Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh, the places you'll go: Reflections on Study Abroad

When I was a junior at Muhlenberg, I (with four of my sorority sisters) decided to bid adieu to Muhlenberg College and spend our spring semester in Florence, Italy. Those five months spent in Italy were the best—we traveled, ate lots of pasta, drank copious amounts of wine and immersed ourselves into a beautiful country and culture.

Phi Sigma Sigma does Rome (2009)

When I first came back to the States, all I wanted to do was talk about Italy, and much to my friends dismay, not so much has changed in two years. Studying abroad was without a doubt, the highlight of my undergraduate career. Simply put, I fell in love with Florence.

On April 8, the University of Florida Hillel staff traveled to Israel to learn about a partnership with the University of Haifa for study abroad. The University of Haifa is beautiful. Standing outside in what is the equivalent of a quad in the US, one looks over the ocean, out at mountains and at the city below. It is a quaint and picturesque place to spend a semester abroad.

Josh, Blair, Jess & Jeff chomping over Haifa!

We spent most of our time in meetings with the International School staff, touring the campus and sitting in classes. With every second spent on Haifa’s campus, I missed my study abroad experience even more. The more I learned about Haifa’s program, the more homesick I became for my own study abroad semester.

While on the phone with my mom, discussing everything we had seen and done, she asked “Do you wish you studied in Israel instead?” The truth is, after my first trip to Israel for Birthright in Winter 2008, I thought about withdrawing my Florence application and submitting one to study in Jerusalem. I had become enchanted with a country I had spent a whirlwind ten days in. Knowing that my first decision was my best, I kept my application to go to Italy and to this day, I have not a single regret. So of course, my answer to her was “Not for a second”. But in all fairness, if I had a chance to do it for a second time, a part of me would want to study in Haifa.

I always say it and to this day I still believe it: Studying abroad is the best gift that you can give yourself. A person has no idea what they are capable of or what they are made of until they are in a country that is foreign. You become smarter, more adept and learn to improvise. You learn a new language, navigate a public transportation system and become ok with being lost all the time. Things that seem important in the US, like cable TV and fast internet, seem insignificant when you have historic sites outside your window. A sense of independence is gained and upon returning to the US, you feel accomplished, matured and worldly.

In the end, it does not matter where you go or where you choose to study. I love Florence because I lived it—the culture, the people and the unbelievably chic clothing. But my experiences at Haifa only solidified my belief that each student should study abroad and feel a connection to the place they choose. There is a big, beautiful world outside of our Orange and Blue and I urge you to consider exploring it. I promise you won’t look back.

*This blog was written by our Jewish Student Life Coordinator Jessica. She can be reached at Jessica@ufhillel.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_davis78!

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