to study, I guarantee it will be a time you will remember, and that you will not come home the same person. I was told this and thought, “how much can I really change?” But after being back for a couple months, I realize I’m not the same person, and I’m extremely pleased with the changes (although my best friend, Derek, was a little freaked out at the woven necklaces I wear now).
The grass IS greener on the other side of the world. Go study abroad. Once you’re there, you won’t look back or search for any other kind of green. Take John Mayer’s advice. Or just click here to hear a great song with some incredible guitar work. Stay tuned for parts two and three of “Another Kind of Green”, where I’ll talk about tips to maximize your study abroad experience, as well as the process of readjusting to life back in the homeland.