How My Study Abroad Changed My Life

Cinque Terre
Enjoying a Cinque Terre sunset and writing about my day.

It’s a funny thing, looking back on your travels past – especially when you’ve written them all down! In preparation to officially launch this website, we imported my posts from the WordPress site I had when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, nearly five years ago. I’ve been working on editing them – fixing the typos and removing any of the information you really wouldn’t care about – like mundane days where I complained about Italian class, and such. You know, those blogs that delighted my parents to no end, since a post proved I was still alive without having to spend obscene amounts of money to call home. I didn’t intend for those posts to be a travel blog, per say. It was more of an online diary to document my thoughts, feelings, and ultimately, my adventures.

What amazes me, though, is that my outlook on travel was so incredibly different before I studied abroad. Sure, I went on plenty of road trips with my college friends, and my boyfriend (now husband). But that was my first travel experience that lasted longer than eight days. I’d never even set foot on a plane! I was terrified, and having some serious doubts about whether I’d made the right decision in going on this trip. I was sheltered, immature, and frankly ungrateful. And it pains me to read through those blogs knowing how I feel about travel now. I wish I could slap my 21-year-old self and say, “You’ll remember this as the single greatest time of your life. Stop complaining about how hot it is, and soak up every moment!”

I had always been hesitant about it. Two of my college roommates decided they wanted to study abroad, and convinced me to go with them. I was in a college program that required a 12-credit internship or a study abroad, so I figured for my very last semester, why not go to Italy and study art history and Italian cooking? Sounded perfect.

I don’t think I started to process it – really – until my first full week in Italy. The day after I got there, I turned 21, and wrote a post about how I could have never imagined spending my birthday so far from home. The posts that follow are about going to a charming Italian town called Lucca, and visiting the Cinque Terre, during which time, I had a “freak-out session,” wondering what the heck I was doing there!?

It’s so shocking to me now, that I could have been in Vernazza, one of the most stunningly beautiful places on this planet and be missing home. It’s exactly the opposite of what I do now. Here I sit at home, dreaming about Italy. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I’m just glad I started to enjoy my travels through Europe more as the weeks passed.

I didn’t realize what a big impact that trip had on my life until I started working in tourism marketing when I got home. I host a lot of travel writers in the Finger Lakes, and more often than not, I get to pick their brains about their chosen careers, and hear their stories about the incredible places they visit. It made me realize how passionate I am about making sure I have the same experiences.

If you choose to read through my study abroad blogs, you’ll learn about my adventures in all kinds of places. I was lucky enough to travel not only throughout Italy, but Scotland, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, and Croatia. I visited Paris, London, and Barcelona. Kyle and I even got engaged in Venice!

My study abroad truly shaped me into the person I am today, probably more than any other experience in my life. I won’t say it was always perfect – and you’ll sense my uncertainty and homesickness in some of my posts. But looking back on it, the experience made me a strong person, and a confident traveler. I get asked rather frequently if I’d recommend studying abroad, and I rarely let people finish the question before I give a wholehearted, “YES!”

I wish I had known at the beginning of my Italy trip that it would be the experience I looked back on as the single best period in my life. Maybe I would have stopped worrying so much, and appreciated each moment more. I can only hope that’s a lesson I need to learn just once, and can go into the round-the-world trip we ultimately plan to take with an open mind and the willingness to live every day to the fullest. And that I’ll always appreciate how blessed I am to be able to see the world.

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