“Do it—especially if you aren’t sure about it! Just go. If you haven’t traveled out on your own a lot or at all, this is one of the best times to do it. Decide for yourself what your priorities in a study abroad experience are. Whatever you decide, there’s a program out there for you.”
Before I started college I knew I always wanted to study abroad. I think studying abroad, traveling alone, experiencing a new culture, and a new language in my case, is a greatly rewarding and necessary experience in life. I chose my program in Bologna because I had never traveled to Europe prior and I wanted to challenge myself further by participating in an immersion program. I chose Italy because I love the language and culture and its history was far richer and deeper than America’s. I was excited to learn about the culture while there and see the historical monuments in person.
I learned all about the Italian education system from pre-school until Doctorate. One of the most interesting parts of the education system was how different the university life is, such as the relationships between professors and students (less interactive than in the U.S.), note-taking methods, and exams. In university, most exams are oral and are about 20 minutes long, on average, requiring students to know the topic back and front. One of the most interesting cultural experiences for me was completing these exams. They were very different than any exam I had taken prior to the experience and gave me a new perspective on studying methods and learning in general.
I was concerned about how much Italian was required of me. I had only one year of Italian language prior to taking the summer intensive program and was expected to be completely fluent by August, when I would start classes in Bologna. Because the program was immersive, we had many responsibilities, including finding our own apartments. I found my apartment through a previous UC student (luckily), who lived with four Italians during her time in Bologna. I ended up living with two of them (the rest moved out and were replaced by other amazing and Italian girls) who were extremely supportive and helpful when I sometimes struggled to remember certain words or phrases.
Wake up around 8 a.m. Go for a morning run at the Giardini Margherita, one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Bologna, and only about a 2-minute jog around the corner from my apartment. Come home, shower, and eat breakfast either in the kitchen with my roommates or on the balcony if it’s sunny and warm out (which it is until about early October). Breakfast is typically smaller, consisting of either cereal or a pastry and espresso (café in Italian). Get dressed and go to my class for the day. On my way home, stop at a vegetable stand and buy some vegetables to cook with my pasta for lunch. Make lunch at home and hang out with my roommates if they are home. Do some homework. Meet up with my friends to play soccer at the Giardini again. Shower and go to the house of the girl I babysit. The girl I babysit is 7 years old and attends a school where she is learning English so I play and read in English with her for a couple hours a week. When I get home, all my roommates are home and we decide what to eat and prepare dinner together. Almost every weekday night, and weekend nights if we are all home, we cook and eat together in the living/dining room. Dinner is larger than any other meal, consisting of bread all around the table, salad, main dish, and sometimes other side dishes. Dinner is followed by espresso all around and we continue to talk until we get tired and get ready for bed.
I took three Masters level Economics classes and a Mosaics class. Because the Economics classes were part of a Masters program, they were quite difficult—probably more than those at Berkeley. However, the professors were very welcoming to us, and very helpful and responsive throughout the class period. They were also smaller than any classes I have taken at Berkeley.
My roommates were the most memorable part of my time abroad. One of my roommates was from UCSC so we were able to convey a lot about the U.S. collaboratively to my other roommates. Three of my roommates were Italian, and we were able to visit one in her hometown in Senigallia, which was a tiny town on the east coast of Italy. It was an amazing experience to be able to meet her family and see where she grew up and how different it was from our own experiences growing up. I also had another French roommate, who had been studying in Italy for several years by the time I went to Bologna. She was from Paris so when I traveled there alone I was able to stay with her friends. It was great being able to bond and talk in so many different languages with my roommates and just a very memorable experience to live and become so close to them.
I was able to travel a lot and meet a lot of amazing people. The students with me on my program were also very inspiring to me. Many were doing this for the same reasons I was, including going out and proving to themselves that they could be self-sufficient. In fact, I was impressed by how many were completely funding (whether through savings, fundraisers, awards, or scholarships) their time abroad and travels. Studying abroad exposed me to people, places, and experiences I don’t think I could have received elsewhere. I was put in uncomfortable experiences when I was unable to properly communicate in Italian, and scared when I was traveling alone, but I think I became much more open-minded and receptive to the world around me and much more conscious about my decisions and choices in life.
Do it—especially if you aren’t sure about it! Just go. If you haven’t traveled out on your own a lot or at all, this is one of the best times to do it. When I went to Paris, so many museums and even traveling to Versailles was free because I was a student under 26 and a European resident (which I had to apply for as part of my program). We exist to learn and experience life and the museums and other educational institutes are out there for you—like I said, so many are free just because you’re a student! My program was amazing, but definitely not for everyone. Decide for yourself what your priorities in a study abroad experience are. Some of my reasons for choosing Bologna were the immersion experience and ability to travel to other countries cheaply and quickly. Whatever you decide, there’s a program out there for you!