T Minus One Week

The past few weeks have been very bitter sweet. There are only five days left in my program, and next Monday April, 29th I will be flying back to the United States. I have had the time of my life this past semester, and have experienced parts of the world I had only seen in pictures and videos on the internet. At the same time however, as much fun as Europe was, the United States will always be my home and I am excited to get back to the states, see my friends and family, and start working. It was awesome being able to travel to a new country with a different culture, and become accustomed to their cultural habits and customs, some of which I plan on bringing back to the United States.

One of the cultural traits I noticed in Europe that I hope to incorporate in my life back home is the emphasis they place on family, friends and relaxation. I have noticed that often times I become too focused on working hard and don’t allow myself to have time to relax and decompress. I think part of this may just be my personality, but I think another major part of it is the how heavily we value hard work in the United States. I feel blessed to have been born into a culture that places such an emphasis on success and hard work, and I also feel fortunate to have experienced a culture that values happiness over monetary wealth. I think if I can find a perfect balance between working hard to succeed, while still being able to cut myself some slack when I need time to relax, I will be successful in a more holistic manner.

Another trait that I hope to incorporate into my life back in the states is being open to trying new things. While I was abroad, I made an effort to push the boundaries of my comfort zone and experience new cultures and foods that I was reluctant to try. By incorporating this into my life back home, I believe I will grow into a more well rounded individual, and won’t miss out on foods and opportunities that I may have enjoyed but was too hesitant to try.

Although there are many traits that I hope to bring back with me to the US, there are a lot of aspects of American life that I can’t wait to get back to. Drying machines, supermarkets, wide streets, lack of tourists, grass, lakes, huge selections of international food, barbecue… the list goes on. While living in Europe, I realized that I took for granted simple things like having enough electricity to power a drying machine without blowing a fuse, or being able to sit down on a patch of grass in my backyard and play fetch with my dog. These things are obsolete in a city like Florence, and although there were many aspects of Italy I loved, I am also glad to be heading home.

Overall, this past semester has been an incredible eye opening experience that I am very fortunate to have been able to participate in. There will most likely never be another time in my life where I will be living in Europe for four months straight, and I hope I can use this experience and the things I’ve learned from it as a way to grow as a person.

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Last Month in Europe

As March comes to a close, I will now be starting my final month abroad. It blows my mind thinking that I’ve been here for almost three months, and as my days in Europe tick away, I know the flight home on April 29th will be bitter sweet. I have visited countries and cities I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to, I have learned Italian, bits and pieces of German and French, and I have had the opportunity to experience new cultures and customs from a first person lens. I have seen beautiful ancient churches and castles, and I have explored the same uneven cobblestone streets that artists like Michael Angelo and Da Vinci walked when they were my age. I’m so incredibly lucky to have been able to experience this. At the same time, I am excited to be back in the US. Living in Europe has been an unbelievable experience, but it makes you realize little parts of American culture that you took for granted. Things like supermarkets with every single food you could imagine, wide sidewalks, the ability to drive wherever you want, and spacious yards with trees and grass are concepts foreign to cities like Florence, and living without them has made me realize how much I enjoyed these things back in the states.

For my final month abroad, I think I will try to limit my weekend travel, and instead soak up everything Florence has to offer. Even though I am just a study abroad student, I find it funny how after a couple months, the things you found so shocking and foreign about life in Italy when you first arrived now seem common and Florence becomes your home. I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries during my three months abroad, and I think it would be a good idea to spend the last few weeks enjoying my temporary home. (I’m also down to like eight bucks a day so any more traveling is kinda outta the picture hahaha.) Not having much money while traveling isn’t always so bad though. Since I don’t have the funds to eat out all the time, I have been able to find dishes that I like when I do eat out, and then learn the recipes for them online and make them at home which gives me the ability to take Italian culture back to the states. My favorite easy, cheap Italian dish is Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. It’s super simple to make. You just boil some spaghetti in one pot, pour a healthy amount of olive oil into another pan over medium heat, throw some thinly sliced garlic and crushed red pepper in the oil, dump the drained pasta into the pan (keep a little bit of the pasta water with it to help form the sauce), salt and pepper to taste and voila. You have a classic Italian dish.

