Expectations vs. Reality

In the weeks and days leading up to my departure for my semester abroad in Florence, so many friends and family members asked me the same question: “Are you excited?” Of course I was anticipating the chance to spend an entire four months living and learning in an entirely new environment, but to be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect. Having never been to Italy, let alone Europe, I had no idea how different particular cultures could be from my own, what the language barrier would be like, and whether or not I would every get comfortable with my new surroundings.  If someone asked me what my expectations were the day before I left, I probably would have told him that I planned on living in a magical land full of carb-filled fantasies, where I would become fluent in Italian and master all aspects of Florentine culture by the end of my time here.  Almost a third of the way through my time here, I can already tell you how off my expectations really were.

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From an academic perspective: In all honesty, I underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into excelling academically here in Florence.  I am attending a school based out of London, so we follow their grading criteria; the grade you receive for each class depends solely on your performance on a midterm exam, 2500-word research paper, and final exam.  Back at Pitt, I am used to other grade components such as attendance/participation, quizzes, and homework assignments that all factor in.  This system has definitely been a bit of a wake up call, and has led me to put a lot more effort into the readings assigned for each class, because my knowledge of this information is what will essentially make or break my grades here in Florence.  On a side note, having classes that are an hour and forty minutes versus an hour and fifteen minutes is definitely noticeable – the extra twenty five minutes of lecture every single class session definitely adds up!

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From a professional perspective: Before coming here, I never really considered the impact that studying abroad would have on my professional development.  Being able to navigate the tricky waters of different cultural norms is an essential skill to being a member of the business world and successfully engaging in international business matters.  In addition, simply having international experience on my resume could set me apart from my competition as I graduate from college and enter the workforce – it shows courage, independence, drive, and a desire to explore and experience new things.

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From a personal perspective: I was pretty nervous stepping onto my flight to Europe, knowing I was headed to a completely foreign place for the foreseeable future.  I expected to be completely lost at first, to feel pretty uncomfortable with almost everything going on around me, and to stand out like a sore thumb.  My expectations weren’t entirely incorrect, but I definitely underestimated myself.  Natives can definitely tell I am an American student, but I truly believe I have assimilated pretty well into my new culture, and Florence already feels like a second home to me.  I never imagined that I would feel as comfortable as I do in this city, or that it was possible for me to fall in love with it so quickly.  Everything about this place (and all the others I have visited so far) has exceeded my expectations, and I can only hope the next few months are as amazing as the first has been.

Ciao for now!

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