By Matt Baray
As the first month of our study abroad experience comes to an end, it has continued to be an incredibly impactful and humbling experience. Not only has our first four weeks in Italy allowed us to have some amazing experiences, but it has also challenged us to grow in ways we never could have anticipated. Although the pre-departure meetings had prepared us as much as possible for the semester abroad, there are no descriptions that can possibly sum up the experience of actually being abroad. In just the first month I have been able to tour the ancient ruins in Rome, explore the wine country of Tuscany, and witness the beautiful cities of Florence and Budapest first hand. Not many times in a person’s life do they get the opportunity to experience someplace completely new and foreign. The experiences of climbing the Duomo with your friends or taking in a panoramic view from the hills of Fiesole have been extremely humbling. It has made me realize how little of the world I have seen and continues to remind me just how big our global community is.
Although we have experienced some amazing sights, we have also been challenged to grow in many unanticipated ways. In the first few weeks the language barrier at times seemed overwhelming and intimidating. At times even just getting around the city of Florence and finding a place to eat challenged us to step out of our comfort zones. Finding the time to study for our classes and adjusting to the living habits of the other people in our Pensione have also required us to adapt to our new routines and habits. These challenges have also proven to be valuable and have allowed us to not only grow closer to our fellow students but also learn more about ourselves. I know I have felt more independent in my time abroad than I ever have back home and even living in Spokane.
Over the last couple weeks in particular, Florence has begun to feel like a second home. Not only are we getting better at navigating Florence and conversations in Italian, but the Gonzaga in Florence community is beginning to feel like family. The students and staff here have had a huge impact on the experience thus far and made the adjustment much easier. The teachers and faculty of the program have also worked with us to make our experience abroad uniquely personal. Having the opportunity to have dinner with an Italian family during English for Pasta has been one of my highlights and allowed me to feel like I have family in Florence even though I am thousands of miles away from home. After the amazing experiences and opportunities of the last four weeks I am filled with excitement thinking about what lies ahead, and I can’t wait to see what lies in store for the next three months!