Beneficial Language Barriers

Venturing to a new land that uses a foreign language can definitely be frightening. From birth we are brought up in a society that allows us to vocalize our needs, ideas, and feelings and understand others while using a common dialect. Being aware that this convenience may be hindered while traveling can most certainly be intimidating, especially while preparing to study abroad.

Before my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy I was nervous about the use of the Italian language. I had only 4 years of beginner Spanish skills under my belt, and knew the Italian language would be difficult for me to use. Luckily, in Florence, most of the locals spoke at least a small amount of English, which helped me in common situations. What I found most helpful was the Italian language course I was enrolled in at my university abroad. This class instructed me to actively use the Italian language, and made interacting with locals a more enriching experience.

There was only one scenario where an Italian man and I did not share a single common word. He was my waiter in a small restaurant in Siena, and immediately had difficult time explaining that he did not speak or understand English. Although we had a language barrier- through the use of smiling, nonverbal language, and a lot of hand waiving, I was able to partake in one of the most memorable lunches during my time abroad.

Language differences are not a factor that should scare the student from studying in a foreign country. If anything, it should be a reason that makes the country even more intriguing. Whether you’re studying abroad to practice a language, or going only understanding English, immersing yourself in a land of words that are unrecognizable only benefits you as a student, and more importantly a person living in a multicultural world.

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Traveling Europe while Abroad

Studying abroad in Florence, Italy was a remarkable travel experience in itself. However, due to ample amount of time overseas and yearning to explore, I decided with conscious pre-planning and budgeting to set sail from my home away from home in Florence and discover new cultures in the European countries of Greece, Spain, and France.

My first adventure began with an overnight cruise to the island of Corfu, Greece. My friends and I booked the trip with the #1 European Travel Company Bus2alps, and had a memorable time on their planned excursion. During my time in Greece I jumped the waves in the Ionian Sea, devoured one too many gyros, and even attempted to learn a traditional Greek celebratory dance, key word- attempted.

Next on my travel list was a sporadic trip to Barcelona, Spain.  Two friends and I decided to book a flight with Ryan Air to what later became my favorite visited country outside of Italy.  My first stop in Barcelona was the warm beach on the Mediterranean Sea, followed by a night of shopping down the city’s most famous streets, “Las Ramblas.” While making my way through the city I viewed the enchanting Sagrada Família Cathedral, and thankfully discovered the Spanish delicacy, Paella, which quickly became my new favorite dish!

Before my time abroad came to an end, friends and I booked one last excursion to the French Riviera. Our primary bus stop was to the popular city of Nice, where I admired oceanic views as well as inspiring French couture. In between our destinations, my friends and I took a train ride to Monte Carlo, Monaco to gamble at the world famous Monte Carlo Casino, which consequently was a loss in euros, but a gain in wonderful memories! My journey ended in the city of Cannes, where movie stars around the world gather for the annual film festival.

These three trips fulfilled my experience abroad, and allowed myself to come home a more adventurous, knowledgeable, and cultured individual. Traveling while studying abroad is a factor I am most grateful to have experienced, and has inspired me to voyage to other new and intriguing destinations in my future.

Going Back to Italy [recap!]

I’m back! It’s been nearly two weeks since I returned from the best spring break trip ever and I’m still weaning off of my Italian high. Before I left, I was anxious. In fact, I wrote about it. I was curious about how I would feel returning to where I studied abroad. But as soon as I arrived, I felt right back at home, like I had never left. The immediate love I gained for Italy during my semester abroad hit me just as hard the second time around, however things were a bit different returning as a tourist and not a student. I quickly realized that my spring break trip could best be described as a giant tease.

My 6 short days back in Italy consisted of seeing friends and new places. I spent the majority of my trip in Rome, visiting a friend who is currently studying in the region (I’m very jealous). To ensure I was able to do all I wanted during the week, I was forced plan out every minute of my trip, which was something I never had to do when I lived there before. Luckily I scheduled time to see the sites of the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. I also made sure to indulge in thin crust pizza, stracciatella flavored gelato, and even find time to purchase a fabulous pair of Italian leather shoes (I mean, how could I not?!). However, what I realized I missed most from my first time in Italy was the abundance of time I had. I missed the freedom of being able to wander the streets without any planned schedule. I longed to forget about the decreasing number of days I had during my trip, and hoped get lost and explore for hours like I how I used to.

The biggest tease came when I arranged a day trip back to the city of where I studied, beautiful Florence. As soon as I stepped off the train flooding memories of my days living within the Florentine walls danced in my mind. As I started going down memory lane, I wished I had more than 24 hours in the city that changed my life. I was able to visit my favorite squares, restaurants, and people of the city, as well as touch the door that led to the apartment where I spent the best months of my life. Emotions were present, and as great as it was to relive those happy days, grief struck when I understood that my spring break trip couldn’t compare to the time I experienced in Florence a year prior.

Going back to Italy for spring break was a gift I couldn’t be more thankful for. I was enchanted once again by the beautiful culture, and saying goodbye the second time around may have actually been harder than the first. Italy has a way of grabbing my hand, and squeezing so tight that I feel as though I cannot let go. Returning as a tourist was not my ideal way to spend time in my favorite country, but I’m confident one day I will be able to return again in future for a longer stay, and just like I used to, be able to wander through the streets for endless hours once again.

Going Back to Italy.

