I thought I had it all figured out. I read the pre-departure packets, bought the Italy for Dummies book, and Googled the “Must-Do’s of Italy.” In my obsessive-compulsive-list-making mind, I thought I knew exactly what I would learn during my four-week stay in Florence.
How incredibly silly of me.
It all hit me after the trip, actually. I was cleaning out my desk and stumbled upon a manila folder with the three letters “ISA” scribbled across the top. As I picked it up, the complimentary “Firenze” book filled with images of the Duomo, the Blue Grato and good old David himself fell right into my lap.
But it was strange, when I looked a picture of the Duomo, I wasn’t thinking about its Gothic arches or golden doors. Instead, I remembered running circles around the darn thing, clutching my map and squinting my eyes in search of my apartment. And when I saw a picture of the Blue Grato, I wasn’t recalling the facts I learned from the tour guide; instead I remembered my heart racing as I faced my fears and jumped into its deep, salty water. On the next page was a picture of The David, but when I saw it I didn’t think of his finely chiseled abs of marble. Instead, I could taste the sweet cappuccino my new friends and I sipped at 7 a.m. as we braved the lines to enter the museum.
They tell you that studying abroad will allow you to experience a different culture, learn some history and maybe even pick up on some of the language. But what they don’t tell you is that studying abroad is one of the best ways to learn about yourself. I learned that I can depend on myself when I’m feeling lost. I can find the courage to take risks and try new things. I can put myself out there and make long-lasting friendships. So if you’re anything like me, go ahead and make your “Things I Want to Learn” list, but I can assure you that you’ll learn so much more than you can fit on that little piece of paper.