Why did you decide to study abroad?
For as long as I can remember, I always knew I was going to study abroad. Maybe it was the excitement of the new cultures, new people or the new atmospheres, or maybe it was my urge to go out and see the world. I never believed that I had the resources to study abroad due to the fact that I was a first generation student coming from a low income family. However, I knew that I was going to find a way. The idea of studying in a foreign country is a scary one, however after the death of my father during my senior year of high school I knew that I was going to be brave, go out and see the world and just live life.
Upon entering college, the first thing I inquired about were all the different study abroad programs. When I found out about the College of Journalism and Communication study abroad program in Italy, I knew I had to find a way. And so I did, and I definitely do not regret it.
Tell us about the program you went on
The program I went on was through the College of Journalism and Communication called "Gators in Italy", which was organized by AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Studies).
Although it was only a one month program in Florence, Italy (May, 2015) it was definitely a great one. AIFS provided housing in apartments across the entire city. I was fortunate enough to live right around the corner of my classes on Via Dei Rusticii 8. My apartment was on the fifth floor of a building and I had four other roommates (who I ended up becoming awesome friends with).
Academics wise, my classes were at 9AM and 10AM. The classes were taught by professors from the University of Florida and only consisted of 10 lectures throughout the entire month. However, excursions, tours and activities also counted towards our credit hours. I received six credit hours by taking a Happiness and Leadership class, which were taught by amazing professors.
Excursion wise, AIFS did a great job in providing many weekend and day trips all throughout Italy. Altogether we went to Sorrento, Pompei, Sienna, San Gimignano and Rome as well as a wine tour and cooking class. There were also tours provided and overall they were a great help.
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
Paying for my study abroad experience proved to be more difficult than I had originally planned. Although I received a full scholarship from the University of Florida, summer classes were not included. I paid 1/3 of the total cost from the money I had saved and the rest I had to take out a student loan. However, I strongly believe the experience is worth every dollar. Right now I do not have much money, but I do have a lot of time. In the future, I may have more money, but I will not have as much time. Taking out loans is worth the experience and right now I am just borrowing money from my future self.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
I wish I had known more about the European and Italian culture. I felt ignorant sometimes for not knowing certain customs or traditions. For my next student abroad experience, I will definitely make sure I research everything I can about the country to be informed.
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
Studying abroad in a foreign country has definitely made me a more open minded individual. I have realized that for so long I (along with many other American students) are so ignorant of the different cultures around us. Personally I definitely feel like I have grown a lot. I have a personal craving to experience all the cultures and get to know about the history and people of different regions. My study abroad experience has definitely helped me become more brave. By spending one month in Italy, I gained the courage to backpack Europe by myself for an extra two months. Right now I am navigating by myself around different countries and I really am thankful that studying in Italy helped me get used to Europe a little bit better.
Academically I now realize that I want to know more about the world. After this experience, I have decided to minor in International Studies and will do my best to stay up to date with everything around us.
What was the most memorable moment of studying abroad?
The most memorable moment of my abroad experience was meeting up with a Florence local. I went on couchsurfing.com and was fortunate to find a young Italian student named Chiara. We met for coffee and show taught me about the Italian culture and described how living like an actual local was like. The fact that I was able to get the inside scoop from a local, while having coffee near the Ponte Vecchio alongside the river was just an absolutely amazing experience.
How was the entertainment and nightlife?
The entertainment and nightlife was amazing. Just going around and listening to different languages being spoken by tourists and locals was definitely a great experience. At night I felt very safe and loved walking the streets.
It is definitely a great experience to be able to see how people around the world celebrate at night and how it is similar yet still different to American nightlife.
In what way do you feel your experience abroad has prepared you for your future career? (Think both tangible things like language acquisition and intangible like learning to work with people who are very different from you)
This experience has helped me in so many indescribable ways. I feel like I am more aware of different cultures and connected to the world around me. Especially now that I am backpacking by myself, I am forced to communicate with different people in order to socialize. So far, I have met so many amazing people that I hope to stay in touch with for a long time.
I am also able to navigate through cities using the metro/bus system and also able to walk for various distances. I also feel like I have more street smarts and am more aware of my surroundings. I do not feel like the same person I was before I left. I feel like I have grown so much and now have an entire different perspective of life.
Would you recommend the program you went on, if so why?
Yes, AIFS did a very great job in organizing all of the events and I really felt like I had a strong support system while I was abroad.
What advice do you have for students thinking about study abroad?
Just do it. Students shouldn't think of a lot of reasons or find excuses to not study abroad. It is a wonderful experience and worth every penny. Don't be scared, just branch out and you won't regret it. Also don't just stick to people you're comfortable with. Branch out and meet locals or find new friends.
"If you wait until you're ready, you'll be waiting for the rest of your life." - Lemony Snicket
Any additional comments or thoughts that you have about your study abroad experience
I am currently having the time of my life. One month of studying abroad and two months of backpacking Europe does not seem like enough time for me. I am so thankful for this experience and I can't wait until my next one!
Author: Estrella Quiroz