Written by Tim Rice (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent CET Florence, Spring 2018
Like many, I was on the fence about studying abroad. It’s certainly not easy to leave behind a beautiful campus and great friends. I think many who study abroad, though, do so because – in some deep sense – they know they ought to. This sense of obligation can come from a recognition that there likely won’t be another risk-free opportunity to live in a foreign country until many years from now, or perhaps the understandable desire to travel Europe with friends for a while. I had these sentiments, but what really made my decision was this feeling of “out-there-ness.” That feeling, (I refuse to use the word wanderlust), is useful insomuch as it got me out the door, but I never could have understood the value of studying abroad until getting to Florence.
It’s only been a week and a half, but thus far there are two main facets of being in Florence – opportunity and discovery – that make me overjoyed I decided to come. The opportunities and discoveries you can make while studying abroad are truly unique: especially if, like me, you’ve never lived outside the US.
Let’s start with opportunity. The other morning, I woke up and decided to check out the Uffizi Gallery (5-minute walk from my apartment). People plan vacations around seeing that museum. For me, it was a before-class morning activity. Tomorrow morning, I might climb to the top of the Duomo (and both not have to go to gym later and take the selfie of a lifetime).
Moving to discovery – my point here is twofold. First, I’m someone that loves routine. Studying abroad demolished my routine – at least until it forced me to make a new one.
Finding out which café has the best espresso (I like High Bar close to the CET Center), learning to navigate the Italian supermarket (mostly the wine section), and daily interactions with locals all provided self-discovery in addition to teaching valuable life lessons (although to be honest I have no idea what study abroad students did before Google Maps).
Second, in Florence, every street has something to discover. You might stumble (like I did) into a small panini shop where the owner is a beautiful Italian woman named Francesca who gives you free pastries with your dinner (delizioso), sit down at a trattoria where your waiter sings opera as he brings course after course of food, or spend a peaceful afternoon in a church twice as old as the United States – like the Santa Maria Novella.
College has always been known as a time to discover yourself. Someone has probably reminded you of Socrates’ words that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While probably true, I think the converse of that phrase is more applicable to the college years – “the unlived life is not worth examining.” So, if you’re undecided about studying abroad, my strong advice is to go. I’d recommend Florence. But maybe you want to go to Prague, or to Beijing. My point is, go somewhere, and you’ll thank yourself in the future for having a life worthy of examination.