NIETO-MUNOZ: Study abroad can change worldviews
Opinions Column: Views from the 39
Fourteen weeks ago, I was one of the thousands of students around the United States that packed my life into a 50-pound suitcase, waved goodbye to my family and friends, hopped on a plane and began my journey to study abroad. Fourteen weeks later, my time abroad has come to an end. Fourteen weeks of embracing a new culture, living with an Italian family, traveling to five countries, learning a new language and spending a lot of money — which is much more colorful than the plain ol' dollar — has come to an end. I can honestly say that I had my doubts about studying abroad. I thought I would miss out on a lot that was happening within my friend group or my family, or I wouldn’t have the time of my life like I expected to have.
As I’m typing this, I’m on my last trip of the semester on a bus returning from Zurich, Switzerland, occasionally glancing at the beautiful view of the Swiss Alps that I’ll have for the rest of this four hour bus ride, and I can honestly say I’m glad I hopped on that plane 14 weeks ago, and once I landed, I didn’t think twice.
Studying abroad has taught me a lot about myself: I’ve uncovered things within myself that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t take this experience. I’ve left the security that I’ve had at home my whole life — I've always had my parents within a 15-minute radius (ah, the perks of living 10 miles away from campus) and had to go through this experience virtually alone. I’ve been forced to use my own skills that my parents instilled in me the past 20 years of my life to get through this, whether it’s remembering to print out every ticket, bus schedule and hotel reservation and bring three different folders on a trip to figuring out a language barrier by using a crazy version of charades to get your point across. I’ve learned how to be independent enough to thrive on my own without and trust that I have the skills to live in a foreign country.
I think one of the most important realities I’ve learned is how hard it is to be away from home, how difficult it can be to step out of your comfort zone and learn to enjoy yourself. My parents moved out of their home country of Argentina in their 20s, and I always wondered how they never returned. Although I still don’t fully understand how my parents have done it, I now can understand how to make a new place your home.
Studying abroad also offers an opportunity to admire and appreciate things in a new way. Because countries in Europe such as Italy have a history that goes much farther back than 1776, there are different types of surroundings from various time periods, and buildings that have seen people from diverse walks of life all throughout history. I could sit in front of the "duomo" in Florence all day, admiring the Renaissance influence and religious magnitude it had so many centuries ago. Not only does studying abroad aid one in appreciating gothic churches, renaissance art and baroque decorations, but also life in general.
Like everyone in the world, I’ve endured my struggles, but studying in Italy made me feel lucky to be alive. Here, everyone is so content with the little things — from getting to play soccer in the piazza to drinking that cheap two-euro bottle of wine with family to living in a place where you can admire Giotto’s chapel, the people here truly are happy. There is no sense of time (which was nice but annoyed my New Yorker Intern mindset quite a bit), there’s a sense of family and being together and a sense of genuine enjoyment. My host family and I would sometimes sit in the backyard to have lunch and my host dad would just say, “Isn’t it a wonderful day? Isn’t it wonderful we can have lunch out here? What a beautiful day.” I’ve learned to appreciate sunsets and sunrises, appreciate my toes in the clear, cool waters of the Mediterranean and appreciate the close friends I’ve made here, which I know I share something special with. After all, we traveled the world together.
I know the study abroad experience is different for everyone, but it’s an experience that one can’t relate to until you actually go abroad and do it. I urge you to visit the Center for Global Education at 102 College Ave. or visit their website.
Find out what all the hype is about. See the world. Meet new people. Create new experiences. Be the experimenter, the teacher, the learner — be that world traveler you want to be. And see all the world you can see — you can only see a certain amount of it in your life, and that amount is all up to you. Leave your mark on the world abroad, Rutgers students, and have happy and safe travels.
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is currently studying abroad in Italy through CIEE. Her column, “Views from the +39” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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