Upon returning from an overseas adventure, the question often comes up in conversation, “Would you do it all over again?” The question is usually answered with a resounding “YES!” The ACCENT San Francisco Center unanimously agrees that, given the chance to repeat our study abroad programs, we’d do it all again in a heartbeat. In this week’s blog post, each member of the team confesses what they’d do differently, or do again, if presented with the chance to return to the city where they studied abroad.
Ashley P. Spinelli, Program Development Manager, writes:
If I were back on my study abroad program right now, I would first eat an enormous bowl of tagliatelle al ragu from my favorite student restaurant in Bologna, Osteria dell’Orsa. After satisfying that craving, I would summon the courage to seek out more creative extracurriculars such as art, music, dance, or yoga early on in my study abroad experience.
I studied abroad on a full-immersion program in Bologna, Italy for an academic year, and although I had the academic preparation necessary for my coursework, I longed for an Italian-speaking community outside of the classroom that was not centered around my Italian roommates or American/Erasmus friends. It took me nearly a full year to work up the courage to seek out creative extracurriculars in Italian that my peers weren’t participating in.
I found I particularly missed the dance classes I had enjoyed as a student at the University of Minnesota. I spent months researching options and agonizing over whether I could think fast enough in Italian (I could), or if I would embarrass myself when I did not understand movement metaphors in another language (I would, but I’d also learn some tremendous vocabulary in the process) before I finally worked up the courage to sign up for a West African dance class. Inevitably, as the only non-native Italian speaker, I was not the star of the class. However, as a non-verbal form of communication, the dance class gave me the freedom to express myself with my Italian-speaking peers more freely. Combined with the opportunity to practice my language skills during class in a low-stress setting, this provided the perfect opportunity to make Italian friends with similar interests, stretch my vocabulary, and learn more about the the West African diaspora in Italy. Unfortunately, it was nearly the end of the program by the time I found this space. Having worked in the field, I’m now able to reflect on this experience and see the personal and academic learning opportunities that I could’ve experienced, had I pursued my interests earlier. At the time, I let my nerves get the best of me for most of the year, despite feeling desperate to expand outside of my community, do something creative, and get some exercise!
Allison Keith, Director of U.S. Operations, says:
What would I want if I was back on my study abroad program? I need think no further. For me, the very best part of my study abroad experience was living with my homestay family in Tours, France. I have always adored children, and being able to live with a single mother and her two young girls was absolutely wonderful. I have to give credit to Melanie and Sylvie, as they were really the best teachers of French! The amazing inhibitions of the young, who will tell you exactly what you are saying wrong and then easily tell you how to say it correctly! Granted, it was French at a certain level, but it allowed me to build a foundation and also confidence in speaking. I adored my six months living with the Bertrand family and would not want to change that for the world!
Chelsey Little, Contract Manager/Social Media Manager, writes:
If I were lucky enough to be back on my study abroad program in Florence with Stanford University right now, I would: 1) Avoid that walkway/bridge that just collapsed due to a sink hole because it’s right by where the Stanford center in Florence is now, and is the same route I took every day to get to school from the Santa Croce neighborhood—yikes! 2) Enjoy un caffé and the scene at Le Murate / Café Letteraio, a place I did not know about when I was abroad, but would have loved to frequent. 3) Learn how to cook from my Italian host mom. This never came up as an opportunity for me when I was abroad, probably because I never thought to ask, but as an adult, I love to make all sorts of Italian dishes (linguini, paperdelle, tagliatelle, gnocchi, pizza, risotto, tutti fatto a mano!) and it would have been amazing to have picked up a few pointers from a pro. 4) Plan a trip to a nearby hot springs. I’ve only recently (in the past few years) developed a fondness for hot springs, and I might not have been quite brave enough to venture out to one when I was in college, but at this point in my life, I’ve got the bug and I want to bask in any sulfuric body of water I can find. Sounds to me like I need to make a trip back to Italy ASAP!
Tanyshia Stevens, Programs Assistant, says:
If I were back in Paris, the very first thing I would do is hunt down a döner kebab! It’s been four years since I studied abroad and I still crave them, almost daily. It’s the perfect meal—delicious slow roasted meat sandwiched between perfectly toasted bread, with a large helping of frites (or french fries, as we call them). For less than €5, it’s the perfect grab-and-go meal.
I would then take a walk through Paris and find a nice park or bench so I could sit and enjoy the sun. During my time abroad, I was always very hesitant to get out and explore by myself. Now that I have some experience traveling, if I could go back to Paris now, I’d do a lot more exploring alone.
Anna Tapfer, Programs Coordinator, says:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I’d be spending more time out and about in Munich, taking the train to surrounding Bavarian towns (eating tons of pretzels and döner kebab along the way), and taking advantage of low-cost flights to see other countries. I did a good amount of traveling during a generous two-and-a-half-month semester break, but would try to spend more time going to countries and cities I had never been to before, even cities within Germany.
