In the spring semester of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. My time abroad with ISA was my first overseas and out of the country. I was terrified and excited and every second of my time there was special. I tell people all the time that I’d fly back to Florence tomorrow. My collaboration with ISA (both studying abroad and as a Global Ambassador) was an extremely important part of my undergraduate career. The ISA staff were so wonderful that I traveled to Austin, Texas (where the headquarters is located) to visit them and spend some time exploring the city. If you get the opportunity, I strongly recommend visiting.
Not only was I satisfied by my relationship with my ISA Advisors, but I also had such a transformative experience abroad. Everyone says it that way, of course, but what I didn’t expect was the absolute unpredictability of how that transformation would occur. The ups and downs that people don’t talk about.
As an ISA Global Ambassador after returning from Florence, I talked to a lot of students about this while they were preparing to go abroad. The highs are high, and the photos are beautiful, but the lows can be low. On social media it looks like all fun and games, but my classes were difficult and I missed my friends. I even wound up in the hospital on two different occasions, one of which put me in a cast and on crutches. However, that incident hiking in Cinque Terre is one I can tell in interviews when potential employers ask about a time I thought I was down and out (and I sure felt that way in an Italian hospital alone).
It is times like these that I look back on fondly as moments that changed who I was as a person. Another of them being the day I traveled around Rome alone with a paper map instead of using my cell’s GPS (it didn’t really work anyway). At the end of that day I was totally exhausted, but I felt so accomplished knowing I could navigate around one of the oldest cities in the world, alone. For all these reasons, I resolved to never stop traveling, which is how I wound up in Peru.
Today, I live in a small town in Peru called Ollantaytambo (O-yan-tay-tam-bo) surrounded by the Andes. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I am blessed every day that I can step outside and marvel at the splendorous energy exuded by these mountains. I volunteer with an organization called Sacred Valley Project, where I tutor Peruvian girls who all live together in a dormitory in town. Two hours each night the thirty girls gather together to do homework, and this is when I work with them on their English homework and practice speaking English.
While in Florence, I had the opportunity to volunteer in an elementary school as an assistant to English teachers in both second and fourth grade classrooms. My time in an English class overseas gave me an idea of how other countries view the importance of learning the language I was taught as a very young child. I am extremely aware of my privilege as an English speaker, and through working with the children in Florence and here in Peru, I realize how difficult it is to teach English as a foreign language. I initially learned to have patience with these children while teaching in Florence, and I find myself strengthening those skills here in Peru. Thus, these experiences seem to mirror each other.
Furthermore, my time in Florence taught me so much in the way of compassion for others and how to embrace the differences and similarities between people. The world grows smaller for me while I travel, and in a world that feels so large and so divided, I welcome this. Peruvian culture is much different than Italian culture, but identifying the universality of people, such as how we all smile and laugh, really allows me to relate to others while visiting different places. In contrast, the differences between people must be celebrated! I would hate to discount the beauty of language and tradition, as this differs between countries, continents and communities.
Overall, my decision to come to Peru (knowing almost no Spanish) was one motivated by my fierce passion for new landscapes and experiences. That passion comes directly from my time studying abroad with ISA, and it is a passion that I believe will propel me through the rest of my life—a vein that will run through all my life choices, personal and professional.
That time in Florence, in Europe, and this time here in Peru is similar and different just like all of us. I appreciate each moment for its uniqueness and its positioning in the larger scheme of my life. I know that each encounter I have with locals and tourists alike will impact my life in ways I may not be aware of at that moment, but that they will affect me nonetheless. These moments are why I travel, and these moments are why I will continue to travel.
So here’s my advice: take the plunge. Go. If you don’t speak the language, buy a book, download an app, or watch the news in that language. Do not let anything stop you from traveling. Don’t think about how lucky other people are for having the ability to travel. You can do it, too. You just have to open your mind to it and put the effort into making the dream happen. You will never regret it, this I promise you.
Allayna Nofs is an ISA Guest Blogger. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy.