It’s been almost 11 years since I studied abroad in Perugia, Italy. It was summer of 2004 when I took my very first trip to Europe and to be honest, that was the first time I traveled anywhere outside the United States and Puerto Rico. Looking back at that amazing opportunity I feel nostalgic and proud. Nostalgic because it was a great summer, where I learned about the culture and made friendships that last till today. Proud because I could have bought a new car (which I needed at the time) or simply go shopping, like many girls in college do. Instead, I decided to “invest” the money in memories and experiences. No regrets.
I have always found languages so fascinating. It is the link between us and other cultures. So I decided to take all my electives in Italian while in college. I took 9 credits of Italian and I knew I wanted to finish with a summer in Italy where I could practice what I learned and earn 3 more credits. Professor Ferracane (one of my favorite professors I have ever had) did a trip every year where he took students to Universita per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) in Italy so I knew that eventually it was going to be my turn. Wrong! The year I was ready to pack my bags, I asked the professor when the whole planning was going to start. To my dismay, he said he was not sure about doing the trip anymore, especially since the year before (2003) the program did not have the anticipated success. This was mostly in part because parents didn’t want to send their kids anywhere after 9/11. I said, no way Jose! and asked him what he needed in order to make it happen. He said a minimum of 20 participants. I said done!
I started putting flyers everywhere in campus, cafeteria, bathrooms, you name it, and even at some of the bulletin boards in the shops nearby. We also asked the administration to send an email with the information to every single student. The result? over 45 students were interested in the program and 40 signed up for it. This includes my 2 friends and roommates who I was able to convince. That was the biggest group that program saw until that day. And we sure were the best group as well!
On July 4th, 2004 I boarded Iberia flight #3612 from San Juan to Madrid, and from there we took a flight with Alitalia to Rome. The flight was long, but we spent the time listening to music, dancing (yes, dancing!) and discovering that international flights offer free (alcohol) drinks (the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18). By the time we arrived in Perugia we were so tired. I then had to carry my gigantic suitcase up the hills in Perugia. Thank God for Mr. Mezzacappo (bless his heart) who was a lifesaver. Mr. Mezzacappo was a man in his 60’s or 70’s with an excellent physical condition. He was the owner of the apartment we stayed and when he saw I was taking forever he took the suitcase out of my hands and continue to climb the hills. I was probably 10 meters behind him, trying to catch my breath when I saw he stopped and looked for a key. We arrived! I said. I was wrong again! When he opened the door I saw a million of stairs to climb. The apartment was in the fourth floor of an old building with no elevator. I was exhausted but happy to start living such experience. It was definitely a great workout in anticipation to all the gelato and pasta I consumed that summer. I also learned how to pack light after that traumatic experience.
We went to the university a few days a week and had the afternoons free so we could explore the nearby towns such as Assisi, Spoleto and Cortona. During the weekends, Professor Ferracane had different excursions organized to other big cities, like Rome, Florence and Naples.
I loved the time I spent in Italy, it was certainly an experience that opened my eyes and senses. It was the aha! moment when I realized there’s a whole world out there and I wanted to see it all! Since then, I knew I wanted to travel and see different places, learn other languages and from other cultures. I told my boyfriend (now husband) upon my return that someday I wanted to live in Italy or somewhere in Europe. He said, “I promised one day we will do that together:. Now, 11 years after that amazing experience, we are both living to that dream and making that promise a reality.
Studying abroad is something I would recommend to anyone! I really hope my nieces and nephews will someday be interested in doing the same. There are so many benefits of studying abroad, but I want to mention a few:
- See the World. The biggest reason you should consider a study abroad program is the opportunity to see the world
- Appreciate who you are and where you come from
- Education. There’s no better classroom that the world out there.
- Take in a New Culture. Learn to appreciate, respect and value differences.
- Hone Your Language Skills. Learning a new language gives you a greater global understanding of the world we live in.
- Career Opportunities
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Saving skills. Believe me, when you are spending a whole summer in Italy with just $1,500 in the pocket, you learn how to stretch those dollars.