1. Why did you decide to study abroad?
I wanted to study abroad to experience something new. It was my senior year and the last time I would ever be given such an opportunity. I felt I needed to grow a lot more as a person before I went out into the real world. I needed to be more confident in my skill set and my abilities to problem solve. I also wanted to be wowed by something. I am a philosophy major and I feel like I could never really understand the great 'truths' of the world to be true unless I saw what those philosopher saw firsthand. I went to Florence and saw Galileo's works and Dante's home; I went to Athens and saw the academy of philosophy and the great structures men stood in deliberating ideas. I studied political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics and here was where it all began. I needed to see these things in order to understand fully what I had learned in my four years of college.
2. If you could tell someone one reason why they should go, what would you say?
I can't think of a better way to change your perspective on life and on the world. If you are travelling to Europe, travelling is simple and very reasonably priced. You will probably never receive an opportunity where you are not tied emotionally, financially or contractually to an area. This opportunity will change your perspectives and your understanding of the world. You will gain a priceless amount of new skills including: enhancing your problem solving skills, your people skills, your 'team player' skills, your mediating skills etc. These are all things future jobs no matter what it is are looking for.
3. What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?
There were a lot of memorable moments studying abroad. I would say one of those moments that were life changing was travelling to Athens Greece alone to run a marathon. I sort of hoped that one of my roommates would come with me; however they all decided to go to Amsterdam instead. I planned a trip to Rome where I stayed overnight. Then I got a flight to Athens stayed two nights and flew back to Florence. It was a little mini-vacation all to me, and I was terrified. I had never travelled to another country or really anywhere alone, unless it was in a car for a few hours coming to school.
I was also scared because it is worldwide knowledge that Greece is in terrible debt. I was scared that there would be riots. I was scared because I am a 22 year old girl in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. However I went to Rome and met some students from Barcelona. Then when I arrived in Greece I met some Canadian girls studying in Poland. Ultimately this experience helped me to become more confident in my decisions and in myself. Such that, I can get through anything if I remain clear and confident.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you had to face while studying abroad?
The biggest obstacle for me was the drama that created amongst the 13 girls in my apartment. It was really tough for me because I couldn't really keep up with all of the 'who was mad at who'. I am a no-conflict kind of person, I tried to mediate the conflicts but it only seemed to make more conflicts. Ultimately I ended up finding some friends outside my main 'group' whom I hung out with in times of conflict.
Outside of that my biggest obstacle was my relationship back home. I decided to stay together with my boyfriend and it was really tough to be away from him for four months. But we stuck it out and are stronger because of it.
5. What was your first week like abroad?
My first week abroad was sort of cancelled due to a major hurricane that hit the northeast. So I arrived delayed as many of my other roommates did. So I arrived in Florence and was extremely jetlagged. I lived in an apartment of five girls and above us was an apartment of eight girls. When I arrived the majority of these girls had already arrived and had already known their way around a bit. I felt sort of like a fish out of water as they all seemed to know each other and had plans to go out that night. I tagged along with the ideas to go out on the town with them. But when they didn't leave until 1am I went to bed instead.
Our apartment was gorgeous. Living in a foreign country not only opens your horizons to different cultures, but also different living situations, and dealing with people you don't know. I learned a lot about the schools that my roommates went to which were everywhere from Oregon to Ohio to Connecticut. I feel that my roommates Tori, Michaela, Kate, and Melissa had a tremendous impact on my life and the way I view things. In API's introductory session, I learned that there would be sort of a happy honeymoon phase where being abroad sort of feels like a vacation and all of your roommates and new friends are the best people in the world, then you go through sort of a slump and then back to the honeymoon phase before you leave. In that 'slump' you might not get along with your roommates. And with 13 girls in the same apartment building, hanging out, and going to school together, there is bound to be drama. I learned a lot about things that people from New England do from my roommate from Oregon.
Finding school wasn't too difficult especially when API held it one area of town and had very helpful staff to point you in the correct direction. I didn't speak any Italian, but I was pretty good with maps. My roommate Michaela and I went out on Sunday to find the school. And on Monday, my other roommate Tori and I found our classes together. It was a bit confusing but we found our way and the teachers more than understood.
6. Would you recommend this program to others? Why or why not?
Definitely would recommend this program. The advisors were terrific and the teachers knew their stuff. Class was fun; we went on walks around the city and to museums. Saint A's doesn't usually count the 'wine tasting' or 'cooking' classes toward credits. So I wasn't able to take those classes. However, my classes for literature and philosophy were incredibly interesting and fun.
API also planned incredible trips that were included in the program. Sure you will want to do some travelling on your own, but to have all the people in your school on a trip to Pisa, Cinque Terra, or at a wine tasting is incredibly fun and also you meet more people this way.
7. Express two or three things that help us to understand how you felt living in the city of Florence?
Florence was extremely busy. Our advisors said it was sort of a 'Disney World' and if you have ever been to Disney world you know how busy that is. The streets are narrow and so are the sidewalks. The Italian people to be frank just don't care if you are in their way. They will walk straight into you, if you aren't walking confidently enough through the massive traffic. This traffic of course dies down in November, only to build up on the Immaculate Conception day (December 8th) until Christmas. I became quite frustrated with the amount of people getting in 'my way' all the time. Eventually I think I adopted the Italian 'go ahead and walk into me, I dare you' walk. My boyfriend visited me during API's fall break in October and told me that I had become rude towards people when I walk. However after being in Florence for a few days he understood and began to walk in the same way.
In Florence, running on the street is frowned upon. I ran a marathon in Athens, Greece in November while I was studying abroad. I needed to train for it; however when I went running to a nearby park one morning I was chastised and received weird looks. The next day I went I was chased by some Italian men. So I joined a gym. Which leads me to my next thing:
Italian women seem to dislike American women. American girls about college age tend to dress too revealing or perhaps not classy enough for the Italian women. I went to the gym everyday in Florence and it was conveniently placed next to my school. The women in my gym were about 30 or older and never tried to talk to me but talked amongst themselves. I felt really weird in my American eagle jeans and north face jacket, while they have Manolo Blahnik shoes and Prada dresses. Toward the end of the semester I became better at the Italian language and began to chat with the women and they no longer saw me as the weird American.
Vendors are everywhere including in the market, obviously. They will try to hound you if you are a woman. If you aren't a woman they will barter with you. I learned from a girl in my group, Stephanie how to barter effectively and got some really good deals on some nice Italian leather bags. The Italian men will try to woo you with their one liners. My roommate Tori and I found it more effective to just be sarcastic with them in order for them back off.
8. What advice would you give to students to help them in choosing a program?
When you are choosing a program, think about what you are passionate about. Do you love politics? Art? Architecture? Cooking? It is entirely possible to visit anywhere simply by hopping on a cheap plane like Ryan Air or EasyJet, if you are travelling to one of the European countries. So where would you like to know the most. Would you get along with the people of Barcelona who stay up all night partying and sleep during their siesta? Or would you rather hang out with some philosophy types in Belgium?
You will most likely see something beautiful no matter where you go. But what are you looking to divulge from this experience? What traits do you see in the people of a certain country that you would like to enhance in yourself?
Also, choose the program based on the classes. I was between Rome and Florence for a while and chose Florence because I liked the small town feel where someone will actually remember you. But also I liked that though I would be studying Dante's Divine Comedy, I could also see where he was baptized, lived, went to church, ate, and where he was exiled. It is very powerful to know that the places you are standing in that so many other people have stood there and some of them have been significant characters in history. I am passionate about philosophy and history. Thus why I chose Florence/Rome area. Ask yourself what you want to become, and find someplace that could help form yourself into that person.