Reflections on a Semester Abroad

The following probably sounds cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Even just looking back at the beginning of my semester here in Florence, I can tell that who I was four months ago and who I am now has drastically shifted. I feel like I have grown in a way that only living abroad can accomplish. I came to Italy with many expectations for this semester. I expected to have a wonderful time, travel everywhere, and learn a great deal about art and architecture. Although I hoped for all ofthese things, I did not anticipate how much this semester would actually change me as a person. It is difficult to describe what I mean on a holistic level, so I’ll try to explain what I mean one piece at a time.

From an architecture standpoint, I believe that this semester abroad is absolutely crucial. Not only is there a wealth of architecture in Florence and other areas of Italy, living in Italy for a semester gives you the opportunity to see other surrounding countries fairly easily and cheaply. Just over Spring Break, I was able to travel to Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; and Munich, Germany and see architecture by Coop Himmelb(l)au, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Adolf Loos, Frank Gehry, Joseph Olbrich, Otto Wagner, and more.

From an academic standpoint, the professors teaching for the Kent State Florence program are excellent. Studio alone has been a great experience this semester. Not only is my project this semester my favorite thus far, I also don’t feel like I’ve been spending my entire semester stuck in studio. This semester has been laid-back to allow for traveling, but we’ve also been getting a great deal accomplished in our studies. As far as other classes, they have not only been extremely educational, but they have been fascinating. Nothing else compares to standing inside a work of architecture or in front of a painting while you are learning about it. Along with the classes being rewarding and fascinating, the professor-student relationship in Florence is like nothing I have ever experienced. Perhaps it goes along with the fact that professors in general are more laid-back, but it seems that they treat students on a more individual basis rather than like just another number. This could be one of the many cultural discrepancies between the United States and Italy, but my professors this semester have treated everyone more like colleagues than students. I have no quarrel with how these things are done in Kent, but it was a nice change to experience an overall more relaxed atmosphere.

This semester has affected me personally as well. I grew up in Kent, so living in Florence was my first chance to truly be away from home and I discovered that even the small moments of daily life add up to something profound. Being engulfed in a foreign country that has an entirely different way of doing everything than what I am used to somehow changes you. Part of this included learning enough Italian to get by as well as learning the area. More than these components though, I had to adjust my perception of how I think things should be. Parts of the Italian culture can be difficult for me as an American to understand, but it was necessary to be open-minded and accept the fact that Italian culture is what it is. Nothing I can do will change that, so it was necessary instead to change myself in order to truly thrive within this situation.

These components are why I say that this semester has changed me. But, I think that a better way to put it is that this semester has evolved me. I am still me, but now my horizons have been expanded well beyond what they were and I feel much better equipped to deal with any sort of situation that may arise. Once you have lived and studied abroad for a semester, just about anything else seems feasible and simple by comparison.

Although I hope that my words have shed some light on Kent State’s incredible study-abroad program, I know that they are not enough to fully explain what this experience has been like. The most effective words that I can say are that this semester is something that you must experience for yourself. So my advice to first and second years is the following: study abroad in Italy. Let the experience evolve you and make you grow. Don’t turn your head from the countless opportunities that you will encounter. Let this semester abroad be an opportunity to shape and refine who you are. One thing that I can say for certain is that you will not regret it.