Jessica Albright from the University of Iowa, English and Creative Writing and Secondary Education Major, studying in Florence, Italy
After just over a week of my study abroad program in Florence, Italy I am convinced that I have made the best decision of my life.
Is that cliché? It seems cliché. Because almost everyone always says that, right? “Studying abroad was the best thing I’ve ever done!” I can’t be the only person who thought that those exclamations were a little exaggerated. Turns out, for me, they’re not.
But let’s back up a little bit here. Because I didn’t always feel like this. In fact, I was an absolute wreck going into this whole thing.
Some people might find that a little surprising. For most of my life, I have been the girl that goes out and does things, the things that some people are maybe too afraid to do. I was in theatre, choir, have gone on trips to Germany and Ireland, have spoken in front of a crowd of over three hundred people—you get the gist. I want to live fully and intentionally, and I try to never allow myself to skip out on opportunities that I know I can grasp.
So studying abroad. I loved travelling; I loved my studies. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. Originally, I was supposed to be going with my best friend. We talked about it for months, fawning over the things we’ll get to do and see and how fun it’ll be to do it all together. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned. After a series of events, it turned out that I would now be travelling to Italy—the country we had agreed on together—completely alone. I declared this to my family and friends with a smile on my face and a particular, casual lift in my shoulders that could only be described as absolute confidence, submitted my application, signed the acceptance form, and drained my bank account of every last penny I had worked so hard to earn in the past couple years. But it’s fine. So what if I only had $80 in my bank account and had no idea what exactly I was doing? It’s fine.
It wasn’t fine.
I spent the entire two weeks of downtime that I had in between stressing about finals and boarding the airplane to Vienna, my first stop, by binge-eating and spending a whole lot of time staring at my unpacked suitcase in an absolute trance as my mind pieced together literally every single horrendous outcome that could happen in my time abroad and sobbing at the thought that I’m going to have to leave everyone I love behind. Because even though I’ve travelled before, it’s always been with someone—a group of friends, some adult to guide us through the airports. That was not the case this time.
I would have sworn I was going to have a heart attack, but I was actually pretty certain that the black hole of dread in my stomach was going to consume me first.
By some miraculous force, however, I made my way through the airport, boarded a plane, repeated the process, and found myself standing in the gathering for the API students at the exit of Florence’s airport. The directors were the first to meet me: a group of four women who welcomed me with open arms and beaming smiles. The other students seemed nice enough, too, as we tossed introductions are the circle, but we soon lapsed into silence and as I continued to shift around for the numerous Italians that kept trying to shove between me and the row of seats behind me, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Oh God, is this how the entire month is going to be? Spent in awkward silence?”
When we got to the hotel, we were given simple instructions to ride the elevator up to our floor and knock on the door so that our roommate could let us in. I had to get in the elevator a total of three times before I figured out what floor I was supposed to get on—completely inconveniencing every other person that tried squeezing into the tuna box with me—and when I put on my confident, cheery, “It’s so nice to meet you!” face and knocked.
My roommate didn’t answer. I knocked for five minutes.
I’m not really sure I can ever accurately describe just how truly dreadful I felt in that moment. Locked out of my room as everyone who got off the bus with me entered theirs with ease, and wondering not for the first time that day if this was all a mistake; if I would spend the next month in polite, terse conversation with those around me and avoiding my roommate since apparently she couldn’t be inconvenienced enough to open a simple door for me.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about anything in my life.
Eventually, my roommate opened the door. It turned out that she’d been sleeping and totally didn’t hear my knocking, and who was I to blame her? Just two weeks ago I had slept through twelve alarms and missed my one of my finals. I would have done the same exact thing.
We turned out to have a lot more in common, too, and somehow in just one day we had become friends. And it wasn’t just her, either. Whereas I thought my first night would be spent sleeping off my long day of transferring flights in my freezing hotel room, it was instead spent with four others in the API program, sitting beneath the enthralling loom of the Duomo, having aperitivos, and laughing as though we’d known each other for much more than just four short hours.
I was in shock—completely over the moon ecstatic. I still am. Every day since then has just been another part of the same dream. In one week I have moved into a gorgeous, spacious apartment with seven other lovely girls, formed a close-knit group of friends, eaten gelato, croissants, pizza, and pasta every single day, gotten lost way too many times to count, fought my way through buying groceries in the Florentine food market, walked through ancient history, and stood two feet away from the Pope.
Sometimes, the glowing feeling I get when I sit back and realize everything that has happened at the end of the day is too much to even begin to describe. I hardly even know what to say, other than I know without a doubt that I have unexpectedly found another home in the world, surrounded by some of the best people I could ever hope to know.
So yeah. Studying abroad was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Three weeks left and I’m already dreading the moment when I’m going to have to say goodbye.