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Creating a One-of-a-Kind Study Abroad Experience

Nov 22, 2022 10:00:00 AM / by Ashley Feiler

There is no one right way to study abroad. Ashley Feiler, an English Writing and Linguistic major from University of Pittsburgh, is here to let you know how to overcome any doubts or anxiety you might have about your experience. She shares some valuable advice from her time in Florence and encourages every student to embrace options—you'll end up with the experience that's perfect for you!

Am I doing this whole study abroad thing right?

I asked myself this question probably a hundred times during my time in Florence. My time in Italy was only six weeks, and as thrilled as I was to be there, I felt a lot of pressure within myself to make the most of my time abroad and constantly be doing something “exciting”. I was afraid of making the wrong choices and missing out, but after living out those six weeks, I’ve come to learn that all the different choices are what make the experience special!

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo in Florence, a sight I would pass each day for six weeks walking to class.

One of the things I was most excited about (but also felt the most of this pressure about), was independent travel. I knew that traveling on weekends or days off was a big part of many people’s study abroad experiences, whether that be just within Italy or even to different countries throughout Europe. First on my list of places I wanted to see was Rome. I had this perfect plan in my mind to stay there for a long weekend, but after looking at Airbnb costs and ticket availability, my roommate and I decided on a day trip instead. Logically, I knew that this was an amazing opportunity to visit a spectacular city and I was grateful to be able to go at all, but this nagging whisper at the back of my mind kept me doubting nonetheless. “Rome in a day? You’ll never see it all, you’ll just be sitting in your apartment half the weekend, you’re doing this wrong, you’re wasting your chance!” 

That voice could not have been more wrong. Even though my original plan didn’t work out, we ended up having an incredible day exploring the Colosseum, wandering the Roman Forum, and devouring delicious pasta. Plus, having that Sunday at home turned out to be a great way to rest after a busy day of touring and prepare for class the next day.

The Colosseum in Rome

The Colosseum in Rome.

Not to mention, while independent travel was a great opportunity, I realized over time that there is just as much value in simply living the day-to-day life in a different location and culture. Slowly memorizing my walking route to class every day, finding new cafes to study in, figuring out how to navigate the grocery stores to buy dinner ingredients—all of these simple activities helped me get more familiar with my home city of Florence. These small moments were exciting in their own way; learning how to order a cappuccino at my local cafe and beginning to recognize the baristas after visiting a couple times, or becoming comfortable heading to the nearby library courtyard to study in between classes and feeling like a normal student who really belonged in this city. Just living so far from home, so far from what I was familiar with, was a huge step for me in and of itself.

Walking to the CAPA center through the streets of Florence

Walking to the CAPA center through the streets of Florence.

For future study abroad students who are maybe feeling some of these same anxieties or doubts as I did, my advice would be to try not to worry about how your experience compares to others’ or whether you’re doing everything “right”. Studying abroad involves a lot of exploring, and with exploration is inherently some level of choice. You choose where to travel—do you want to stay in Florence, travel around Italy, or visit as many countries as possible? Stay in one place for the whole weekend or stick to day trips to nearby cities? You choose where to eat—do you want to eat out more frequently or cook at home? Get a taste of local cuisine by trying as many different restaurants as possible or going back to your favorite spot every few weeks? You choose how to spend your free time outside of classes—explore a new neighborhood, go shopping, study at your apartment, or visit a museum? 

Any and all of these options (as well as many others I haven’t listed) are great and will add something valuable to your time abroad. Everyone is going to have different priorities, budgets, and schedules, so with all of these choices, no matter how simple or “everyday” they are, you get to shape an entirely unique study abroad experience that is best for you.

The Uffizi at dusk in Florence

The Uffizi at dusk, one of the places I explored outside of class.

There is no one right way to study abroad. There’s going to be a million different things you want to try and to see, and you could stay abroad for years and still not do it all. And that’s okay. Try making a list of some of the top places you want to visit or a few foods you definitely want to try and make those a priority. Then go out and explore. This is your study abroad program, and no matter how you choose to spend it, you’re sure to return home with new cultural understanding and personal growth.

A mountain view from a plane window

A mountain view on the flight home after an amazing study abroad program.

Thanks, Ashley!

Ashley Feiler

Ashley Feiler was an official CAPA blogger for summer 2022, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Linguistic major from University of Pittsburgh, she studied abroad in Florence.

See more of Ashley's journey in Florence, Italy.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Why Study Abroad