Studying Abroad is One of The Greatest Experience You’ll Ever Have
By Briana BelBuono
The date was July 3, 2014 and at 5:15 PM I had just said a very teary goodbye to my parents before boarding a flight with Air Berlin out of JFK International Airport.
Having never been out of the country before, I had no idea what awaited me in Europe, but it didn’t matter. My journey had officially begun.
The international flight took about seven hours but before I knew it, I was on a smaller plane heading from Germany to Florence, Italy–my home for the next four weeks.
As music blasted through my earphones, I held onto the armrests and the propeller plane soared into the air.
I took one step outside of the small plane and was so flabbergasted by the view that I ended up leaving my purse in the overhead bin.
The flight attendant ran it out to me after giving the plane a once over. I didn’t even care. I was in the greatest place on earth.
Fighting through exhaustion, sweat, excitement, and about four hundred and fourteen steps, we had reached the summit of the Duomo Bell Tower.
With the mountains in the distance and all of Florence below me, I felt invincible. It was one of my proudest moments.
We met our program advisor in the airport terminal and she told us to take car service to get our apartment keys. Our cab driver barely spoke English and by the time we arrived, we still hadn’t figured out the Euro. He made out pretty well that day.
The $8,000 apartment I shared with my seven roommates was beautiful and more modern than any of us had expected. It overlooked the downtown streets of Florence and happened to be right around the corner from the Duomo, one of Florence’s main tourist attractions.
Just as long as you are discounting the fact that we were on the third floor and there weren’t any elevators, we had the perfect apartment.
The Lorenzo De Medici program was very accommodating to us as students. They gave us prehistoric-looking cellphones that we could use throughout all of Italy for a lot less than the cost of the roaming fees that came with our American cell phones.
They warned us of what to look out for in this new country that many of us had never traveled to before. The incredibly crafty thieves that are everywhere in Italy are seen as one of the country’s biggest turn offs for tourists.
Palaces of Florence, the three credit course I enrolled myself in at the school, was both fascinating and not incredibly intensive.
My professor, Franco Fiesoli was a Florence native and took it upon himself to help us find the hidden spots where culture thrived.
He smelled like body odor and cappuccino but the man knew his way around the streets and we were grateful for his guidance.
It felt like our travel group of eleven students banded together overnight. During our first weekend we took a bus ride to Cinque Terre, about two hours outside Florence.
The tour allowed us to climb up one of the mountains that led to Monterosso Beach which was a two-hour hike with ledges that, if not careful, would lead you to plummet to your death.
By the time we actually got to the location we were sweaty, dehydrated and our legs were shaking. The experience was gratifying but I don’t think any of us were ever so happy to be at the beach.
Our second weekend trip was to the Amalfi Coast. I’m sure you’ve read about the coast in travel magazines and have searched pictures of the breathtaking views, but when I tell you that you have to see it to believe it, well, if you have to take my word on anything, take my word on that.
We arrived at Sorrento, which took us what seemed like an eternity, and wanted to walk right back out.
A cockroach was crawling by the light switch and we checked for bed bugs immediately. Thankfully the cockroach was all we had to battle that night.
Only eight of us made the trek to Capri so four of us were staying in one room and four in an adjacent room. Both rooms were equally horrifying and both groups were equally bugged out.
To top it all off, we only had Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby, which happened to be on the fifth floor, while we were on the third. Aside from the disturbing hotel, the weekend consisted of hiking, cliff jumping into the Mediterranean ocean, sipping on granitas (Italian Slurpees), lying out on black sand beaches, and even exploring the ruins of ancient Pompeii.
The following weekend was our trip to Rome, where we saw the Coliseum, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine chapel, the Spanish Steps, the Catacombs, and the Trevi Fountain which was under construction at the time. St. Peter’s Basilica stood out the most with its mixture of Renaissance and Baroque style and its dramatic dome which highlights the skyline of the beautiful city.
Even being a non-practicing Catholic, tears came to my eyes just gazing at the beauty that has existed for centuries.
The original Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo was tucked away behind a glass wall inside of the basilica. The entire atmosphere was breathtaking.
Living in another country for a month was far from what I expected. My roommates and friends from the program learned together what it was like to live in the heart of Florence and at times, it wasn’t easy.
At first arrival, we were a little homesick, but by our last night, we were a family and none of us wanted to leave.
Studying abroad is one of the best experiences a college student can have. The requirements are not too extensive and the advisors will get you through your application process seamlessly. The decision is up to you.