Truly, A Learning Experience

Written by Alexa Myre, (University of Wisconsin-Madison) CET Florence, Spring 2017

Arriving in a new country, for a semester of study, is something I can only compare to being a 13-year-old girl entering her first day of high school. There many things I wish I had known before coming abroad. I wish those who had studied before me would have been more upfront with the realities of the transition. Most only glorify the process and exaggerate the ease.

I mean it makes sense. It’s not like anyone’s going to post an Instagram picture in his or her new city saying, “today was rough” or “I don’t actually love it here.” So I found myself in a state of disappointment when I couldn’t submerse myself immediately into my new surroundings with the expected ease. All I wanted was an authentic experience in Italy, but I had the faintest clue of where to start.

The change that came with my arrival in Florence, hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I am in a new city, with new roommates, new languages, and new anxiety. I felt guilty about every action and inaction; worried I was wasting or misusing time. I felt this way when I was not able to order a coffee in Italian, or even mutter simple phrases of pleasantry to the woman in my favorite restaurant. I felt as if I was being disrespectful toward my hosts, stepping on toes. I felt guilty too for missing my family and friends at home while I was given this amazing opportunity to study halfway around the world. I quickly became lost in the turnings of my own head, questioning every decision I made.

The first weeks were then spent exploring myself instead of the city. I looked for ways to part off from the group, to find my own experience. I asked myself what I really wanted, but I didn’t have an answer. I think this is the one part of being abroad that no one talks about. Of course I was expected to be homesick, or feel an odd sense of alienation from both my host and home country. No one tells you though that sometimes it isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s hard to let go of expectations and really be present.

My real turning point was when I accepted all of this. There is truly nothing wrong with wanting to stray from the guided path that is the American abroad experience. If you are not completely sold on your roommates’ weekend plans, travel on your own. If you feel this American “guilt” for not speaking your host country’s language, skip the club to stay in and study the basics.

Do something about it. At the end of the day this is about you, or more specifically me. In these few short weeks, I have seen and learned more about myself than Italy, but my learning experience is nowhere close to over. Unlike my once frightened and prepubescent self, I have learned the value of patience. With that I realize that I am truly on the trip of a lifetime, and that it has only just begun.