Students always say studying abroad is the "best experience ever." I always heard them, and I always believed them. But I never, in a million years, thought that I could experience it for myself.
Well, it is now my third month in Florence, Italy, and I can confirm those statements for myself. Aside from learning the language and interning, I've gained so much more knowledge than I could have ever read in a textbook.
I remember being dropped off by the taxi at my doorstep in Florence on a hot afternoon in August. He sped off as I stood there, not having known if I tipped him enough, and my heavy suitcase fell to the ground. Before I had time to think what my next move was, I caught myself staring at my surroundings. "Where on Earth am I, and what have I gotten into?" I thought to myself. I was in a completely foreign environment.
Never really having traveled outside of the US before, I thought I'd experience a bit of culture shock. I was right. The street below my feet, the windows on the tall city-like buildings, the cars that looked like toys, and the perfectly tailored clothes...nothing looked like anything I was used to. I knew I was in for the ride of a lifetime at this very moment. (A vespa came whizzing by, barely missing my fallen luggage, which also gave me a quick reality check.)
One of the most precious things I'll take away from my time here in Italy will be the incredible diversity of cultural knowledge I have gained. One night, my roommate and I hosted dinner and invited a range of friends. Sitting at a side table, because we had ran out of room, I looked around and realized there were people all gathered together over a meal, in my very dinning room, from Sweden, America, Italy, Argentina, France, The Netherlands, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and Holland. The room was so loud with laughter, banging glasses on glasses and forks on plates. How could the mood be so joyful with such a diverse group of people?
Humans have a natural curiosity about each other. I want to know what they eat in Saudi Arabia, how they greet each other in Sweden, what the people are like in Iceland. Being exposed to these different cultures has enlightened my perspective on life. I appreciate my own life, want to discover what else is out there, and continue to grow. Studying abroad should be called something different because it is so much more than that. It's an opportunity that will truly change your life.