Sara Assadi-Nik, Assistant Programs Coordinator, writes:
If I was back in Paris on my study abroad program, I would make more of an effort to travel outside of the city. I was so enamored with Paris itself that I only took a few short trips outside of the city. Certainly exotic locations like Morocco, Croatia, and Hungary beckon. Knowing now that the opportunities to travel to these locations only become more troublesome in post-collegiate life, I would have taken advantage of the fact that I was in close proximity to such fascinating parts of the world.
Additionally, I would make an effort to spend more time in the city’s older neighborhoods, particularly in the little-known corners of the city. Between our campus in the 16th arrondisement, my apartment in the 19th, and a close friend’s apartment in the 4th, neighborhood haunts were quickly established, favorite locales visited time and time again, and aside from a rainy adventure to the Belleville neighborhood to eat my first bowl of authentic Vietnamese Pho, I can’t remember many times I ventured into arrondisements like the 10th, 12th, 13th, and 20th. Certainly I missed much of “authentic” Paris and eschewed many stunning locales because of metro rides that were seemingly too long to bear. Of particular interest to me now would be the flea markets like Marché aux Puces de Paris/St.-Ouen and Puces de Vanves, located in neighborhoods further afield than I would have ventured at the time.
Jani McEuen, Programs Coordinator, says:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I would make more of an effort to interact with local Londoners. Almost everything I did while in London was with my fellow University of California students, or entirely on my own, and I feel that I really missed out on something valuable by not making connections with any locals. I made friends on my study abroad program…with other Californians. I experienced London culture…as a solo foreign observer. It’s not always an easy task for an introverted gal to strike up random conversations with strangers, but if I was back there now, I would try harder. And I encourage every student who is currently studying abroad to strike up those conversations; ask someone in that restaurant what they ordered, ask someone in that pub which football team they’re cheering for, ask someone in that museum what they think of that painting, ask someone in that park what they love about the city in which they live. It’s thrilling to experience a new place and to see it through your own eyes, but one of the greatest gifts that study abroad can give is the ability to see the world through someone else’s.
Megan Neureuter, Associate Director of U.S. Operations, writes:
If I was back on my study abroad program, I’d like to say that I wouldn’t do anything more or less than I did before. This is the case, for the most part, until I get to language. What I’d do differently today is choose to be daring—I would use the language I was learning and try it out everywhere I went. It’s my nature to be cautious and to avoid putting myself out there more than necessary, but I realize as I have become older that there can be downsides to that; at times, breaking out of our nature is more rewarding than any other accomplishment. Today, I would walk into the Parisian stores and stumble with my rudimentary French, but use it anyway. I would try to have actual conversations with my host family, rather than simple hellos and goodbyes. I would make mistakes and probably laugh a lot—it would be hard but it would be worth it and my confidence would skyrocket—and that’s what learning a language (and even a new culture) is all about. It’s about immersing yourself and learning that, although the world is big and scary, making that small attempt at being a part of something different can be so satisfying. In the end though, my Parisian experience was extraordinary and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Hindsight is easy and today I can see that I’m different now from who I was then; maybe I’ve become more daring or maybe I’m just able to identify my idiosyncrasies better—I’m not sure. But I do know, without a doubt, that if I was there today, I’d walk into a bakery and say, “Une baguette demi s’il vous plaît!” and savor it, relishing the fact that I’m in a city as special and wondrous as Paris.
Jessica Knittle, Contract and Administrative Assistant, writes:
Although I eagerly anticipate someday returning to the cobblestone streets of Galway’s bustling Eyre Square—to walk through the campus, past Irish storefronts, over the River Corrib, and around the beautiful green cathedral—given the chance to repeat my study abroad program, I’d first stop at the megalithic Lough Crew passage tombs. Only now do I understand what an amazing opportunity I’d been given, to have a glimpse of Ireland’s extensive history during my study abroad trip.
Many of the excursions we went on required short hikes, often ascending upward, to arrive at our destinations. The reward was always worth the effort. At the summit of the passage tombs, the giant mound of grass and small boulders provides a breathtaking view of County Meath—a fantastic spectacle of green, interrupted only by grazing sheep and miles of short stone fences. Sporadic boulders dot the clover-covered hill in random areas, marking ancient grave-sites. If I were back in Ireland, I would tattoo more scenes like this onto my memory. The Irish landscape is unlike anything else; the shades of green brighter and more awe-inspiring than any photograph.
During the autumn and spring equinoxes, light shines into the passage of the Lough Crew tomb, illuminating Neolithic symbols on the stone walls inside. Perhaps what inspires me to return is a longing to better understand the people who carved them. Did these people lay in the blanket of clovers as I did, appreciating the rare sight of a blue sky above them? What did they believe of these equinoxes, deemed significant by their alignment with the tomb’s entryway? If I had the chance to return to Ireland, I’d listen better; I’d look for more answers. After 5,000 years, the meaning of the symbols carved into the stone is still unclear…the history in the hills beckons me back.~ACCENT San Franscisco