Reflecting on My Italian Study Abroad Experience

Willa Thomas headshot
Willa Thomas
January 8, 2024
Rainbow on the last day

I’ve been home for just about a month now and I have not stopped reflecting on my time abroad at all. Every person I see and talk to I just want to share how life-changing this experience was. I now totally understand why people who have studied abroad can’t stop talking about their semesters. I used to find these people annoying because for the first few weeks they were home their time abroad was all I heard about. Now, I’ve become one of the people I used to get frustrated with. I have a deeper understanding of how amazing an experience like this can be. It’s hard to return to your normal life at home no matter how excited you are to see your loved ones. Overall, my re-entry experience wasn’t too difficult. I was sad to leave Siena and say goodbye to the great group of friends I had made. I think I cried non-stop for the last two days abroad because I had to say goodbye. Once I got home, however, I was surprised at the things I struggled with. Some of the things I was the most excited about upon my return home ended up being the most challenging. None of these issues were very monumental and pretty much all of them are first-world problems but hopefully they can help other abroad students with what to expect upon their return to their home countries.

I found physically leaving and saying goodbye to everybody the hardest part of getting back home. After 3.5 months with the same 11 other students in my program, it was hard to imagine not seeing them every day. One thing that we did on our last night made saying goodbye much easier: We went out and bought a postcard for every student in our group and then taped them onto larger pieces of card-stock. Then, we sat in a circle and passed all of the papers around so that everybody could write messages to each other. This was a great way to say goodbye to everyone in the program. Now, I have it framed and hanging up in my room. It reminds me of all of the amazing people I’ve had the privilege to meet and travel the world with.

The biggest thing I struggled with once back in the U.S. was all of a sudden having so many options and choices. Getting dressed every morning was difficult. I was used to only having 2 suitcases worth of belongings so having my entire closet available to me was strangely overwhelming. Additionally, going back to all the grocery stores and places that I missed so much while abroad was a sensory overload for the first few times. In about two days I went from shopping in my cute and tiny Italian grocery store to a store about 6 times the size with way more people. While both were by no means big adjustments, it was interesting to see how much Italian culture I had picked up. One way I dealt with these differences was by using them as a point of reflection and a way to look back upon the little things I missed from my life in Italy.

I did two things during my entire semester that I suggest everyone to do and they fall under the same category: documenting! I purchased a nice leather journal on my first trip to Italy (a few years before I went abroad) and I brought that along with me everywhere I went during this semester. I collected every little memento or piece of paper from various places we went and things we did. Business cards, stickers, labels, tickets, maps, brochures. Anything I could get my hands on to tape into my journal I collected. Then, a few times a week (after a big trip or whenever inspiration struck) I sat down and wrote about all the cool things I was doing.  By the end of the 3.5 months, my journal was full of so many memories. Not only did this make it easy for me to look back on all the cool things I did but it also made it easy to share with my friends and family who wanted to know about my time in Italy. There’s something about having memories on paper and not just digitally that makes reflecting so much more special. I also collected cool postcards from various places I went. Now, I have about 15-20 different postcards from all over the world. Each one has a little blurb about what I was doing when I purchased it. I plan to make them into a cool art piece and hang them somewhere in my apartment. Again, another reminder of this amazing experience.

Overall, while I was devastated to leave Italy I am happy to be back in the U.S. with all of my friends and family members that I missed so much. Studying abroad is such a life-changing experience that it can be kind of hard going back to “normal life”. However, I found that I naturally settled back into my rhythm and routine and I’m so grateful I documented my experience abroad so well because I can always look back at all of the amazing memories I made.

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Willa Thomas

My name is Willa Thomas and I am originally from San Diego, CA. I am a biology major on the pre-nursing track but chose to study business and economics while abroad to learn something new and broaden my horizons!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Wofford College
Biological Sciences
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