“Studying abroad changed my life.”
This quote may be one of the most stereotypical expressions of students who come home after studying abroad, yet it is impossible to deny that studying abroad changes a person’s life.
I intentionally planned this semester abroad. All the details of my life (which so far had been a “typical” undergraduate student’s path) were paused. Delaying my graduation date. Delaying my job’s start date. Moving back into my childhood bedroom. Constantly working over the summer before I left the States.
I even intentionally planned how studying abroad would change me. I considered what different foods I wanted to try, what new places I wanted to tour, and which nontraditional classes I wanted to take. I ~knew~ that studying abroad would change my life.
It undeniably changes daily living; there are many obvious ways that travelling to a new place can change someone. Perspective. It can change someone’s perspective, as a different culture becomes dominant and one may find that they are a minority for the first time in their life. Opinion. It can change someone’s opinions, as biases are disrupted when they see for themselves how realistic a certain place or demographic really is. Skills. It can change their hard and soft skills, as one must adapt to a new work and living environment, dealing with culture shock in the face of lifestyle decisions. Behaviors. Habits seem to be more easily created in a new environment. Ingrained behaviors can change, such as eating, shopping, cleaning, and more.
All of these changes happen to every abroad student to some degree. But as my time in Florence comes to a close shortly, I realize that the most valuable lessons didn’t come from snapping photos and being a tourist and attending class.
They came from sitting back and observing other people. It is about learning their perspectives, opinions, skills, and behaviors. What do all of these observations lead to? A change in action. A change in identity.
Taking action based on what I have observed has changed everything from my thought patterns to how I define my identity. And by “taking action,” I do not mean to portray the hustle culture of America.
I mean the act of taking a walk – and noticing every detail of the sky.
The act of spontaneously visiting a local business for a treat – and closing my eyes to consider the flavor.
Smiling at a stranger – and perhaps saying hello.
Attending class – and engaging with every curiosity that arrives in my head.
All these behaviors are acts that I can take back with me to America, where I realize that I had become accustomed to monotonous daily life. But living in a foreign country and being able to repeat all my “boring” acts of existence has taught me gratitude and human connection (Especially in a country prioritizing slow living such as Italy).
Take it moment by moment. Inhale and exhale. The present is all we have. Life goes on regardless, so we ought to enjoy it!