Just this past spring semester I was fortunate enough to go on a four-month long study abroad journey to Florence, Italy. Not only did I have the amazing opportunity to explore Italy, but I was also lucky enough to travel throughout Europe. This experience was not only the best experience of my life, but also one of the most challenging.
From the time I was a little girl, I was always eager to explore, and this trip had me feeling the same way. Before boarding my flight to Europe, I experienced the same emotions I had every time I went on a trip with my parents. This time, however, I was on my own going to a place I had never been to before for much longer than anywhere I had ever been. I will never forget that feeling of mixed emotions as I waved goodbye to my family and boarded my plane.
Upon the first few days of my arrival, I began to feel much more relaxed as I indulged in some of the best pasta, pizza and gelato I have ever eaten. I made friends from all over the world and began taking classes that taught me all about the Italian culture and European lifestyle. This was the experience I had always yearned for as long as I could remember and it was incredible. I started to gain a new outlook and perception on life and other cultures around me.
After a few weeks, I took my first trip outside of Italy to Barcelona, Spain. The new traveler in me was ready to take on the city just as I had when I arrived in Italy. Like most study abroad students, however, I didn’t think I would face too many challenging situations and my primary focus was to have fun and discover new things. The day I arrived in Spain, however, I encountered my first real language barrier challenge when I realized I needed directions taking public transportation from the airport to my hostel. Everyone I asked directions from responded to me in Spanish. Normally, in the U.S. I would open Google Maps, but because Wi-Fi wasn’t available that was not an option. From that moment, I realized that there was so much I took for granted while living in the states. It made me realize I would actually have to plan and prepare better if I wanted to see other cities without getting lost.
My challenges didn’t end there. I continued to travel and by the end of my journey I made it to nine countries (Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, France, Poland, Netherlands, Croatia, Germany and Greece). During that time, I continued to face situations that turned into lessons learned. I found that while most people in Europe speak fluent English, not all are willing to and it was important to always have a game plan in case things didn’t go as planned. There were so many times where I felt completely out of my comfort zone. Looking back at my experience now, I can’t imagine not having went to Italy. Overall, I gained confidence and became more open to new ideas. Just like in the field of public relations, no day was ever the same and each day I faced a challenge that better prepared me for the next one. Most importantly, I learned that all the struggles I faced were part of this rewarding and life changing experience.