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

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


Duolingo-ing through life

This past summer, when I studied abroad in Paris, I went with very limited knowledge of French and an intermediate amount of Spanish (which is definitely not as useful). Before you say, “what a stereotypical study abroad student only talking about his time in Europe,” hear me out — I got an understanding out of it I didn’t really anticipate. In our program, we had the unique opportunity to live in home-stays for six weeks and be completely immersed in the French culture. Our homestay families would cook us dinner three times a week, question us about our day, introduce us to their traditions, tell stories about their lives and show us the best places to see around Paris. 

I would say there were a lot of difficulties in adjusting to the French lifestyle, most importantly, the language barrier. Six months before the program, I decided that it would be extremely helpful to learn the basics of French because I definitely didn’t want to be one of those Americans that expected English to be spoken everywhere, so I began my journey in the great language app of Duolingo. Flash forward to June. Even though I had that 130-day streak of straight-up French, in which all I knew was the basics (which was still extremely helpful), being at a dinner table with a bunch of fluent French people and trying to understand every word of what was being said wasn’t something my feeble mind could envelop. I would spend all my time using whatever French knowledge I had and any words that sounded remotely close to Spanish or English to unscramble the conversation between my host family and their friends. 

Over the course of the program, I would continue to struggle with understanding, but I also realized that there is more to learning language than trying to know every single word that someone says. To succeed, it helps to gather the main gist of what is being said, picking off words you know from the sentences to form some coherent idea. Through continuous practice, the words and phrases that initially made no sense will begin to click, and suddenly you gain new perspectives and appreciations toward others that you previously didn’t know. 

To get to my main point: language is a form of understanding. It allows us to not only communicate with one another, but to connect and share our values such that we are mutually enhanced and changed for the better. To understand fully, we do not need to know everything. We just need to capture what’s important. When we act fearless by opening ourselves to new perspectives and taking the time to understand what’s important, we become stronger, better people that love everyone equally and let them live their truth without interference. When we judge without understanding, we get nowhere except an endless cycle of miserableness and passivity towards others’ issues. 

Just as I opened myself to new experiences and perspectives abroad, we should be willing to see people for the things they love and the beauty and the appreciation that comes with everyone’s life. Language may connect us, but understanding fixates us on what is important: to love everyone and not let people tell you otherwise.

You can reach Andrew at

The views expressed in this inside column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


University students in London react to Queen Elizabeth II’s death

LONDON — Outside Buckingham Palace Thursday evening, a crowd began to gather. A press release from the palace earlier that day revealed Queen Elizabeth’s doctors were concerned for her health and advised her to stay under medical supervision while she stayed at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. 

“I was surprised when I heard the news, but I honestly thought she was going to be okay,” Toby Kult, a Notre Dame junior who is part of the London Global Gateway program this semester, said. “Everyone was freaking out, but I thought she was going to pull through because she’s the queen and she’s immortal.”

But at exactly 6:30 p.m., the Union Jack that flies above Buckingham Palace was lowered to half mast, and an official announcement from the palace was fixed upon its gates. 

“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the statement read. “The King and Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and return to London tomorrow.”

Upon her death at age 96, Queen Elizabeth II was both the longest-lived British monarch and the longest-ruling monarch in British history. She ascended to the throne in 1952 and was subsequently coronated in 1953.

On Feb. 6, 2022, she became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, honoring her 70-year reign. Within this time frame, she held the throne through major world events such as the end of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the end of the apartheid in South Africa, the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The longevity of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign touches the hearts of many British citizens, including Notre Dame junior Arabella Baker and her family. 

“The queen was like no other world leader because other leaders have an expiration date,” Baker said. “She’s been a leading figure when it comes to helping the country move forward through times of trouble. She was a resilient figure, and I think that’s why she meant so much to the British people.”

According to Bloomberg News, a woman laid the first bouquet of flowers in front of the palace at 5 p.m. on Thursday. By 8 p.m., there were thousands of people gathered outside the palace.

Caitlin Papalia, a Notre Dame junior studying in London this semester, went to Buckingham Palace with other Notre Dame students soon after the death of the queen had been announced. 

“The mood was very solemn. It was an unspoken thing that a really big thing had happened,” Papalia said. “I’ve been at Buckingham Palace in the past when there’s a lot of noise and bustle, but this was completely different.” 

The crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace Thursday night. Credit: Gabby Beechert, The Observer.

Mourners pushed through a tightly-packed crowd to place flowers outside the front gates. Those who couldn’t push through passed their bouquets to the front. Despite the size of the crowd, there was not much noise. The crowd stayed even as it began to pour. Instead of leaving, mourners opened their umbrellas and put up their hoods. 

Buckingham Palace announced that the former queen’s funeral will take place Monday, Sept. 19 in Westminster Abbey at 11 a.m. During the four-day period before the funeral, the queen’s casket will lie in state in Westminster Hall, giving the public the opportunity to pay their respects. The date of the funeral has also been declared a bank holiday by her eldest son, now King Charles III.

Contact Gabby Beechert at