I have learned a lot during my three months abroad. I’ve learned about the history and art of different countries, but more importantly, I have learned how to communicate with people who don’t speak a word of my native language, and still manage to find similarities between the two of us. My trip abroad has been both an adventure and a learning experience, and I hope to continue to have a phenomenal time during my final month abroad.

Art, Mafia, and No Polar Vortex

It’s hard to believe that I’m already wrapping up my second month in Florence. This month has been jam packed with fun experiences, and over the next couple weeks I am excited to add a few more experiences. In a week, I’m taking a trip to Sicily with my Sociology: History of the Mafia and the Media class, and I can’t wait to be on an island that is filled with so much history. Over the past couple months, we’ve been learning all about how the mafia was able to take power in Southern Italy, and how the people of Italy fought back and helped curb it’s power. On our trip to Sicily, I’ll be able to tour a farm that was once owned by the Mafia with a  guide who is a leader in the Anti-Mafia movement.

Last week, I took a trip to Pisa with my Art History class which was also super interesting. We toured churches that were over a thousand years old, and we learned about the history of Pisa and the role that it played during the middle ages. I think the most interesting thing I learned was that Italy wasn’t a unified country until the mid 1800’s, so throughout the middle ages, cities like Pisa, Florence, and Rome would battle each other to try and take control of trade routes and resources. I have never been too interested in art, but this class has given me a new level of appreciation because we are able to learn about the history behind it. Another interesting thing I have learned in this class, is that religions constantly stole art styles from each other when they would win battles. Christians and Muslims would raid each others churches and mosques during battles, realize that the opposing side had “cooler looking” artwork or architecture, and would then integrate that style into their own artwork when they returned home.

Overall, my February has been very interesting and eventful, and I am excited to get started on my third month abroad. Sometimes I miss the small things about being back in the US, like the food and convenience of stores like Target, but I’m glad I’ve been able to experience a different way of living and I hope I can integrate some of the positive aspects of European culture into my life back home. I hope March ends up being as eventful as February, and I can’t wait to update you all in month!

First Month in Florence

Hi everybody! I touched down in Florence January 8th, and have been loving it ever since I got here! I am taking very interesting classes and have also met a ton of really cool U of M students, who I didn’t know until this trip. It took me a little while to get used to some of the cultural differences, but now I feel much more assimilated and I hardly notice some of them. One of the biggest ones I noticed right of the bat was the driving. HOLY COW the people here drive like maniacs. The streets are extremely narrow and curvaceous, yet the drivers still fly around, blowing through stop signs, and somehow managing to miss all the mopeds zig zagging through traffic. I quickly learned that pedestrians do not have the right of way, and to always keep your head on a swivel.

On a more academic level, I am loving my classes. My favorite is the History of Art in the Mediterranean. In that class we learn about why different styles of art are prevalent in certain areas of Southern Europe, and we learn about how different religions and civilizations all played important roles in shaping the culture of the region. Last week in that class we were able to tour a baptistery that is over one thousand years old, and next week we will be touring a museum that contains many ancient statues.

So far this semester has been going great, and I can’t wait to see what February brings. Hopefully my Italian will improve a little bit, and I am excited to continue to experience European culture. Thank you for everything and I will keep you updated next month!

Kicking Off The New Year

Hi everyone! I am sorry for being a few days late on my blog post. My December was great though! I finished on a fairly strong note, and did well on all of my final exams and presentations. I was a little worried about my Econ class because the bulk of our grade is based on one midterm and one final, but I studied hard and ended up getting a B in the class. After my finals wrapped up, I spent the rest of my December hanging out with my family, working, and preparing for Italy!

It’s crazy to think it’s already here, but I leave to study abroad in Italy in six days! I have never been outside of the country before, so I am very excited but also a little nervous because I have no idea what to expect. I have been practicing basic Italian and German phrases too, so hopefully they will come in handy. We just found out our rooming situation and class schedules, and I will be living with two of my good friends, and I will be taking classes that should amerce me into Italian culture. I’ll keep this blog short because I don’t know much else about what is to come this month, but I can’t wait to update you all in a few weeks and tell you about my first month abroad!

