4 Lessons Study Abroad Taught Me

Sep 2, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Emily_Kearns_Column_Profile.jpgWords by Emily Kearns, a CAPA Florence study abroad alumna. Emily will be writing a column called "Remembering Florence" on CAPA World the first Friday of every month.

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With the start of a new school year, I can’t help but think about the past eight semesters of college (I still can’t believe I graduated!) and how much I’ve grown since I was a little freshman. Bottom line: I’ve changed vastly, and it’s pretty obvious that the semester with the most self-growth was the one I spent in Florence. I did a lot, saw a lot, but most importantly I learned a lot.

Here are four lessons that I learned during my time abroad:


ADAPTABILITY IS KEY. I think this is one of the greatest realizations I came to during my semester abroad. Being able to adapt to new situations is a key trait that many employers look for, and in general is a good trait to have. Going to a country I’ve never been to, with a different native language, where I didn’t know a single person forced me to become adaptable. I’ve seen this quality in myself post-study abroad and post-grad.

ALONE TIME IS MORE VALUABLE THAN YOU THINK. As much as I loved meeting a ton of new people over the course of three months, I realized that taking time to regroup and reflect on things alone is so valuable. I made sure to venture out and explore on my own and did my best to keep up with my personal journal, where I reflected on the experiences I had. Looking back through my journal, I’ve been able to make some key realizations about myself.


SMILING IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE. No matter what language you speak, a smile signifies the same thing. It’s so comforting to have this unspoken gesture in a country that speaks a different language. Struggling to order food or coffee in Italian, trying my best to get the Italian students I was teaching to understand my English, and asking locals for directions were all situations that I experienced where a smile from myself and other parties involved eased the tension of the moment.  

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL... (BUT IT'S ALSO REALLY BIG). Before study abroad, I didn’t do that much traveling, let alone traveling internationally! Seeing the canals of Venice, the Swiss Alps, the Colosseum, and other unique places and spaces made me realize how much of this world has been unseen to my eyes, leading me to believe that the world is enormous. However, seeing so many new places was a bit overwhelming, so it was comforting to come across numerous occurrences that caused me to believe the contrary — that the world is small. For example: I had a random hostel roommate in Amsterdam that went to Carnegie Mellon University (right down the street from Pitt); my friends and I asked a random guy for directions in Amsterdam and he happened to be from the same area that I’m from; I found out that a good friend I made lived in the same apartment building as I did during our junior year, and I discovered that one of my roommates and I were born in the same hospital!


Throughout the course of those three months, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, the world, and my place on earth. This list is nowhere near extensive, but I’m sure any study abroad alum could relate to at least one of these lessons that I learned, and I can only hope that future study abroad students leave their host countries with their own list of lessons!

Thanks Emily!

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Topics: Study Abroad