If you met me for the very first time today, I would probably talk to you about two things: my latest snack finds at Trader's Joes and the amazing memories I have from studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I can't help it, because that semester filled with cobblestone streets, bowls of delicious seafood pasta, and long weekend trips to other countries in Europe was totally life-altering for me. It taught me so much about myself, the "real world," and what I'm passionate about, and treated me to endless cups of berry gelato in-between my art history classes. Now, I could tell you about the trips I took, or the restaurants I ate at, but I'd rather take some time to cover the life lessons I learned from studying abroad that are still with me.
These are the lessons that have carried me through my 20s, and will stick with me into the next decades of my life, too. They're a sweet and constant reminder of why studying abroad is a unique experience that you really should take advantage of when you're in college. They're also the sole reason why I'll always be the girl who raves about traveling in general.
Within those five months, I was exposed to lots of different cultures and picked up a new language, and it led me to catching flights and booking more trips once I got back to the United States. These are the five lessons that stick with me the most, though.
Growing up, I was always the type of kid who didn't agree to anything she didn't want to do. When I went to summer camp, I would dodge the ropes course with my close-minded attitude and the chilly swim lessons that seemed straight-up ridiculous. I would get really shy when people wanted to talk to me, and didn't dare try any snacks from somebody else's lunch, even if they had offered it to me.
Thankfully, as I got older and experienced more of the world, this attitude and mindset of mine changed a great deal. I leaped into new experiences, sports, friendships, and relationships with my whole heart, and learned how to be open-minded when trying new things.
Studying abroad was essential to me learning this lesson and carrying it into my 20s, because everything was new, from my apartment to the way I ordered food at a restaurant. It taught me to accept change and get excited about it, too. And for that, I owe my semester in Florence the world.
When I studied abroad, the term "Instagram-worthy" wasn't a thing yet. But, that didn't stop everyone (myself included) from posting the beautiful places they'd been during their semester abroad. In fact, entire hours of the day were still dedicated to photo shoots, editing, and doing something purely for the 'Gram.
My friends and I would roam around the streets lined with family-owned pizza places, place an order, and take a picture of the pie before stealing a bite. We would walk around with the camera app open on our phones, and spend hours at night going through the selfies and dreamy pics we got in Venice, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Milan.
It's in these moments that I learned this valuable, relatable, and modern lesson: You can't take a picture of everything. You have to be present in your experiences, take in the sights with your own two eyes, and accept that some memories are meant to be lived instead of captured.
Last but not least, my semester abroad taught me that, for me, living is meant to be a creative and passionate thing. When I talked with the locals at my favorite panini shop or my Italian teachers in class, I was so in love with how their face lit up when they talked about their experiences or the art they had recently made. I wanted my face to always look the same way.
I instantly connected with their ability to look at the glass half full instead of half empty. I wanted to carry that spark with me.
So in my 20s, I've tried my best to bring that same light to anything I do, and to make time in my schedule for bringing my camera out, having deep conversations with the people I care about, and getting inspired. It makes the "real world" I'm living in much more incredible to be part of, and my study abroad experience richer in retrospect, too.
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