Written by Jessica Hennelly, Resident Director, CET High School/Pre-College: Italian Food, Art, and Society in Florence, Summer 2018
Choosing to study abroad is a huge decision in your life. You will most likely feel unsure about the decision you are about to make or even scared not knowing what to expect for the next few months away from home. It is a scary decision but one that you will be grateful for the rest of your life.
I decided to study abroad five years ago in Florence, Italy while studying Elementary Education at Illinois State University. My twin sister had just returned from studying abroad in Ecuador and hearing all about her travels convinced me this was an experience I wanted for myself. I did not know any other students who were going abroad with me, how to speak Italian, or even how to navigate airports. I remember having butterflies in my stomach the entire week before departure. However, I realized that this experience was going to be both rewarding and challenging and this was the first challenge I had to overcome.
Once arriving in Florence, my study abroad experience became something I absolutely cherished. I remember walking the streets of Florence and feeling a complete culture shock realizing the street names were etched in stone on the sides of the buildings or having to climb four flights of stairs to reach my apartment. Soon, I learned to love all of the peculiar things Florence had to offer. The simple ways of standing at the bar to enjoy a morning coffee, walking on the cobblestone streets, and being reminded of the Renaissance period everywhere I walked.
After returning home, I even missed things I disliked during my study abroad experience. The small narrow sidewalks that you constantly share with crowds, the sound of bikes alerting you from behind, or the times I accidentally ordered fizzy water instead of natural. All these things I missed as soon as I returned home.
I learned so much while studying abroad in my classes and about myself. It was amazing to learn about the city I loved and feel a close connection to the history that surrounded me here. I also became more confident in myself. I learned how to take care of myself independently and gained the ambition to never give up on the things I wanted to do most.
Most importantly I learned I truly loved Florence. After returning home, I wanted to go back as soon as I could. I returned two years later with a friend. This time, I came as a tourist to my favorite places. It was amazing to revisit the places that truly shaped who I had become. I also enjoyed showing my friend the places that were so dear to me.
Two years later, I am now a group leader for CET. I am passionate now working with study abroad students in Florence. It has been such a rewarding experience to see Florence through their eyes coming here for the first time. Seeing students excited about all of the culture differences found in the city, the history that remains here, and the beauty that can be found around every corner has warmed my heart. Seeing students gain confidence, independence, and appreciation for Italian culture has been amazing.
If you choose to study abroad, it will open so many new doors and opportunities for you. My own study abroad experience evolved from student to tourist to a leader. I am so thankful for how studying abroad has impacted my life. If you are thinking about studying abroad, you need to overcome the first challenge and decide to go. It will be just the start to many more wonderful adventures!