November 16, 2021
My name is Samantha Keefer and I am a fourth-year Psychology and Education double major. I participated in the UCEAP Made in Italy program in Florence, Italy in Fall 2019. Studying away as an EOP student was challenging. It was challenging because financially, it was more of a struggle for me and my family. It always seemed that the other students in my program had unlimited money when I was trying to budget my finances correctly. My roommate and I spent days trying to find the cheapest flights and accommodations for the one big trip we were able to go on during the fall break of our program. I felt like a burden asking my mom for money when we were not well off back at home, but we made it work. I was still able to experience so many wonderful things during my time abroad in a budget-friendly manner. My roommate and I would make sure that we did not eat out every night usually by meal planning and having a schedule of what we were going to eat. We also would plan trips to museums on the free museum days during the month. I also realized that it is okay to spend money if you are desperate to participate in something, it’s all about moderation. Before Italy, I thought I was good at saving money, but living on my own and, specifically, having to think about what I’m going to eat daily, was an aspect of adulthood I hadn’t anticipated. I still use the meal planning skill I developed as well as being more aware of what I’m spending money on and have stayed with me after leaving my program.
I would also like to address an aspect of my study abroad experience that was not quite what I had expected. In my head, I saw studying abroad as this glamorous experience that would never have its downsides because I was abroad. To nobody’s surprise, that definitely did not happen. I came to realize that you still have uneventful days filled with essays and presentations for the classes you are taking. This was especially true for the second half of the program where I had to spend more time working on my classes. I had to center myself and remember that I was here for my education and shifted my perspective back into school mode.
As exciting as studying abroad is, you are there for your education first and foremost. Life also doesn’t stop when you move to another country. You still have to figure out what to buy at the grocery store. Studying abroad is not the never-ending party I imagined it to be – which I am thankful that it wasn’t. This realization was a hard truth most of us faced on our second week of the program where we all kind of looked at each other and asked ourselves “Is this it?” I was able to get acquainted with local shops and restaurants where we would have brief conversations every time I would come in. I was able to feel part of my local community and, at one point, I even got tired of the constant tourists in the city. It really humbled my worldview by seeing that day-to-day life in another country is similar to that in America. Of course, there were distinct differences, such as cars not being necessary and traditions surrounding mealtimes, but as a whole, it shows that people are more alike than previously thought. I realized that, regarding myself, I was just one small piece of the puzzle that is the world and that even in other cultures, we can experience the same difficulties and achievements. I am human just like everyone else around the world.
Both of these components of my study abroad experience have affected my life since I have gotten back from my program. I still use the budgeting skills I acquired while abroad. I also think of the world differently and understand that people from other countries are not that different from ourselves. Everyone still has the same responsibilities and days that drag. When I used to visualize life in Italy, I referenced what I saw in the movies. Now I realize it’s not as glamourous, which can also be said about the United States. Studying abroad was a life-changing experience that I hope people will pursue to connect with others across the globe.