Study Abroad Changed Me

-Submitted by Caitlin Scalise, Abroad101’s Global Ambassador in Sorrento

Corso Italia

Corso Italia

I remember my first day in Sorrento, walking the unfamiliar streets, noticing immediately the slow rhythm of life.  I noticed a lot of Italian families walking together, stopping every so often to let their dog sniff the tree or to look at the new outfit adorning the mannequins in the many shops lining Corso Italia.  I even tried walking at the same leisurely pace, but felt it wasn’t possible to slow down that much!

I remember the next day when my housemate and I walked to school together and were greeted by the director of the school and the smiling staff.  Now that months have passed, I realize that I had no idea I would come to know this city and its people so well.  It now seems odd to think that the people of Sorrento and Sorrento itself were once foreign to me, because now they are a part of me.

In only four months, I was able to explore my interests and learn about a different land and its history.  While looking in the rear view mirror, I see a stark contrast between the beginning of my journey in January and the end of it in May.  I think I have learned more about the world, its cultures and people, and especially myself in this one semester time-frame than I have throughout my whole schooling experience.  They say study abroad changes you, but I never knew how it would change me until now.

Amphitheatre in Pompeii

Amphitheatre in Pompeii

I think the quote “You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way” sums up study abroad.  My archaeology class fulfilled my desire to learn of the many civilizations that shaped Italy into the nation it is today.  We took many fieldtrips to areas like Pompeii, Cuma, and Vesuvius where we stepped foot into the Ampitheatres and ancient Greek- and Roman-styled residences.  I was able to interview local Sorrentine companies, such as a travel agency, with my International Business class, and listen to guest speakers discuss the current economic crisis in the EU in my Business in the EU class.

For my Italian Literature class, I was privileged to learn about famous literary figures such as Petrarch and Dante in the original language in which they wrote their works, and was further able to travel to the cities in which they once lived.  I was pushed out of my comfort zone in every possible way while participating in my internship with a local Sorrentine Limoncello manufacturer.  No on at my internship was fluent in English, the business environment was completely different, and I had no idea how I could help them…but I did.

I was on my own in a completely unfamiliar place, with nobody to hold my hand while I ventured across this narrow bridge of independence.  In the same way, I was on my own while traveling.  Traveling independently—without the ‘rents,’ that is—tested my organizational skills, my street smarts, and my ability to view the many mishaps as potentially funny anecdotes instead of as annoying roadblocks.

While sitting in my favorite local establishment, I learned to be more outgoing by introducing myself to people who sat near me.  Through this I was able to listen to some incredible life stories, personal opinions, and viewpoints on life from people who came from all walks of life from all over the world.  These conversations caused me to question my own belief-sets and even reform my own view on the world.

While abroad, I broke old routines and replaced them with new ones.  My new hobbies became window shopping, leisurely walks, and chatting in Italian.  I put into this experience everything I could, and I feel that I was given even more.  I opened up to this culture from the start, and in turn, it filled me entirely with everything it had: a history, a people, a language, a set of customs and traditions, and a way to live, eat, drink, and breathe.

It gave me friendships and acquaintances, new past-times, and life-long memories.  It gave me a second family and a second home.  It helped me to discover an appreciation for the classics and a new passion in life.  It gave me its heart, and it became a part of mine—and while the lessons I learned and the ways in which they changed me were crucial to my growth, it would be tedious to make you read them all.  After all, the best way to understand what I am talking about is to open up your heart and make your own study abroad experience.  You’ll surprise yourself.

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