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Buckle your seatbelts, it’s time to study abroad

I had a lot of expectations about how my study abroad was going to go, and none of them came to fruition the way I thought they would. Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t have the best time of my life — I definitely did. That being said, my study abroad experience taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve gotten out of my time at Notre Dame: Just go with it.

When I found out I was accepted into the Rome Undergraduate Program in January 2021, I immediately let my Lizzie McGuire dreams run wild. I would stare at maps of Europe, read about Rome and practice my Italian whenever I could. I had never been abroad before, so my parents and I were anxiously looking into airline tickets and what was the right luggage to take. Given that the only flight I had ever taken was to Orlando with the band for the Camping World Bowl Game in December 2019, I was nervous about flying across the Atlantic by myself. However, by the time the end of fall semester 2021 rolled around, I felt ready to go to Europe that next month. As fate would have it, though, everything went to the dumpster fire.

My journey to Italy consisted of a bickering-filled car ride with my mother, who was even more stressed with dropping me off alone due to my dad’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, a very strange interaction with the German customs agent who made me show him my wallet at 6:15 a.m. and over an hour-long wait for my ride in the Fiumicino Airport parking lot. I should have known then that I’d be in for a wild ride.

My time in Europe was filled with crazy adventures to different cities, countries and places within Rome. I met so many great friends in the RUP program, and I strengthened my previous friendships from campus by visiting people in other programs. Reflecting on all of those happy memories, I can’t help but remember how much those bonds grew with the pressure of traveling. I’ll give you a fan favorite among my friends.

Imagine this: it’s the end of your spring break and you’re in Paris. The weather has been gorgeous all weekend, you’ve seen so many beautiful pieces of art and your eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store when the Eiffel Tower started sparkling at night. You’re feeling pretty good when it’s time for you and your friends to head back to Rome, where you also know your parents have just landed to visit you. That’s when the chaos hits. Ryanair’s airport is an hour and a half outside of the city, and the only feasible option to get there is to take the bus they recommend getting on two-and-a-half hours before your flight. You and your friends were already late getting to your storage locker, so you’re sitting in the back of an Uber with stuff piled on your laps up to your necks. There’s about two minutes until your bus is about to leave, so your friends push you out of the side door when the car stops, and you frantically run to the French driver yelling in English to hold the bus. Turns out, there’s a very long line of people that you still had to wait through, so you end up missing the next two buses, too.

We ended up making it onto the plane by the grace of God. We had to run from the bus to the gate, but luckily, they ended up holding the plane for us thanks to two of our friends who had left earlier. I’ll never forget the look of the Italian man in the plane seat next to me who looked very concerned when I showed up panting with all of my friends. I’m telling you this story as an example of what I most valued out of my personal journey during study abroad. I learned to just deal with things.

A person can learn a lot from immersing themselves in another culture. When a language is being spoken around you that you don’t fully understand, you become so much more self-aware and notice more about what exactly makes up a culture by noticing the differences from your own. It’s a scary thing to do at first, but anybody would come out of an experience like that feeling more mature and capable of taking on any situation. In my case, I never felt more like an adult than I did when I was living in Rome. I may not have met a Paolo and sang in the Colosseum like Lizzie McGuire, but I did grow a whole lot more into myself.

You can contact Sophia at @smichett@nd.edu.

This views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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