As a freshman at NYU, I got the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy, for the whole year.
I loved the fairy-tale-like campus, the city's cafes, and the chance to travel.
Studying abroad helped push me out of my comfort zone and taught me to chase every opportunity.
After spending my junior and senior years of high school on Zoom calls and in Google classrooms, there was a bright spot at the end of the tunnel: I was accepted into New York University.
As a native New Yorker, I was excited to go to a prestigious school close to home. But when the excitement passed, I realized I would be spending my entire freshman year at NYU's campus in Florence.
As a result of applying through the early-decision process, I was expected to attend the Florence campus as part of the deal — or I would not be able to attend at all. I was also admitted to NYU's two-year liberal-studies program, which required at least one semester of studying abroad. In my case, that just so happened to be my first year of college.
While it wasn't your typical college-freshman experience, I loved every aspect of my study-abroad program. I will be forever grateful to the people I've met, the cities I've visited, and all the cappuccinos I've drunk.
Most importantly, I learned that if you didn't chase opportunities, they wouldn't come to you. I've taken that lesson from my study-abroad experience and implemented it in other areas of my life.
When I arrived in Florence, I fell in love with the campus
There is no doubt that NYU's campus in Florence is a fantasy come true. It sits on several acres of gardens, groves, hills, and villas. On warm days, I smelled yellow mimosa flowers on my walks to class. If I was fortunate enough to catch it, piano music would filter out of some buildings. As I ate dinner, I could stare at the sunset's pastel colors and the city lights.
I lived in the main dormitory on campus, initially rooming with three other students. The dorms' Italian architecture helped distinguish the campus from New York City's. Rather than being surrounded by skyscrapers, I was encircled by olive trees.
We were lucky enough to have housekeepers. While I didn't always understand our conversations, they were always willing to help me with my Italian — and, occasionally, with putting my sheets on my bed. In the cafeteria, the kitchen staff tried their best to make meals for everyone, and when I told them I was vegan, they went out of their way to make me something special.
Florence itself held discoveries for me — a young student on her own for the first time
One of my favorite things to do was take a 10-minute walk to my favorite café, PappaGioia, which had the most beautiful atmosphere and generous staff. I visited every day, eating in their backyard garden. There, I loved sitting under the shade of a tree with a full plate of food in front of me, a book in my hand, and a strawberry cake on the way.
On my last visit to the café, I thanked the owner for her heartwarming hospitality, and she filled a bag with cookies and gifted them to me — thanking me for my time.
She was just one of the many good-natured Florentines I encountered. Whenever I found myself needing assistance, a local was always there to help me without annoyance or disapproval of my being there.
Of course, I saw Florentines get slightly annoyed at the heavy traffic caused by tourists — but the locals were always cordial. There were numerous times, though, when I watched American tourists be outright disrespectful and entitled.
While studying abroad my freshman year was atypical, I had a better experience than I would've in NYC
When I arrived at NYU Florence, I didn't know a single person. But I met all my closest friends there. Granted, I did miss out on the typical freshman activities back in New York, like a big orientation, but I was able to enjoy something most freshmen couldn't: traveling the world.
I visited several countries and cities throughout Europe for next to nothing. Even though some of the planes were dinky, the flights were worth it. Imagine being able to visit Rome for $20. That was my reality for a whole year.
Growing up, I didn't have the privilege of traveling often, so this was my chance to step out of my comfort zone and explore. For example, once while traveling, I worked up the courage to talk to a cute boy. Even though he didn't become my fairy-tale Italian lover, I got to speak with a local and practice my Italian. Most importantly, I put myself in an uncomfortable situation to prove to myself that being uncomfortable was not a bad thing.
My best memories, like that one, were made traveling with friends and partaking in the cultures of other countries. We were so lucky that we had the opportunity to grow and complete our first year of college together in a foreign country.
Of course, I missed home a lot, but I would do it all over again
It's easy to romanticize studying abroad, but it's not always as easy or as glamorous as it looks. For example, I missed out on a lot back home in New York. I missed my baby sister's first year of life. I often wondered how my old dog was doing without me, and — most harrowing — I had to learn about my dad's cancer diagnosis halfway across the world.
Despite those obstacles, I realized I had the chance of a lifetime right in my lap. I was 19 years old living in Europe with amazing friends. I'm glad that I held on to that feeling because it allowed me to take chances and open up to a world of possibilities.
I tell everyone who has the ability to study abroad that they need to give it a chance. It's not for everyone, but it's worth trying because it taught me how to be curious, chase adventure, and be a gracious adult.
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