Wanderlust: How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

Wanderlust: How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

by Sabrina Brown, Business major

Monday, November 17, 2014

Growing up in what felt like a small town with a big family, there weren’t many opportunities to see and travel the world.

Although my parents always tried their best to bring us to new places, there were always a few restrictions. Like we only ever took road trips, and never steered off of the East Coast.

With five kids ranging in age, this was quite the undertaking. Being stuffed in a car for 25 hours straight with a screaming sister wasn’t my ideal vacation. I always had an itch for something more, I just wanted to get on a plane and fly somewhere for once. It didn’t matter where, I just wanted to go.

I began traveling in high school with friends, around the states, finally via an airplane, but my wanderlust wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t have the budget to travel abroad, so I had to make do with what I had, while constantly dreaming of life outside the U.S.

During my junior year, I knew that it was the time and my opportunity to finally go abroad, any way that I could. 

When I discovered the Study Away program in Florence, Italy I instantly knew that this was my chance. This program was six weeks long in the middle of the summer so it wouldn’t force me to be away for too long. At the time I was studying Italian, based on interest and similarity to my background in Spanish, so I was immediately drawn to this program, although I knew very little about Italy.

I began planning to take this trip in my fall semester, in preparation for the following summer. I told my advisor, my family, and my significant other that I was going to study abroad and nothing would stop me. I would take out a student loan if I had to just to gain this once in a lifetime opportunity. They were all on board and wanted to see me go, so I did, but I did so more or less without a plan.

I made sure that I had enough money to get me through six weeks, and that I had enough clothes to do so. I was so excited that I did not think about much else and knew that I would figure it out when I got there. I arrived in Italy to find that in Mid May it is freezing and rainy, so I had to buy warmer clothes, I was off to a great start. My only plan was to travel as much as I could in the six-week period, and soak up as much of the Italian culture as I possibly could.

I began to list out all of the areas of Italy and neighboring countries that I wanted to see while I was there. So of course my list was almost as long as those receipts you get from Rite-Aid, the two-foot long receipt for the two items that you bought. But anyways, I had this incredibly long list of places and countries that I needed to visit and six weeks to work with, but no friends yet to travel with.

Luckily, when I landed, I found out that I was assigned to a seven-person flat in the center of Florence. Two of my roommates were actually UNH Manchester students, Two from Penn State and two from Uconn.  We all instantly hit it off and shared a passion for travel. I knew that my plan was going to come together with the help of my roommates. All seven of us got together and began to make a more reasonable list and came to the conclusion that we would travel inside Italy -- making this experience all about the Italian lifestyle and culture. Besides, Italy is in the center of Europe so our options to other countries were limitless, proving to be way too much for just six weeks.  

We began our travels with the wine valley of Chianti, then the leaning tower of Pisa in, of course Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Cinque Terre, Rome, Milan, Venice and The Amalfi Coast, which consisted of Sorrento, Naples and Positano. Doesn’t that sound a little ambitious for only spending six weeks in Italy? It was, but we made it work.

My roommates and I were all on the same page, and had a thirst for travel, so it made my experience in Italy all worthwhile and made it the time of my life. We spent the first week or so simply just learning our way around Florence and getting acclimated to Italian lifestyle. The hardest part was not having “American coffee” and ordering a panino from the local shop, but we made it fun and tried to immerse ourselves as much as possible.

When we weren’t traveling, we were spending time walking around, visiting museums, watching the sunset from the top of the Michelangelo hill, getting fresh produce from small shops, attempting to speak to locals, and drinking lots of wine. Hey, it was three bottles for 10 euros, who wouldn’t like that! And most importantly getting our Italian learn on at the Palazzo Rucellai.

Through this program, we were required to take Politics in Italy, taught by our very own Melinda Negron as well as a class of our choosing. For me, I chose History of Italian Architecture, and was able to look at the history of the Florence from an entirely different view and a deeper understanding of its roots.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my abroad experience in Florence and the friends that I made while I was there. The traveling and experiences that we shared together are something that I will remember forever, and they have even made an impact on how I approach life back here in the states.

To start, I moved to downtown Manchester because I loved the Italian way of walking and biking to anywhere you wanted to go in the city, and appreciating small family owned shops. Since my time in Italy, I’ve tried to get to the farmers market here in town more often to get to know the farmers, and to build that sense of community that I saw in Italian culture. I also have a deeper understanding of cultural differences in everyday life. I even bought my own espresso maker, that I am shamelessly proud of, and drink nearly every day (Thanks Italy!).  It has opened my eyes to life in new ways, and has only heightened my desire for travel to see how other cultures operate in comparison.

If you have an itch to travel, consider studying abroad. It can be life-changing and can truly change the way that you think about things. And be sure to check out my next blog post where I go more in-depth on a few of the cities that I traveled to.

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