My best days abroad were unplanned. They were the days that I stepped outside, whether in my host city or in a place I had traveled to, and let the place direct me. My best days were spent walking with no agenda around various places in Italy and Europe: maybe a gelato in my hand, a general idea of where I wanted to head, and a pretty sky. I learned about history, art, and culture all around me: stumbling upon museums, looking up at beautiful, massive buildings, passing by some of the most iconic spots in the world.
The learning experience abroad is vastly different from that in classes on campus. For me, classes meant a fifteen minute, dreamy walk to a hotel older than anything in Charleston. Indeed, it was tied to the Medici family long ago. I even heard rumors that Da Vinci worked in its garden. Classes were discussion-heavy and specific to our experiences. In the classroom, which was really just a conference room, we discussed differences in Italian culture and American culture, thought about our identity on a broader scale, learned about important Italian figures that also roamed the streets of Florence, and pondered about the perception of Italy through American eyes; I was living and breathing Italy, nearly every part of our class time tied back to where I was — one of the most historically and culturally significant places in the world.
The most important thing I learned while abroad was to relinquish control and just be present as much as possible. A lot of stuff will not work out the way you want it to, but a lot of things will also exceed your expectations, and you’ll come to have fond memories of even the toughest moments. I learned to enjoy what was around me and not take the beauty the world – natural and human created – for granted.
I’ve learned that cultural diversity is so much more stark than you can imagine. In generally every way, Italy is different than America. And while many countries in Europe have key similarities, there’s so much diversity there too. People are different everywhere you go and you can’t really pigeon-hole groups of people. Instead, just simply embrace differences, laugh off awkward encounters, and try to learn.