I stood at the peak of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino by myself and it began to rain as the wind grew strong. I was cold, alone and wet and at that moment, I knew freedom.
San Marino, located within Italy, is the world’s earliest republic and is the fifth-smallest sovereign nation both by population and land size.
The number of students in the U.S. who study abroad has more than doubled in the last 15 years, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report, but why do people study abroad? And more importantly, why do Cal State Fullerton students take their academic careers out of the country?
Reasons for taking courses overseas that quickly come to mind are fun and adventurous experiences, a lower legal drinking age for some and dare I say — to actually learn?
This summer I studied abroad with 13 other students and a few professors. My fear going into this trip was that most of the other students would be much younger than me and would have much less experience traveling, resulting in me relating to them less.
That fear, unlike most fears, would mostly come to fruition.
What I didn’t expect was that this would make my trip even more vital to my growth as a human being and as an adult.
I studied abroad simply because I love to travel, and what better way to get six units than to go to Florence, Italy?
I spent a month in Florence. I went to Rome for a weekend. I went to San Marino of course. I went to Venice. I went to wine country in Chianti.
I went to the Lake District in Northern Italy with my parents after classes were finished.
Florence, my home base for a month, is a city rich with history and significance. I slept in the building where Antonio Meucci, the inventor of the telephone, was born and raised.
I stood in front of where the great Michelangelo was laid to rest. My body only a foot away from his skeleton.
I would walk through Piazza della Signoria where dictators and kings would decapitate families with glee as their innocent blood spilt on the old stone ground, their petrified faces rolling down the street along with the rest of their heads.
I would go to school where despicable Nazis once walked, and then retreated as the great Allied forces repelled them from the city.
I stood atop the beautifully glorious and enormous Duomo in the center of Florence, 463 steps up, which seems like an impossibility considering it was constructed over 580 years ago.
I sat under a sky that Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Machiavelli (not Tupac), Raphael and the aforementioned Michelangelo have sat under.
Because I didn’t relate to a lot of the other students, I ventured out a lot on my own or with a few others who I felt more connected to.
Getting to travel on my own was important to me because it was up to me to not only decide where to go, but also to get there and back safely in the time I had to do so.
Being self-reliant in a foreign country feels pretty great, especially for students who like to do their own thing.
I relearned a lot of valuable lessons in Florence that I think I needed to rehash. Such as, that not everybody has to like me and also, who cares if someone doesn’t like me?
Now, I don’t actually know if anyone wasn’t fond of me, besides the girl who wanted only to go to the bars and clubs and also whom I asked to blow her weed-vape smoke (steam? vapor?) out the window when we shared a room together before the trip started (I came to Florence early with three other students). She definitely wasn’t fond of me, nor was I of her.
But as I said, most of the other students were a good deal younger than me and have traveled far less. They often wanted to drink, rather than explore.
So, I was left by myself to explore the beautiful and cultural republic of Italy, and I took it in stride.
I also was reminded to be selfish when presented with a great opportunity. I’m not going to wait around for another group of people because they set their alarm too late.
With only a month to spend in Florence, I spent it as I saw fit.
I came back from this trip hungry to seek out what I want, and badly wanting to bring my newfound attitude and more advanced brain and body to my daily life.
You’ve got one life, like you’ve probably got one study abroad trip. Don’t waste it on anything, especially someone’s potentially hurt feelings.
If you can scramble the money together, I insist that studying abroad is the right move.
Whether it’s the short summer session, the shorter winter intersession, or a full semester session. Do it. The experience will be with you for the rest of your life and you can do great things with it.