Seven countries, over 15 cities and countless memories and laughs. It’s hard to put a numerical value on what my time studying abroad has meant to me. It’s even harder to fairly articulate how I quite literally cannot recommend it enough.
When applying to study abroad, Global Fairfield did a really good job at laying out all of the requirements we needed to complete–the work, applications, appointments, requirements … the list goes on, all in hopes that we would be and feel prepared upon our arrival at our destination. What they didn’t (or rather couldn’t) prepare us for was the internal shift you feel once the fact that you’re living in a foreign country for the next four months actually sets in.
When applying to study abroad, they ask you to reflect on several questions, one of which is, “What do you hope to learn by studying abroad that you can’t learn by staying at Fairfield?” At first, this seemed rather obvious, given that I’d be on the other side of the world, so there was clearly a lot that I would experience in Florence, Italy, that was out of reach from Fairfield, Conn.
My response to this question stumped me for a fair while, as I wanted to respond outside the obvious answer. After a few days of thinking about it, I wound up responding with, “It’s not what Fairfield cannot give me; it’s what Florence can.” At Fairfield, I am comfortable. I’ve grown to love the familiarity of the environment I am in. I know which way to go to find the Tully and which to the library. I know which seat I like best and the name of my favorite on-campus Dunkin worker. The point is, I knew I could thrive here. I desired an experience where I was forced to find that feeling again–to prove to myself that I could thrive somewhere I wasn’t comfortable.
When I arrived in Florence, to say I was exhausted would be a gross understatement. After landing, I was met with someone who took me to my new apartment, had about 40 minutes to move in and was quickly rushed to the first of many orientation events. The first few days were almost like a high–we slept when we could, and tried to take in as much as our bodies would allow as walking zombies. After those first few days, reality set in. I was prepared for homesickness–or so I thought. I expected to miss my family and friends and pets and bed. What I didn’t expect to miss was the comfort of knowing my surroundings. I had to relearn what it meant to be independent. The first weekend my friends and I quickly dove head first into travel opportunities. We wound up on a 13-hour bus ride to Croatia. The weekend after, the Amalfi Coast, and the weekend after that, Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. Following each of these incredible trips, I found myself looking forward to heading back to Florence. I had been so grateful for each trip, yet also grew excited to be back home.
Somewhere along the way, Florence became home. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, or when it happened, but I found myself growing familiar with the place around me. I had a favorite coffee spot, a favorite study cafe, a favorite panini place. And while these were places that I loved, they weren’t what made me fall in love with Florence. It was the connections I made. The connections to the barista behind the register. To the Irish bartenders that all of the Fairfield kids became like family too. To the students I was sharing this time with who I hadn’t known prior to studying abroad. And to myself, for feeling at home thousands of miles from it.
I’ve seen more places than I could have dreamed of, had more fun than I thought possible and learned more about the world in those four months than I think I ever will again in my life. I also have never laughed harder. I spent every single day of those four months laughing until I cried and felt gratitude that words will never do justice. I also made friends that I am quite literally bonded to for life. I have never learned so much from being so reckless and carefree. It’s an experience I’m eternally grateful for.
Anyone can travel, see new places and learn something about the places they’ve visited. Studying abroad is something entirely different, an experience that I won’t try to articulate because I simply can’t. Who I was when boarding my flight to Florence on Aug. 30, 2022, is not the person that I am today–and for the better.