"Apply! Be bold! If you're interested in studying abroad, reach out to those who have studied abroad before and ask about their experiences. They’ll try to convince you to study abroad too."
I studied abroad so that I could learn and live in an entirely new culture than my own. I am pursuing a degree in Architecture here at UC Berkeley and as a freshman in college I listened to countless captivating lectures about architecture, travel, and design, and from then on I knew I had to go see the world! So I thought what better way to learn about architecture than to see it! I chose my program because it offered the most help to completing required Berkeley classes while also getting to learn about my interests. I got the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy this past semester (Spring 2020) and it was the first time I traveled out of the country, lived in an entirely new place, and got to eat gelato in class while my teacher spoke about Renaissance Architecture right in front of me.
I was exposed to so many different cultural experiences, but one of the most interesting was definitely learning about the coffee and food culture in Italy because it is so different from what I’m used to. The best way is to experience it yourself but I’ll give you some wise words of advice; never order a cappuccino after noon, unless you want to be scolded by locals!! I also got to take multiple classes on pasta making from local restaurants and shopped at the daily markets near my apartment.
I would say that one of the biggest concerns of my study abroad experience was that if I traveled outside of Florence, I wouldn’t have a strong connection to the city and wouldn’t get enough time there to make it feel like home. I think, honestly it is difficult at first to figure out what to do. You will see many fellow "study abroaders" travel outside the country every weekend, and you will see others stay in your home city/country for most of the time. And I think there are amazing and beautiful aspects of both! I was able to find a good balance between getting to feel like I belonged to the culture of Florence and getting to experience other countries such as France, Switzerland, Hungary, and Austria! My word of advice is to not feel pressured by others who travel non stop, or overlook the opportunities that come with staying in your city, because the experience is truly your own. Travel when you want, be spontaneous, stay home and interact with locals, try new things right in your city!
So. Much. Walking! A typical day for me abroad would be to wake up and go for a short run around my neighborhood in the nearby Tuscan hills! I lived in an apartment about ten minutes from my school and I would walk to class and grab un cornetto (croissants but Italians have claimed them as cornetti) e un cappuccino from the bar (café) in the piazza near my school. Some days if I had my city and language culture class, my classmates and I would get a walking tour from our professor around different parts of the city. Other times I would start my day off with my Italian Renaissance Art class, where our professor would also take my class to site visits of churches, museums, and different places rich in architecture and culture for free! Yes, class happened inside the Uffizi! In between classes I would peruse the daily markets that sold clothing, jewelry, and produce. After class I would usually make dinner with friends, walk across the bridge to the city center, or find the next place to try gelato! There might’ve been some watching of The Bachelor too.
While abroad, I was able to fulfil two upper division non-major classes and the international studies breadth. I also took some language and art classes. The classes I took in Florence were “Cities, Environment, and Sustainability: A Tuscan Experience,” “Genius and Innovation in Italian Renaissance Art,” and “Exploring Florence: City and Language.” These classes allowed me to learn about urbanization in a different context other than the Bay Area, as well as experience the sustainable urban and rural developments of Tuscan cities. Unfortunately, my trip did get cut short due to COVID-19; however, I was able to take a remaining class in architecture remotely through UCEAP and I am so grateful to have been able to take it. “A Celebrated Rivalry: Bernini and Borromini in the Making of Baroque Rome” is offered through another UCEAP program based in Rome!
The most memorable aspect of my time abroad was getting the chance to make close friendships with a few local Italians. It can be challenging and difficult not to cling to your “study abroad friends” and fellow UCEAP mates, because to be honest, it can be relieving to speak English to someone! But one of the best things that happened while abroad was getting connected to a local Christian church in Florence, where many local Italians attended. On my first day visiting, an entire group of them took me out for panini, coffee, and showed me the vintage markets of Florence that happen on the second Sunday of every month! They were kind, welcoming, made me feel so at home in Florence, and are the reason my Italian improved! I still talk with them today! One of my favorite memories is when we celebrated a friend at one of their apartments and played a game I thankfully had played in America, or so I thought! There were people from all different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, so we played the game while speaking and translating in Italian, Brazilian, Spanish, and no English! It was a hilarious experience while trying to keep up with the Spanish and Italian I knew. I guess it’s time to learn Portuguese next! I can’t wait to see my Italian friends again as soon I can get myself back on a plane!
Studying abroad also allowed me to experience my faith in a different context and culture other than my own, and it was amazing to have a community in Florence. Sweet connections and memories with those local Italian friends is something I’ll cherish forever. I also experienced studying abroad when coronavirus broke out. Abruptly, after a mere two months in Florence, my UCEAP program got canceled and we were all sent back home in March. Ultimately, I am thankful for my health and safety and the ability to travel home when I could, but I wish we all could’ve had more time abroad. Although my time did get cut short due to the pandemic, not a single ounce of me regrets taking the leap last year and pushing myself out of my comfort zone and I definitely think I’ve been bitten by the travel bug!
Apply! Be bold! If you're interested in studying abroad, reach out to those who have studied abroad before and ask about their experiences. They’ll try to convince you to study abroad too. I went through the process of applying to study abroad with a friend, and even though she did a different program, it was nice to talk about what we were turning in and completing for the applications. Take this opportunity to explore another culture/country, and you might find yourself learning a bit more about your own culture. Try to make local friends, and then when you travel again, you could stay with them! And definitely eat as much gelato as you can.
Upon graduation, I would love to enter into a career in the design or architecture field. During my time abroad I was exposed to architects and professors who taught me the foundations of architecture and the built environment and have made me curious about the world around me. The study abroad program in Florence allowed me to witness in person what I have only read and learned about in books, pictures, and class lectures at Berkeley. Additionally, getting the opportunity to study abroad early in my college career, as a sophomore, allowed me to realize that architecture was my passion and the major I wanted to pursue. After studying abroad, I have fallen in love with art and architectural history, and am fascinated by it more and more through each class I take.