When most people think of Italy, they think of eating great Italian food, while admiring the gorgeous Tuscan views, with a glass of red wine in hand. But, during the 268 days in which I had the opportunity to study and live in Florence, Italy I had more to worry about than gaining the “freshman 15.” Instead, I was worried about being pick-pocketed, wearing comfortable shoes, and making sure I did not mix up detergent and mop soap, since unfortunately for me, both bottles often look exactly the same. This was not only going to be my first study abroad experience, but my first year of college.
Instead of choosing the usual college experience, which was going to include my parents driving me two and a half hours to Poughkeepsie, New York to move me into one of the freshman dorms, we drove twenty minutes to John F Kennedy Airport where they dropped me off at security and told me they were going to see me in a few months. Unlike other students, for me that meant Christmas Eve.
I found out about the Marist Freshman Florence Experience Program, through one of the info sessions here at Marist College. I always had a desire to travel the world, and the more I learned about the Program, the more I fell in love with the idea of going. Looking back now as a sophomore, I can’t help but smile when someone shares a story about Florence, or tells me they are going to study abroad in the city in which I now refer to as home (well I wish).
What worried me the most about being a Freshman 4,149 miles away from home, was not only the language barrier in which I was about to encounter, but getting lost in an unfamiliar city, with little to no familiar people around. But, I was up for the challenge and surprisingly it was a lot easier than expected. Yes, the first few weeks were rough, getting lost multiple times just walking around the block from my apartment. However, I came to realize the best way to learn a city, is to get lost in one. Getting lost eventually lead me to discovering some of my favorite cafes, study spots, and meet some of the most amazing people that I still keep in touch with today.
The most frequent question I received when people found out I chose to go abroad my freshman year was: Aren’t you going to be homesick? Or how are your parents letting you go so far? Well, yes to question one, of course I got homesick. Especially, since I am very close to my family. But, I often compare my freshman experience to someone who travels far by car, bus or plane to go to college. Yes, Florence is a definitely a bit further and out of the country (being an 8-hour plane ride), but both people are still likely to experience the same amount of homesickness. The difference was instead of meeting one or two friends to come lean on when feeling a bit lonely, I was lucky enough to have fifty. For my parents, despite the distance, they considered it a learning experience, and indeed it was.
Going to college in one of the most historic cities in the world, taught me more than I could’ve ever imagined. One thing that living in a foreign country taught me, was to not be afraid of meeting new people and to embrace the diversity in which the city offered. I met some of the most amazing people abroad, who shared some amazing stories with me, as well as memories that will last a lifetime. Another thing I learned, was to be more independent than ever before. Since calling home was not really feasible and the time difference was definitely not in my favor, it forced me to use the resources around me when I had questions or needed to get something done.
Now, being a sophomore at the Poughkeepsie campus, the most frequent question I receive is; Do you wish you were back in Italy right now? Yes, I do miss Florence, and the memories made during my year long adventure. But, I love the Marist community here in New York, as well as the numerous ways to get involved on campus. Going abroad my freshman year taught me to take risks, and follow my heart and I strongly encourage other people to do the same.