I studied abroad because I wanted to expand my world in a meaningful way. I went to Italy partly because as a student of Art History, Rome was a natural choice, but also because my family is from Sicily, so I wanted to learn more about that aspect of my own identity. I knew studying abroad would be an experience that would allow to learn both about myself and the world I live in, and that was very important to me.
Transitioning from the work culture of Berkeley to that of Rome was the nearest thing to 'culture shock' I experienced. I found that while Americans tend to define themselves by their career and what they do, it's quite the opposite for Italians. Instead, they taught me to value time spent in the company of others, over long dinners or other acts of joy, and that those things define a person just as much if not more than the work they do.
I was mostly concerned with making friends and connecting with people while abroad. I can be quite an introverted person, and since I didn't speak very good Italian when I first arrived in the country, I thought it would be difficult to form relationships. What I found, though, is that when you choose to study abroad, in a way you immediately join this small community with whom you are sharing your experiences, and so I made fast friends with the people in my program. And as I traveled around, I found that conversations happen quite naturally, and when you enter into those conversations with openness, you meet some pretty incredible people.
I hardly ever had a typical day - everything I did, in both Ireland and Italy, presented a new adventure. But if I were to condense things, in Ireland I usually left work at 5pm and then hit the pub with the other interns and sometimes my boss to share some pints and conversation. My workplace was right along the coastline as well, so sometimes - when we could stand the cold North Atlantic - we would swim after work too. In Italy, I found a routine which always involved a cappuccino and cornetto at my favorite cafe before class, and when the school day finished, my friends and I would meander around the streets, sampling gelato, before heading home. I would study for awhile, and then I spent many evening having long dinners with Italian friends.
I studied Italian, and took two Art History classes. Because I was at a UC institution, I found the courses to be largely similar to those at Berkeley.
The people, the people, the people. While abroad, I formed some of the closest bonds with people both from California and locals of my host countries. I found a new sense of community I'd never experienced before, and met people who were always teaching me new things, even if they didn't realize. Though my time abroad inevitably had to end, it left me with the strongest relationships.
It changed my life! I do truly believe that studying abroad teaches you a lot about yourself in addition to the wider world, and this is especially true for me. The 6 months I spent abroad revealed aspects of my personality I hadn't seen before - how adaptable and resourceful I can be, how I form bonds or deal with difficult situations. It also helped me to focus my career/life goals. In addition to a heightened ability to think about the world in a broader context, I left my program with a changed/renewed lease on life.