A Fantastic World

This summer, University of Minnesota student Erin Keeffer traveled outside the country for the first time, spending her summer semester in Rome. For this week’s post, Erin shares how her time abroad was a transformative and eye-opening experience.

“My first time traveling by plane. My first time traveling alone. My first time traveling out of the country.”

In the weeks leading up to my study abroad, these facts were running through my mind on repeat. I was a bundle of excitement, fear and emotions. Excitement for being in Rome, the eternal city! The land of delicious food (pizza, pasta, gelato, wine…need I go on?), rich history at every turn, and world-famous art that had intrigued me in my art history course. I was fearful of the unknown — was I going to turn out to be an anxious flyer? What was it going to be like to live and study in another country? How was I going to talk to Italians when I only knew how to say “Ciao”? My emotions were running high.

Looking back on my experience now, my six weeks in Rome were the fastest, most educational, eye-opening, and incredible six weeks of my life.

I lived in Italy’s capital, and walked by another country (Vatican City) every day. I learned about Italian brands and marketing strategies and rode on a bullet train. I chipped away at marble with a flat tooth chisel in Peter Rockwell’s sculpture studio, and learned that I am no Michelango. I made my own paper, and designed my own traditional Majolica tile, painting it layer by layer in a small, charming ceramic studio.

Rome became my home, and the ACCENT Study Center my landing pad. I set out every morning on my daily walk, noticing new notes of inspiration every day. The friendly cafés that made your mouth water as you saw their oasis of golden pastries and heard the tiny clinks of espresso cups. The beautiful flowering trees in every shade of pink. The well-dressed businessmen and -women whizzing by on their mopeds, looking like they were late for a fashion show or photo shoot.

My courses at the ACCENT Study Center not only gave me a global perspective on education, but also gave me the opportunity to learn and work with students from different disciplines. I learned about the business model of Ferrari with students studying business, design and retail merchandising. I practiced my basic Italian language skills with other beginners. I analyzed design theories with architects and apparel designers. My thoughts and ideas were broadened by their expertise and opinions, as well as the guidance and knowledge of my teachers and instructors.

When my classmates and I were not in class, or working on our group projects and assignments, we explored the city. Sometimes we explored with a destination in mind, but the best times were when we had a basic direction, but ended up visiting a beautiful church, exploring the ancient ruins, or finding our new favorite gelato shop.

In this sense, studying abroad taught me a lot, a phrase I am sure every student who has studied abroad has said. I believe we say this because it is incredibly difficult to explain just exactly how study abroad impacts you. Let me attempt to expand.

Studying abroad ignited in me a sense of adventure and exploration. Going to Rome and traveling around Italy has given me the confidence to pick a location, plan a trip, and just go.

It made me more independent, and revealed to me my goals and dreams for the future. I know I want to continue to travel, and make that a priority in my life.

It opened my mind to new ideas. Taking global perspective courses in the US is eye-opening, but it cannot compare to actually learning, conversing and living in another country. My personal bubble of the world as I knew it has been expanded.

It instilled in me a deeper appreciation for cultural understanding and the richness that it can bring to our lives.

For anyone who has had a slight curiosity, a spark to go out of their comfort zone, or a goal to travel, my advice to you is this: do it.

And as encouragement, I share with you a quote my friend shared with me before I nervously boarded the plane to the mysterious, unknown land across the sea, “There is a fantastic world out there for you to explore. It awaits you.”

~Erin Keeffer, University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center

Inspired to take the plunge and study abroad? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your next great adventure: http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.