Never-ending flights, foreign languages, mysterious food, unfamiliar customs and nothing but a couple of suitcases and a backpack. Study abroad students have experienced it all.
Taking a leap and moving across the world for a semester or a year can be frightening, but every year, a handful of students step out into the unknown.
Sierra van Leeuwen, senior communication studies major, studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during the spring semester of her junior year. She studied everything from drawing and painting to Greek and Roman mythology at Richmond University through a study abroad program called the American Institute Foreign Study.
Van Leeuwen did not speak Italian prior to studying in Florence but was able to take a course to learn the basics of the language.
“It was really frustrating not being able to communicate,” Van Leeuwen said. “I wish I (had known) more about the language. I feel I would have been able to develop more relationships that way, but I did come back knowing more than I had imagined.”
Not knowing the native language did not stop Van Leeuwen from getting the most out of her experience, though. While abroad, she traveled to several countries, including Switzerland, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece and Portugal. She also visited the Amalfi Coast and toured Pompeii.
A typical day in Florence for Van Leeuwen involved attending class, eating at her favorite restaurant, Gusto Panino, exploring the city and spending time with her host family.
“Living with my Italian family was the best decision I made for my study abroad experience,” Van Leeuwen said. “There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about them and wonder about the day when I will see (them) again. My advice for anyone who does live with a host family is to spend quality time with them as much as possible.”
Ashley Hoppes, junior marketing major, chose a different living arrangement for her time abroad in Paris, France. She is currently living with a roommate in an apartment in Paris through the International Studies Abroad program.
Hoppes is continuing her marketing studies at the American Business School, where she is also enrolled in a six-unit French course.
“I knew un petit peu francais (a little French) before arriving, and I am slowly but surely improving,” Hoppes said. “Living in an apartment (versus) a home stay gives me less opportunities to practice speaking.”
For many study-abroad students, their trip is more than a physical journey, it can also be a spiritual journey.
“By far the coolest thing that has happened to me in Paris is seeing how God has worked in my life and the lives of others,” said Hoppes.
Hoppes has had the opportunity to share the gospel with others and began a Bible study with a few others in her study-abroad program.
Students interested can attend the next information session April 23 at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. in Lancer Arms 39.