I hope you all had a happy holidays, and once again thank you for reducing the burden of paying for college by myself. It has made my college experience much less stressful!

Wrapping Up The Semester

Hi everyone, I hope you all had great Thanksgivings! This seems to happen every other post, but once again I’m sorry for posting this blog a few days late. I’m the worst when it comes to remembering dates. Maybe it’s just that school makes the days fly by, but every month when it seems like it should be the 20th or so, I look at a calendar and it really ends up being the first of the following month.

November was a good month for me. Nothing too exciting happened academically, but now that it’s over I am on the verge of finals. I have two presentations this week, then three exams next week, and after that I will be off for Winter Break! I’m very excited to be off for break, but I’m a little nervous for finals. I have plenty of time to study and prepare this week, but the material this year is much more challenging than in years past. I know everything will turn out fine though! I kind of enjoy the mild stress that comes with finals. I have ADHD so sometimes the extra pressure helps motivate me to stay focused. I’m not a huge fan of the stress that can come along with presentations though.

It’s weird because I am an extrovert who loves talking to new people, but for whatever reason I don’t like public speaking. I had a management presentation a few weeks ago, and I was a little nervous because my class is around 100 students and they’re job was to treat my presentation as a pitch to investors, so I knew they were all very engaged. I went up to present and I started off fine, but about one minute in, I stumbled over a few words and absolutely panicked. I kept presenting and apparently the outside of my body was able to remain calm and collected, but inside my brain was yelling “You gotta get out of here. There’s the door. Run!”. Luckily though I was able to acknowledge the humor and absurdity of what would happen if I actually ran out in the middle of a presentation, which calmed me down and helped me deliver a more relaxed presentation. My presentation this Friday is basically a rerun of the one I did a few weeks ago, but with changes made based on feedback from my peers. Even though I don’t like public speaking, I know that if I practice it this week everything will go fine.

Thanks for spending the time to read this. I wish I had more to talk about, but my November was pretty uneventful. I can’t wait to update you all on how my finals go, and I hope you all have an awesome Winter Break and a Happy Holidays!

Two Months ‘Till Florence

October has flown by! This is mostly due to my heavy workload which keeps me busy, but also because I am counting down the days until I am able to study abroad. I have never been outside of the country before, and I have always wanted to study abroad, so when the opportunity to study in Florence, Italy presented itself, I immediately applied. After finding out I had been accepted, I had some catching up to do, and I spent my October getting on track to travel abroad.

Since I’ve never traveled outside of the US, I needed to apply for an expedited passport so I would receive it in time to obtain an Italian Visa. While I waited for my passport to come in the mail, I worked on other steps that needed to be completed in order to be fully enrolled. One of the more exciting tasks was signing up for the classes I plan on taking. Although the options were fairly limited, I created a schedule that I believe has a balance of classes that benefit my major, as well as classes that sounded interesting that aren’t available in the US. I won’t know my exact schedule until closer to the start of the next semester, but some of the classes I signed up for were Entrepreneurship: Small Businesses in Florence, Sociology: The Mafia and the Media in Italy, an Italian language course, and a course on economic trends in Italy, just to name a few. I am excited to see which classes I get into, and I am confident that my schedule will be very interesting.

Once my passport arrived, I was able to apply for an Italian Visa. This part of the process was a little less exciting than choosing my classes, since it mostly consisted of paperwork and meetings, but it was still exciting in the sense that this whole process is foreign to me. After completing my final Visa meeting this morning, the idea of studying abroad in Europe seems less like a fantasy and more like a reality. There is still quite a bit that needs to be done throughout the remainder of the semester, but I am happy to say that I am currently on track to travel this spring.  I can’t wait to write blog posts in a foreign country, about my experiences at a foreign school, and I am incredibly excited to gain an international perspective of culture that is so important to have in this day and age.