By Anastasia Lopez
I studied abroad in Rome, Italy for five months in the fall 2007 semester. I grew up very Mediterranean (primarily Greek), but never knew much about my Italian heritage and roots. I chose Italy to learn more about my Italian heritage and it made my family very proud. I worked full-time at a hotel as a guest service rep for almost three years saving almost $10K of my own money for this experience of a lifetime.
I got permission from the Italian Consulate in Pittsburgh to visit Greece prior to when I was to leave for Italy. I made all of my own travel plans for every country I visited, budgeting for each one, and integrated myself in the full culture. I am blessed to say that I experienced Athens, Greece and five islands (Corfu, Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, and Kalymnos); Rome, Florence, Pisa, Naples, the Vatican, and the island of Capri in Italy; Brasov, Romania; Prague, Czech Republic; Budapest, Hungary; Barcelona, Spain; Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Dublin, Ireland.
I met family in Greece on the island of Kalymnos; visited the healing hot springs of Santorini; met my high school international exchange pen-pal in Ireland; learned about Anne Frank and the Nazis in the Netherlands and Germany; attended a real European soccer game in Barcelona; soaked in the thermal baths in Hungary, visited countless museums of art and history in Italy, Czech Republic and France; learned and studied international tourism and European economies, Italian language and culture, and visited some international institutions like Trinity College, for example.
I learned about the cultures and histories of all of these delightful countries, sampling cuisines and making international friends and trying to speak the local languages of each. There were beautiful castles, ancient churches, and so much history and culture to go around—it was a fulfilling five months.
My five months in Italy are hard to describe in short paragraphs because it was so much more than all these words combined. It changed my life! It opened my eyes and heart to things I did not fully know. How much poverty there is, how I took for granted things like toilet paper and clean fresh water! I feel so blessed that I have had this experience. I learned a lot in those five months, including more about myself and what I wanted out of a career.
I came home and did several internships in international education, volunteered a lot of my time to several different causes like Walk for the Homeless, Paws with a Cause, and several other non-profits to “give-back”—I feel it is very important to pay it forward.
I do hope that other college students will get the chance to live and study abroad. It changes you. You WANT to learn about other cultures around the world; you WANT to invoke change; you WANT to do something to help others. I can say that, now that I have gone abroad, my curiosity is heightened to the max to see and experience more and also to pair service learning with study abroad, which I think is important.
I’m a first generation college student and graduate. If I can do it, so can you. Hard work, determination, and the want and need to be globally competent will only make the work that you do that much better. To be able to converse in other languages and make international friends is important. To budget in a foreign currency, to navigate around cities and towns that you have never explored before—helps you know what you, as a person, are capable of in unfamiliar environments. Study abroad is only the beginning of the wonderful things that can come out of it. It is truly life-changing!
Lopez currently serves as a Global Education Editor at Wandering Educators; as a TRIO Intern at Western Michigan University; and as a Career Educator and Advisor graduate assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Michigan University.