As the semester draws to a close I would like to devote my final blog post to address what I have learned over the last four months of my life and express why I think a semester abroad is a valuable experience for a Fisher College of Business student.
I find myself with a nagging question in the back of my mind, “did you see everything you wanted to see, do everything you wanted to do, and take advantage of the opportunity to its fullest extent?” These questions of reflection appear in my mind when new experiences come to an end, and looking back on my time as an exchange student I can honestly say that I have done what I came here to do.
Study abroad is what you make of it. My friends and I have oftentimes wondered when we return to our homes over the next few weeks, if our loved ones and friends will notice any changes. Maybe it won’t be anything blatantly obvious, but I think seeing the world changes a person. Adult life and its responsibilities are right around the corner and during the college years our thoughts and opinions are still heavily influenced by new experiences. I recently read an article about the importance of traveling when you are young. I couldn’t agree more and I believe that traveling alone/without family at this age has the ability to alter many different aspects of a person’s life.
My first and only experience abroad before Italy was the summer of 2014. I spent about five days working at a trade show in Harrogate, England and then two weeks at the international branch of the company I was interning for in Huddersfield, England. In just 20 days I returned home with a major perspective change on just how massive the world really is, a new sense of independence, and the realization that the horizon of opportunities ahead was even broader than I had originally anticipated. Making connections abroad gave me access to new and very different resources and perspectives. The desire to explore employment options with international opportunities along with the realization that it could actually become a reality were turning points in my perspective on the future. My 20 days in the UK amplified my aspiration to study abroad and seize the opportunity to explore other countries and learn more about myself.
I’ve always thought of myself as an independent person, but this entire experience was independence on a new level for me. When I felt alone, I felt very alone and when I saw a new place it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my short twenty-one years. I felt a greater need to stay in touch with what was going on back home and developed a new appreciation for the news. I cleaned out my friend list and restored my Facebook news feed to give me relevant updates on business, politics, and world events since I was constantly using the social media site for communication with other exchange students. I started paying closer attention to non-U.S. news sources in order to have a different and less biased view on European news and outside opinions on the drama of U.S. politics. I cared less about buying clothing and material items and more about eating amazing food. I scoured guidebooks and Wikipedia pages for further information about historical sights and the places I was visiting. I developed a newfound interest in a subject I loathed in high school, history. I’m very detail oriented and found myself having a big role in planning trips and leading the way with a map close at hand to make sure we saw the sights. I discovered how to get by with the Italian language. Overall I have learned so much from Italy, Bocconi University, and my time spent traveling that I am confident I have become more well rounded as a person.
I hope that the Fisher Student Exchange program grows. Other universities have 5-10 students attending Bocconi each semester while we typically can only reserve 1-2 spots depending on the interest Bocconi students have in coming to Ohio State University. Bocconi’s exchange network is massive with over 800 exchange students this fall from an impressively diverse list of foreign partner institutions from every continent (except Antarctica). If nothing else, researching the program and attending an information session can help students learn something about a foreign institution or a different country, and shed some light on the program’s feasibility.
I never thought of study abroad as something that I could afford. Growing up my family never took trips outside of the U.S., I didn’t know what it meant to be a true tourist, and I’ve always had different jobs during the academic year and internships in the summers to help out with paying for tuition and rent. The exchange program, Fisher College of Business, and Ohio State University offer some excellent scholarships to assist students with funding an invaluable semester abroad. During the program students pay a normal OSU semester of tuition and can utilize the federal loans they might receive during a standard semester of school. The most daunting of expenses are the plane ticket to Europe and rent. With some strategic planning and insight on appropriate dates to travel I believe that it is possible to find flights that are reasonable in price. My rent payment for a dorm that was cleaned on a weekly basis and had all the essentials (including a private bedroom) cost no more than a mid-budget off-campus housing option in Columbus. Drafting a budget and forecasting expenses is an excellent exercise that helped me understand where I stood financially before I left the U.S. and what I’ll need in order to get by when I return to Ohio State in January. As with living anywhere there are ways to live frugally and cut costs while abroad so that saving for some amazing travel experiences is easy.
Taking a college student out of their natural environment for four months reveals a lot about a person and presents an opportunity for that person to face a completely new list of daily struggles and triumphs. Simple activities like riding public transport to school every morning, visiting the grocery store, or ordering a coffee when the bartender doesn’t speak English, and big things like how to budget and travel without hindering academic progress are part of the daily routine. Staying organized both in preparing for the time abroad and in everyday life once abroad can help to avoid silly mistakes that will save money and prevent students from finding themselves in dangerous situations. I have heard countless stories about getting fined on the trains, having items stolen, losing keys, getting excess charges for booking with the wrong companies, and just in general getting taken advantage of. As a student traveling around Europe with friends it is easy to lose the feeling of being a tourist and become overly confident. Staying alert and aware while also having a good time can save traveling students from headaches and unwanted expenses.
Time is something I’ve thought about a lot in the last few weeks. I have already looked through my photo library multiple times to keep reminding myself of the four months I have had in Milan and the amazing experiences I’ve had traveling this semester. Since arriving in August I have visited Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Verona, Corfu (Greece), Florence/Tuscany, Barcelona (Spain), Genoa, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Marrakech (Morocco), Parma, and Rome. I have taken pictures that I will cherish for years to come. I never could have imagined that I would be camping in the Sahara Desert on Thanksgiving Day, jumping off cliffs in the Mediterranean Sea, or laying eyes on some of the greatest artistic works of the Renaissance era. Italy has been very good to me, and I am promising myself that I will return.
No matter where the opportunity might present itself I highly recommend that students do everything in their power to study abroad. I firmly believe that I will return home with a lot more to offer and that through their own unique set of experiences this is true for every student.
Please feel free to contact me with questions you might have about my experience or studying abroad in general. I am happy to share what I have learned and love meeting new people with a similar passion for learning more about the global environment we live in.
With the very best regards,
Jayna Wolfe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
About the Author: Jayna Wolfe, Senior, Logistics Management, Student Exchange Program- Italy, first time traveler to Europe. Planned graduation in SP 2016.