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  • UF Chi Omega

Study Abroad: Lessons, Why and How-To

It feels like a dream to remember this past summer. I spent six weeks in Florence, Italy, studying fashion and sustainability. Florence is one of the homes of the Renaissance, and the city is filled with relics from that time within the infrastructure, museums, and fashion houses. Some of the most luxurious leather products are handmade in Scandicci, and creatives gather from Europe and beyond to study in Florence. Artisans dedicate their work lives to their crafts in jewelry, clothing, handbags, and shoe workshops while participating in the rich Italian culture, filled with delicious, from-scratch plates of pasta and early evening glasses of wine. This brings me to my first piece of advice: study something the city is known for. This will leave you with invaluable knowledge that you can bring back home and share with family, friends, and your community.

In Italy, I learned that dining is an experience, clothing is a vital expression and statement, and family can be anyone, anywhere. Observing the warmth within the community I called home for a short time invigorated me and reminded me of ways to create my lifestyle to cultivate my happiness and health. I relished the slow-morning cappuccinos, mile walks in the rising heat, cold showers, and train rides that transported me into a whole new culture after a few hours of staring out the window, where I saw some of the most beautiful sights in the bushes of the hills of the Italian countryside. I learned that different languages open up new ways of expressing oneself. These pieces of Italian culture became comforts in the place of those I had known at home. Everywhere you go, someone will teach you something different. Prepare and adjust according to these lessons! 

After being there for a few weeks, I found that I would start taking moments for granted, and it felt like I would have Florence forever. However, I knew that, inevitably, I would leave. When feeling this way, I spent time alone and made a luxury out of the mundane. Some of my favorite days included solo trips to a nearby town by train and mornings spent journaling in my favorite cafe, La Cité, on the quiet side of the Arno River. I walked into an artisan shop and asked them questions. I journaled. This reminded me of how notable every second is and centered me in the present.

I filled a small journal that I carried with me everywhere. From the first entry, where I expressed my fears the night before my trip, to the last, where my tears blurred the ink on the pages from grieving the end, you can find expressions of some of the happiest moments of my life within the pages. Flipping through the museum stubs, postcards, and plane tickets to write this blog post made me so grateful that I kept this detailed account of my own history, and I would encourage anyone studying abroad or traveling to do the same. 

During these six weeks, I left my teenage years behind on what was the best birthday of all time. On my 20th birthday, I looked in the mirror at myself with gratitude. Six weeks felt so short, and in the midst of twenty years, it surely was. However, I saw myself in ways that I never had before, with gratitude for getting myself this far. Leaving home in any capacity is challenging, but making a foreign country home because you are there—present and willing—is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. 

In just six weeks, I visited four countries and made a home in Florence in one of them. I ate pasta every day; no, I did not get sick of it. I opened my twenties with confidence and knowledge of myself that I could never imagine I would have and hold so preciously. Studying abroad was the best experience that I have ever had. I think about this time in my life nearly every day. If you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it. If you feel afraid to go, you might need it even more. Take comforts from home with you; for me, this was a friend, my headphones, and a journal. You will take more home than you could ever imagine, and you never know: A better version of yourself might blossom in the process. 

With love,

Grace Callahan, MC ‘21

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