Seven weeks ago, I was sitting in my home in New Jersey, nervous but excited about studying abroad in Florence. I didn’t know much about the place. I tried to arrive with zero expectations. Admittedly, I had some weird feeling that something would go wrong at some point. Perhaps I’d be stuck somewhere alone without the ability to communicate in Italian, I don’t know. I was a bit scared to spend two months in a foreign country with only a few familiar faces and a whole lot of unfamiliar ones. New roommates I had never met before. New classes unlike any I had taken in the past. A whole lot of new things. I’m one that likes a routine, staying comfortable. This was the opposite of that. I was ready but undoubtedly anxious.
That anticipation of something going wrong was right— sort of. My 2 hour layover in Lisbon was a nightmare, and I almost got stranded there while my peers headed to Florence. It all worked out, and I made it on time, but this negative experience put things into perspective on day zero. Not everything is going to go as planned (there isn’t even always a plan), but that’s okay. Once again, it will all work out in the end. And it did. That was probably the worst experience during my time abroad, so it was only up from there—and the program hadn’t even started!
Throughout the program, in addition to exploring Florence, I traveled to Siena, Cinque Terre, Milan, Pisa, Elba Island, and Croatia. I also traveled to Rome, Montalcino, and Venice following the program. These experiences were awesome, but there were certainly challenging aspects such as navigating train stations, airports, and city streets. I also delved deep into Florence and its history, culture, and cuisine. I visited several churches, museums, markets, and restaurants during both my courses and free time, which enhanced my authentic experience of Florence.
I learned so much while abroad, but to sum it up, I became more observant, aware, flexible, open-minded, outgoing, adventurous, and organized. There is so much to do in Florence, and time really does fly, so I made sure I kept an organized list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to eat and made sure I checked all the boxes. When unsure of where to go or what to do, I would go up to someone and ask. I kept an open mind, trying new foods, going to many new places, and making many new friends. I was much more aware of my surroundings, both to avoid pickpockets and to see as much of the city as I could. I’d observe buildings, street signs, people, and more as I roamed the narrow streets. All of these things are applicable to my college and personal life, as I can use what I have learned and continue to grow in these aspects of my life. Awareness, flexibility, and organization are especially important as I take on new leadership positions this upcoming school year. Although I grew a lot in my short study abroad experience, the end of GBI Florence does not equate to the end of this personal growth. I will continue to improve upon these skills and traits that I have sharpened while abroad for the rest of my life.
I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the opportunity to study abroad in Florence. I want to thank Pitt Business and the Global Experiences Office staff for helping me choose this program and find the perfect study abroad fit. I would also like to thank my scholarship sponsors for making it possible for me to study abroad. I want to thank my parents for always encouraging me to study abroad and try new things. Additionally, I want to thank my six roommates and all of the friends I made throughout the program; you all shaped my experience in such a positive way, and I could not have asked for better people to spend this time with.
The lessons I have learned and the memories I have made in Florence are invaluable, and I will carry them with me for the rest of my life. I will forever recommend that everyone studies abroad. This blog is long, but I could go on for hours, and even that would not do justice to how amazing an experience studying abroad really is. You have to experience it for yourself. Trust me, it’s worth it.
– Alexis Hammer