Q: What made you decide to study abroad? Why did you choose your program?
A: I have known about how there are students who study abroad, and doing so at the time just seemed like a great way to put something interesting on the resume and help stand out during the graduate school application process. I have found, though, that I have gained many life experiences, problem solving skills, and trust in myself after being abroad, which are all a lot more useful than a few lines on the resume. The country was chosen from my fascination of Europe and a desire to visit it. What persuaded me to choose Rome, Italy over France or even Florence, Italy was The Lizzie McGuire Movie. My parent's input was that I will enjoy Italian food more and that it should be a safer place to go to. This is how France got ruled out, though I do plan to vacation there one day. And after seeing that childhood Disney movie, Florence just didn’t seem as exciting as Rome. As someone who is a psychology major and really wanted to see European art and try their foods, the Art, Food, and Society program that Rome offers seemed like the perfect match.
Q: What was the highlight of your experience?
A: The highlight of my experience was by far my travels. I traveled a lot while abroad. I was traveling all weekend, every weekend during the last 6 weeks that I was in Europe. There is nothing that beats the thrill of exploring a new city and coming across breathtaking sights. You can’t help but get a desire to explore every bit of every city that you visit and experience the best that it has to offer. I appreciated both the companionship of traveling in groups and the experience of going solo. There were many benefits to being by myself. I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to create my own schedule and visiting the museums and sites that I wanted to see. It was also very fulfilling to rely on myself rather than having to rely on other people to navigate the new city, both literally and figuratively.
Q: What was your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: My greatest challenge when going abroad was managing just how bad I was with navigating in the city and getting myself from one place to another. I got over this by tackling it head on. Once I got lost from my group during our first trip, and they had to help me get back to them, I eventually pushed myself to start planning my own trips and going on them alone. This required me to be the one to figure out how to get from one place to the next and maximize my time. In a way I also used my strengths to help accomplish my trips. I put myself in a position where I had no choice but to overcome my weaknesses. Once I put my mind to something, I do it. I was enjoying my travels and had a desire to go on as many trips as possible, so much so that I was willing to visit a new country alone even if nobody else joined me. I used the tools that I had in front of me to make my trip go smoother. I looked at the distance between two destinations and planned out how long of a walk or bus time it would be so that I could be prepared and plan locations accordingly. I used Google Maps to navigate and got used to asking pedestrians a few extra questions. I had to have the trust and confidence in myself to not just freeze or give up when things got a bit difficult on the journey. Mishaps happened, and I had to think of what the best thing to do was for my safety and health. There were a handful of times I would have easily missed my bus or train connection had I not utilized everything that I had in me to make it in time. The most important component, I realized, was attitude. I had to tell myself that I had to get there, I will get there, and that there is no other option but to get there.
Q: How did the coursework compare to UCM? What coursework did you take while abroad?
A: Most of the coursework that I got while abroad, compared to UCM, was easier, but I still did a lot worse on it than I could have had I been at UCM simply because I was in a new city and country and that, to me, took more importance in making the most out of everything that I was surrounded by rather than sacrificing my chances of having real life experiences in turn for performing a grade or two better in each of my classes. The courses were a pleasure to be in, though. I learned about topics that I would only have by being in Italy, such as Italian Media. I also got to take electives such as Photography, a course I would have always liked to take in high school but was never able to due to an unavailable schedule. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have taken photography at UC Merced either because of other curriculum requirements and an interest in focusing on courses in my major and minor. So, this semester was a nice break and opportunity to take classes a bit outside of my usual focus of study at UCM.
Q: What did you get out of your study abroad experience?
A: Out of my study abroad experiences, I got enjoyment, happiness, fulfillment, adventure, and life experiences. I also made some of the best memories of my overall undergraduate career and life. Additionally, I got a whole lot of photographs – Enough to have plenty of pictures in numerous categories and have wide-variety amongst the topics.
Q: What advice would you give to a student considering study abroad?
A: Please just study abroad. You will not regret it. Just keep a positive attitude about everything and watch how your time oversees becomes more meaningful to you than anything ever could have had you spent that time at home instead. My travels, confidence, and trust and love for myself just didn’t end when I came back home. Everything you gain while abroad follows you back home. The summer after my Spring semester abroad I stayed happily with some family in the East Coast and did plenty of sightseeing and made a whole new set of adventures and stories of my own. I took tours in New York City, Niagara Falls, Washington D.C., Boston, etc. I would not have been in the East Coast this summer if it wasn’t for my time abroad providing me that deep level of comfortableness and confidence to travel alone anywhere in the world.