Seven things I learned while studying in Florence, Italy

Katie Morrison in a group photo op in Verona, Italy // Katie Morrison

Katie Morrison in a group photo op in Verona, Italy // Katie Morrison

Going halfway across the world to a foreign country where everyone speaks a foreign language and practices foreign habits isn’t necessarily what an introvert might call a lifelong dream.

Before, leaving America wasn’t on my agenda. I opted to work through spring breaks instead of going on high school mission trips. But when the chance arrived, Italy looked so darn glamorous!

I jumped headfirst into the experience because of what travel is prepackaged to look like: the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-filtered, Snapchat-ideal life. I was ready for that breezy school year that would pimp out my social media and give me a break from reality.

But, there’s seven things social media didn’t prepare me for during my year abroad:

1. Learning a language is hard. I’m one of those students who gets decent grades without too much studying. Trust me, I’ve taken this for granted. Italian language classes challenge everything I thought I knew about studying.

I can’t use context clues or guess my way through an Italian conversation final. Everyone must put in the work. Which brings us to . . .

2. Studying abroad entails studying! Whenever I FaceTime my family back home, I hear the same exact question: “Are you actually doing any learning at this Italian school?” to which I say, “Of course!”

Admittedly, some classes are a bit easier than those I’d be taking back in the States (sculpture or cooking class, anyone?) but we’re required to take Italian language, grammar, phonetics, conversation, composition and various other courses every semester. I’m learning, Mom and Dad!

3. Weight gain is an actual threat. Talking to a few visiting students from other ACA schools, I’ve heard through the rumor mill that our cafeteria in Italy is undoubtedly the best and I can’t argue.

We have authentic, homemade food every day and our cooks are unbeatable.

The only catch is every meal is a tray of carbs: pasta, pizza, bread and more pasta. Luckily, we have our next lesson to even things out . . .

4. We. Walk. Everywhere. Over Christmas vacation, my brother and I averaged around 11 miles a day. European cities, as my architect brother-in-law recently pointed out, are structured differently than American cities.

Because Europe is older and has a longer history, the cities were originally built in a way that caters to transportation by foot rather than car, influencing both the size of car most Europeans drive—small to extra small—and the health of the average European.

5. Fashion is real. Milan, the fashion capital of the world, is only a short train ride away, and street fashion is a cutthroat game you’ll never win. We were raised believing comfort was key but apparently no one told Italy.

Comfort is secondary to looking fabulous and hip every second of the day. Nobody wears sweatpants in public, wet hair outside of the home is a sin and contrary to popular belief, modesty is common. Italians dress for the season, not for the weather. That means when we had 60 degree days in January and my classmates busted out their shorts and tank tops, Italians maintained their winter wardrobe, complete with down parkas and blanket scarves.

6. Travel planning is intimidating. Weekend trips, Christmas vacation and spring break all provide new opportunities to breakdown over flight itineraries, train connections and the like. Although breaks are the perfect time to explore new places, it’s so exhausting to plan for 15 solid days of travel.

I also didn’t budget my year abroad as I was advised to do, and maybe we would’ve eaten more over Christmas break if I had—sorry Nicholas! Luckily, the experience of a Christmas Eve service in Prague, New Years in Amsterdam, Easter in Switzerland and countless other days in London, Paris, Venice, Copenhagen and Vienna are the memories I’ll remember, not the planning.

7. My last lesson is about friendships. I came into this school year ready to travel and learn Italian. Meeting new people wasn’t a main priority and I remember semi-judging Union friends who became besties with people during their years abroad, and seeing their Instagram birthday shoutouts to friends they only knew for eight months. How could that bond be real?

I was definitely surprised by how the year shaped up to be. I made friendships I know will last forever. We’ve shared once-in-a-lifetime experiences in an insulated environment, resulting in deep conversations and camaraderie.

Coming to Villa Aurora hasn’t changed me as much as it has encouraged me. I was nervous this year wouldn’t live up to the hype, and that travel and culture wouldn’t mix with who I am. Instead, my year abroad assured me doing something new can teach us lessons we never even knew we wanted to learn.

Katie is a senior studying Business Administration. She's currently studying abroad in Italy.