“Landing in the Madrid airport, it hit me that I was outside of the U.S. for the first time, that I had no idea where I was going, and that I did not know the Spanish language as well as I thought. It was the first time I had truly been pushed out of my comfort zone.
A few hours later, I found myself in the dorms in Oviedo with nine other UO students. At the time, I didn’t realize that they were about to become some of my closest friends. All I knew was how excited and grateful I felt to finally be exploring a country I had been studying and dreaming about for years.
During my trip, I made so many genuine friendships with people from all over the world. I learned that there is something so gratifying about connecting with someone who has lived a life entirely different from my own. I learned and experienced how important it truly is for people to be open and seek understanding among one another- especially in a global context.“
When I got to Siena, I instantly fell in love with the medieval, walled city. The city was beautiful. The narrow streets and alleys that you could explore for hours opened up to amazing, spacious piazzas, or breathtaking views of Tuscany. I did not live within the city walls though. I lived in a smaller neighborhood outside the walls, at the bottom of a hill. There, we didn’t see tourists or many shops, just the average citizens of Siena living their normal lives. Every day we walked 15-20 minutes up the hill to get to class. In the first couple weeks of the program, Siena saw some of the heaviest rain they had seen in years. That walk became a constant struggle through the rain, but when the weather cleared up it was amazing. One of the best viewpoints in the city was on this walk.
My courses during the program were set up perfectly. I had smaller classes that really allowed me to learn, and the teachers emphasized learning about the foreign country we were in. They encouraged us to go out and explore the city. Our program director even gave us a map of Siena and asked us to have every street that we visited highlighted by the end of the program. My language courses during the program had to be my favorite. My class was three students including me, which made sure we got the most out of our class time. This, and the fact that upon leaving the class I would be speaking Italian in the rest of my day improved my Italian skills.
We went on a good number of excursions during the program. Some of these were farms, wineries, and museums. My favorite was our trip to Bologna. During our trip to Bologna we visited the University of Bologna and their library, which is one of the oldest in Italy, and we also visited FICO World Eataly, a giant complex with all the food you could imagine.
Lyon is the perfect study abroad location for international students because there is always something to do. There are many activities to do over the weekends, like going to the farmer’s market in the mornings, attending an opera show, spending time in Place Bellecoeur, which is the city center.
In the French Language Institute program, I went to an international school within a French university where I took classes with other international students from all around the world. Some of the classmates that I engaged with throughout the semester came from Thailand, Egypt, Colombia, Vietnam, Canada, and many more places. As an international student, I took a two-weeks pre-course called a “stage” where I was evaluated on the language proficiency and learning pace. Once the stage was over, I took a placement test and began the school year in the B1 level. I took core classes for my level which included oral production, writing production, and civilization (a class on history and politics). The two electives that I chose were creative writing and fashion. We learned in lectures and activities that engaged everyone, and since we spent more time in the classroom than in the US, we didn’t have as much homework responsibilities outside of school.
“It was absolutely life-changing. I feel like I made the best decision of my life seizing this opportunity”
When we’re young, we all have places we want to visit. For some, it’s a far away land with dragons and damsels and for others maybe it’s just an amusement park with your family. My place was always a little more complex than that. From the moment I hid behind the couch spying on my mom as she watched Under the Tuscan Sun in the living room, I knew the place I wanted to visit was Italy.
In the summer of my freshman year, those dreams became a reality. I knew that study abroad would give me the chance to see the Italy that I had always dreamt about. I applied for the Intensive Italian Language program in Lecce, Italy.
I boarded the plane ready to embark on a solo trip for my first time out of the country. After a full day of traveling and an overnight stop in Germany, I finally made it to Lecce. Stepping out into the beaming Italian sun for the first time was nothing like I imagined. The landscape was vast, the buildings were foreign, and I soon realized that any ounce of familiarity that I once had was now gone. My host family welcomed me with open arms and spoke to me in an Italian that was much faster than anything I had studied at the UO. I was so grateful for their patience and hospitality as I navigated through this new country those first few days- but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.
This educational experience was something I do not think I would ever be able to have anywhere else.
Beyond education, Swedish society is the most open I have ever experienced. For the first time in my life, I was able to walk anywhere, head held high, without any fear of judgement. I was not only accepted for who I was, I was celebrated. The people were incredibly progressive and never cared about anyone’s sexuality, gender, race, origin, or anything. They were open-minded and progressive in a way I have never experienced anywhere else, and the society became an environment I could grow within and learn how to inhabit myself within. The lessons these people and this culture had on me were immense, and I have learned about and felt humanity in a way completely unlike anything else I have experienced. In many ways, Sweden feels like a utopia, a world and society too perfect to truly exist. Although it has its share of problems, I do believe there is nowhere else on where one can live so free.
Overall, studying abroad in Sweden was the best decision I have ever made in my life and clarified the type of life I wish to lead going forward. The first year I was in Sweden was the most magical and profound year of my life. It changed everything. I wish for everyone on Earth to have the type of experience I did. I think then we could overcome anything.