Our latest contributor, Ashley, boasts a number of titles, including lifestyle blogger and founder of History in High Heels. But perhaps her proudest role to-date is as a doctoral candidate working on her Ph.D. in History. While this distinction is reason enough for celebration, Ashley also has the rare opportunity to pursue her studies in Italy. Below, Ashley shares her perspective as a study abroad student, plus advice on how to live the dream yourself!
Where I live.
I live in Italy. That still feels weird to say. But inevitably when I reveal this in stateside conversations, a barrage of questions follow, like “Why do you live abroad?” and “What is it like living in Italy?,” which is then usually followed by, “Do you like it?,” “Do you speak Italian?” and “Do you want to live there permanently?”
Studying abroad as an undergraduate—and now moving to Italy to research—has changed me and the trajectory of my life in countless ways. Sure, I miss home, but thanks to these experiences, my life will never be the same!
Why I live abroad.
Let’s back up and start from the beginning. I left the U.S. for the first time as an undergraduate. I studied in Rome for a six-week summer semester, and that’s where my love of Italy, travel and history began. When I entered graduate school, I decided that I wanted to study the history of Tuscany (specifically Florence). I moved to Florence in January after completing my master’s and the first three years of my Ph.D. I am here conducting research for my dissertation, which centers on the later Medici court. Loosely translated, that means I spend most of my days reading dusty, old documents in the State Archive of Florence (think: Indiana Jones but without running from giant boulders and with less whipping).
The benefits of living/studying abroad.
As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, my first trip abroad changed my life. Growing up in the U.S. usually means you have very little exposure to other cultures. For better or for worse, American pop culture is dominant throughout most of the world. We are used to the rest of the world conforming to us, learning our language and appealing to our tastes in music, film, etc. The bottom line is Americans are rarely asked to adapt to other languages, cultures and value systems. Studying abroad—even if only for a summer—forces American students out of their cultural bubble and comfort zone. You see the world (and your place in it) differently.
Ultimately, living or studying abroad opens the world to you. For me, one experience abroad—absorbing and grappling with being in another culture—made the world (and travel more generally) seem more attainable. Connected to this is the confidence I gained from realizing that I could live in a foreign place. I could learn a new language and culture, be scared, uncomfortable, confused and overwhelmed, and make it, learning a lot about myself in the process. This process builds character, reveals who you are and shows you what you are capable of.
Advice for making this big life change.
The beauty of studying abroad is that it gives you an amazing chance to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time without derailing your degree or career goals. Furthermore, it provides advisors, professors and a structure to what would otherwise be a difficult and scary transition. With so many programs offered (many with scholarships), my advice is to just go for it! Embrace the fear, the excitement and the unknown. Your college years are the best time to embark on such an adventure, because students typically have fewer responsibilities and can embrace budget travel more easily.
With that, I say pack your bags, get your passport stamped and discover yourself!
Interested in studying abroad? Read Ashley’s first post on 9 Ways To Survive A Semester Abroad.