I never studied abroad in college. Mainly it was because I spent a semester in New York City doing an unpaid internship, which cost an arm and a leg, leaving few pennies for months of frolicking around Europe. I also assumed that one day I’d live in another country slash be an international millionaire by age 30 (I’m a glass half full kinda girl, OK?). Since that scenario hasn’t panned out yet, I’ve always mildly regretted that I didn’t study abroad, especially because one of my life goals is to become fluent in another language. Fortunately, spending a few days visiting my cousin and her study abroad program in Rome made me realize that I didn’t need to linger on my decision to stick with the USA during college.
If I had studied abroad in college, it definitely would have been in Italy and very possibly Rome. After all, I had been studying Italian since 8th grade! But when I was in college I didn’t have the same carefree sense of adventure that I have now, and I know it’s very likely that I would have chosen to stay in a dormitory with my friends and attend a program geared toward American students. At age 19 I was terrified of flying and had major FOMO over spending even a weekend away from school and my friends.
At the wise old age of 27, I can look back and realize that I definitely would have chosen a “safe” study abroad program – and I’m glad I didn’t. While crashing in my cousin’s dorm room for three nights, I had a total blast. I re-saw some of the amazing sights that I barely remembered from my first trip to Rome back when I was 15, we ate a lot of delicious food, drank a little too much wine and went to bed as the sun was coming up. While it was really fun, I hardly interacted with any Italian people or practiced the language because we were staying in an apartment filled with American students, hanging out with the group and visiting bars and restaurants geared toward the study abroad crowd. In fact, I felt like I was at an American college (minus the Roman ruins and all).
Dinner at a restaurant called Tony’s, which serves absurdly cheap six course meals with unlimited wine to ravenous American college kids. I shamelessly enjoyed it.
But YOU Should Still Study Abroad – Even If It’s in Rome!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not hating on study abroad. Regardless of how you do it, you still get the chance to travel Europe or another continent on weekends and breaks, make memories with your friends and (hopefully) learn a bit about another part of the world you weren’t familiar with. I’m just personally able to report that I’m no longer feeling like I missed out, especially since I get to travel so much now.
If I could go back in time as a 27-year-old and advise my former self, I would encourage baby me to study abroad. But I would try and force myself out of the comfort zone. As fun as a semester in Rome would have been, there’s little to no chance I would have come out of it fluent in Italian. A semester in the less-touristy city of Bologna, however, would have forced me to adapt to the local culture and whipped my vocabulary into shape. If I had chosen to stay with a local family instead of English-speaking friends, I’m sure it would have been even better.
Me biking around Rome’s Villa Borghese… obviously extremely mature now!
The White House last year launched several initiatives encouraging US students to study abroad, since cultural awareness is essential for the country to stay competitive in a global economy. Did you know that fewer than 10 percent of all college students partake in study abroad? This is crazy to me, even though I shouldn’t point fingers when I skipped the experience myself. All you college students, go get your passports in order and apply for a study abroad program stat!
My only advice is to think twice before picking one of the standard destinations. Go somewhere you can learn a new language, meet some local people, have a foreign fling (maybe don’t tell your parents about that one) and eat something bizarre. Take advantage of this period of your life where you don’t yet have a full time job that would likely fire you if you decided to jet off for a four-month vacation.
I’m sure there are many of you out there who studied abroad in a major European city like Rome and made the most of it. It’s perfectly understandable why you would want to spend a significant amount of time in these gorgeous places (I’m jealous!). And if you do happen to choose Rome to study abroad, know that I am not judging you. After all, who could hate on a place so beautiful?
St. Peter’s Basilica
Adorable pond where you can rent a rowboat in the park… che romantico!
The Spanish Steps
Dinner at Il Ragno d’Oro, a yummy and affordable place my cousin introduced me to that is definitely *not* a tourist trap!
While I typically write more guide-like posts about the destinations I visit, I have to admit I wasn’t in blogger-mode when I was in Rome. First of all, I hadn’t expected to go there. I literally made the decision an hour before boarding the train from Bologna, so I didn’t have time to pre-research places I wanted to check out. And I was more focused on having fun with my cousin than seeking out hidden gems. On top of that, I hardly think any of you need ME to write a guide to Rome, one of the most touristy cities in the world. All you need to know is that it’s gorgeous and a must-see! Buon viaggio!
As further explanation for those wondering how I spontaneously extended my Italy trip with work and all: I had planned a trip to Bologna months before and then happened to be in between two jobs that week. Since my new gig didn’t start for another week, I was able to extend my trip to visit my cousin in Rome by rebooking an affordable flight home on Norwegian. When the opportunity presents itself to be more than a weekend jetsetter… I seize the moment!