On Taking the Leap Abroad and Returning Home

Sep 6, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Hannah Hardenbergh

Hannah Hardenbergh

Hannah Hardenbergh is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An American History and Literature major at Harvard College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In her last post, Hannah reflects on her choice to study abroad in the summer and how she gained confidence to reach past cultural barriers to connect with locals and Florence's rich art and history.


At first, I thought studying abroad didn’t really fit into my life as a student-athlete in college. As a Nordic skier, it’s hard to take more than a month off from training, and quite challenging to take a semester abroad and have a successful training year in preparation for the racing season. Though it’s been done, I simply wanted to focus on training, academics, and social events on campus at Harvard. However, this past year I had been nursing a foot injury, and when I found out about CAPA’s 6-week program, I decided that it would be a really great opportunity to study abroad while recuperating from my injury. I wasn’t 100% sure about the trip, even as I boarded the plane.

In Siena with My Friend TaylorMy new study abroad friend, Taylor, and I in Siena.

My friends and roommates had consulting and campaigning jobs lined up for the summer in hopes of finding a way to enter job markets for a future career, and meanwhile it seemed like I was dropping everything and fleeing to look at sculptures and arches for a while. However, I had forgotten that, despite constantly comparing myself to others, indulging in art and culture is what I have loved doing in my classes all along, and living in a new and exciting culture abroad was exactly what I wanted to be doing.

Boboli Gardens with Pitti Palace in the BackgroundBoboli Gardens with Pitti Palace in the background.

For those who are trying to decide if study abroad would be the right fit, or are even considering it in the slightest bit, I would strongly encourage you to take the leap—to set doubts aside and commit to an incredibly exciting experience! If you aren’t quite sure whether it is the right decision, like I was, consider your options and try to find a solution that works.

Michelangelo's DavidMichelangelo's David represents the strength of the art culture and more in Florence.

I certainly had doubts before committing to studying abroad, like what purpose it would serve me in the long run, why I was studying Florentine art when my major focused on American history, and what kind of trouble might await me in a foreign metropolis filled with strangers. I decided to acknowledge these doubts, and to set them down in my journal while I dove into what became a phenomenal adventure that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Ponte Vecchio and Il Fiume del ArnoPonte Vecchio and Il Fiume del Arno (the Arno River).

I hadn’t traveled a lot, and I didn’t like traveling alone. I still don’t love it. However, while living in Florence I found a new love for travel and gained a level of confidence in myself that wasn’t there before. My time in Italy was quite introspective and personal; I had a lot of me-time to write, draw, and read. Now, that may seem quite boring! Nevertheless, I found that taking adventures on my own to neighboring towns and exploring the city grid by foot by myself was quite productive for me.

The Enormity of the DuomoAn attempt at capturing the enormity of the Duomo.

I strengthened my observational skills, I reached past the language barrier to start conversations with locals, and I appreciated spending time to learn even more about myself in a brand-new city. I have returned home with a strong sense of identity, a larger boost of confidence in my own abilities to connect with others and navigate new situations, and an interest in other cultural histories across the Atlantic.

Watching Fireworks by the Duomo for Feast Day of St. John the BaptistWatching the fireworks during a festival for the Feast Day of Florence's Patron Saint: St. John the Baptist.

I didn’t really experience any reverse-culture shock when I returned home. I have found it quite easy to share my study abroad experience with family and friends, and though I certainly miss parts of my time in Florence, I don’t necessarily feel as if returning home required much readjusting to the culture and lifestyle in Colorado. Fortunately, I live in a very well-supported community, and my family is incredibly understanding of my choices to study abroad and of my experiences I had there. I have loved sharing every detail I can think of with my family and friends, especially pointing out ways of life that are different between my life and the locals I had met in Florence.

Me on top of the DuomoViews from the top of the Duomo!

My advice for students who are returning home after studying abroad, in Florence at least, would be to feel open and confident about their experiences in Italy, though they may be different than what one might experience in an American city, and feeling excited to share them with all. It is exciting to carry what I have learned in Florence—from Italian customs of dining, to overcoming language barriers, to the broad knowledge of art history in an incredibly rich city—home with me and into my future endeavors in understanding other global communities and historical narratives.

Thanks Hannah!

See more of Hannah's journey in Florence.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Why Study Abroad