By: Leann Schneider
I’ve filled up an entire journal while studying abroad – a task I’ve been trying to achieve since the days when journal entries still started “dear diary” – and yet, I can’t seem to come up with enough words to fill two to three pages on what this experience has taught me. Maybe the words won’t come because once this essay is over and sent into cyberspace that means the semester is really over, and that is simply unacceptable. Maybe the words won’t come because the experiences, lessons, moments are too monumental to describe. Maybe when the words come, they sound trite and contrived, and these don’t do it justice. Yet, I suppose I have to try. Learning gained from my experience, as a student of Kent State University’s Florence program is not synonymous with the academic program itself. Though excellent, the most important lessons learned came not from within the confines of Palazzo dei Cerchi, but rather from the friends I made and even, surprisingly, from within myself.
While being fascinated with the world of the ancient Romans and renaissance Florentines at school, my extracurricular time was devoted to a different kind of discovery. Whether it be from trying my hand at cooking something I’d never tried for dinner, to spending time with someone I didn’t know, to traveling to a totally unknown destination, a most dramatic lesson learned was to make being out of my comfort zone my new comfort zone. I made it my mantra to try to exploit every possible opportunity and to find adventure everywhere. So what if I accidentally ended up on a train to Bologna at 3 in the morning without my passport or a ticket, with only five Euros to spare? I made a great friend, and that was certainly worth one sleepless night. I was robbed while shopping in the H&M in Florence. Well, I now know how it feels after long months of homesickness to see the stars and stripes of the American embassy rising up out of the haze of the Arno on my way for a new passport. We were trying to find Castiglione del Lago, we found Cortona instead. We walked to the top of the mountain and from there I saw the most memorable sunset I’ve ever seen, with colors so beautiful I thought about it every night before I fell asleep just to ensure it would be etched in my brain forever. Moments like these are what defined my time abroad.
Every time I chose to experience the different, I was rewarded with a better knowledge of my capacity for resiliency, adaptation, adventure; essentially I was rewarded with a better knowledge of myself. I learned that for me, home truly is where the heart is. I realized I have an intense interest in eastern European history, specifically, and the former East Bloc has moved itself to the top of my list of “to visit next” places. I knew no one when I went to Florence in January, I will go home with a motley crew of architects, journalists, communicators, and business students as friends. Ergo, I taught myself how to be friends with everyone, choosing enemies wisely. I learned that as lonely as it seemed, there would always be someone there to make me laugh, if I let them. Personal growth is an understatement – or just an inaccurate statement – for what I feel changed over the last four months, but again, there really aren’t words.
Academically, I gained a plethora of knowledge from thoroughly brilliant professors. I respected them all, idolized one, was in awe of another, and wished the third would quit taking himself so seriously. I’ve seen hundreds of priceless works of art in person, walked the same streets as Julius Caesar, admired the architecture of centuries of development: this is more than any student could ever ask for. Culturally the most unexpected lesson learned was that of how thoroughly western Europeans and Americans differ. For better or for worse, though we’re of the same background, an ocean is not the least of the boundaries, which distinguishes our purple mountain majesties from their rolling terracotta hills.
January 8, 2012 through May 4, 2012 was a time when so much happened, such subtle shifts took place in the fabric of my life, it really might have never happened at all. I won’t be sure until I’m back on American soil, with my American car and American cheese wondering how the shower is so perfect in pressure and temperature that I will look back and think, yes, I was there, I did those things. What I have now are memories, friendships, and photographs. I vow to never loose the passion for life, which studying abroad has re-instilled within me. So it goes, a two-to-three page essay on the learning experience that was study abroad KSU Florence, 2012 for one of its students. It’s probably stereotypical, possibly sentimental, potentially just what was needed, that’s my story.