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since I began my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy. During my time overseas, I fell deeply in love with the Italian culture, and fully realized the potential and importance of travel for a young student. My time abroad brought out inner passions I never realized I had, and helped me grow into the worldlier person I am today. And I miss it so much. Since returning to the United States, not a day has passed that I don’t reminisce my time in Italy. The food, the people, the history, all the vespas, everything! The best part about falling in love with a foreign destination, though, is that you can always return. In fact, as you read this post, I’m making my way to O’Hare. Today, I’m hopping a plane back to Italy, the country that still tightly holds my heart.

Flooding thoughts distract me as I prepare for my trip back. I daydream about the monuments I have yet to see, the food in which I will indulge, the culture in which I will re-immerse, and the old memories I will reminisce upon. Bittersweet feelings sway over me when I get lost in these thoughts, and I’m curious to know how I will actually feel once I’m there.

Will I feel grief? Will experiencing the wonders of Italy once more make me long for the memories of my study abroad semester? Or will those old happy feelings will resurface? I know revisiting my old apartment building, school, friends, and my favorite square that overlooks the entire city of Florence will bring back memories that truly changed my life. I spent countless moments discovering myself at these places and with these people, and experiencing them again, with a year’s perspective, will be…what, exactly? I’ll let you know when I find out!

Regardless, I am beyond excited. I can’t wait to tour the Sistine Chapel, a long awaited visit I can’t wait to see in Rome. I burst with happiness when I think about reuniting with friends that still live in Florence, as well as indulging in my favorite delicacies from the local cafes and restaurants. I plan to fill my days with Italian fashion, cooking, scenery, and culture to recall on all of the intense amounts of joy I felt during my study abroad experience.

Above all, I hope to spend time reflecting upon the way my study abroad experience has helped define who I am. I hope to come home even more grateful for my time spent studying and sightseeing in Italy, and as motivated as ever to continue to my travels of the world.

Piazzale Michelangelo

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After a few weeks of arriving in Florence, I decided to  journey up to Piazzale Michelangelo. This famous square promised a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city and I couldn’t wait to check it out. Florentines, as well as study abroad students like me, had described the sight to be “the best in Firenze.”

I began my climb up the steep steps and quickly began to break a sweat. Others had suggested wearing comfortable shoes- and I was glad that I had listened. After approximately ten minutes of solid climbing, along with a few stops to catch my breath, I strode onto parallel ground. At first, all I could see were outskirts of the city; a church and a few gelato shops were visible. But then I saw a sign with an arrow pointing behind me.  I excitedly turned over my left shoulder.

Jaw-dropping. As I stood in amazement atop the historic Italian hill, I immediately became overwhelmed by the beauty I was facing. I could see all of Florence; I spotted the Duomo, nearby villages, and country side that stretched out for miles and miles. I embraced the distant hills, bright blue skies, and the  fresh air given off by the abundance of trees in sight. It was amazing. Time froze as I realized how lucky I was  to observe the world from such a beautiful point of view.

The prominent square instantly became my favorite spot in Florence, and I continued to take frequent walks up the hill during the rest of my time in Italy. The moments I spent sitting on the cobblestone steps, enjoying the natural beauty and pondering life’s questions, will always be some of my most treasured life memories. Piazzale Michelangelo inspired me to find beauty in all the blessings I have been given, and will continue to be a lasting memory from my time studying abroad.

Coming Home: Biggest Culture Shock

There we were: my seven best girlfriends and I sitting teary eyed at our favorite Ristorante La Giostra in Florence, Italy. The eight of us, sitting in silence, glancing at each other, the restaurant, the people, the food… all of us, making sure to take in every last detail, knowing it would be the last time we’d experience a moment exactly like this.

Before my arrival to Italy, friends and family prepared me for the all too common, “culture shock.” Sleeping habits, language barriers, unfamiliar places, and loss of comfort zone were aspects that could have made the transition difficult. However, the moment my foot touched Italian soil, I knew something incredible was about to begin.

The city of Florence had a magical way of pulling on my heart strings, making every detail shine a little brighter, every foreign word sound like a beautiful song, and every bite taste like a little piece of heaven. When lost, I explored. When I couldn’t understand, a smile was exchanged. When exposed to something new, I embraced it and let it influence my new, foreign way of living.

At that last dinner, I understood that my time was up, and the next morning once I got on the plane to head back home to the US this reality would only become a memory.

Home. The excitement of reuniting with family and friends, sleeping in my big bed, eating my favorite home cooked meal, were all things I focused on to make the transition back to Chicago a little less painful. After the first couple days, and getting my fix of all the details I missed while abroad- it hit me, that feeling I had escaped experiencing in Italy- culture shock.

No one could have prepared me for the way I was felt after the excitement of coming home subsided. Reality hit me square in the face. Back to the same work, school, locations, and faces I had known my entire life. It wasn’t the case that these elements were flawed; it was my new way of thinking that didn’t match my old environment.

I knew I had to be proactive and shake this horrible culture shock. I decided to make goals: Working two jobs to save money, do well in school to graduate in time, implement the way I saw the world in Europe to my bearings in the U.S., and continue to be the inspired individual I became while abroad.

My time studying abroad in Florence, Italy has left a permanent handprint on my heart. That experience changed my life for better in so many ways, and I came out of my travels a more cultured, open minded, secure, independent, wholesome person. And like my mother always says- “If you’re sad to see it go, find peace in knowing that it at one point made you the happiest you could be.”

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Until we meet again, Florence!