Brooke Hillriegel - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I have never been out of the country before this experience and only had one semester left to take up such an opportunity. I figured I had to take this chance, and have no regrets about choosing to study abroad in Italy. I was able to make my dreams come true and be able to see parts of Europe that I may never have gotten to see otherwise.

The Duomo in Florence, Italy

Looking from the top of the Bell Tower toward the Duomo

Why did you choose your CISabroad in Florence?

I chose CISabroad because of their excursions and program testimonials. They also had an affiliation with my college; the Semester in Florence program. CISabroad really helps prepare you before departure and helps guide you through the experience with onsite staff that makes sure you have having a relatively easy transition.

What was your favorite part about living in Florence?

It being a small city, I was able to learn how to navigate relatively quickly. At first, it seemed large since I'm used to more rural areas, but after some time, I began to love the small city feel and being able to walk everywhere. It was also very easy to take a bus to the Pisa airport for Ryanair flights to other countries. Florence is a very central location, making it easy to plan trips.

What made your study abroad experience unique?

I believe my experience was unique because I had to learn how to adapt to new environments quickly. Because I have never been out of the country and have only taken a plane one other time in my life, I really had to learn to adjust to the traveling and learning how to navigate through new places. I had a couple of other friends from my school in the same program, but also easily made new friends within my classes and program. This allowed me to open up and create new friendships as I was exploring the world for the first time. I have never been more than three hours away from my family, so being in a different time zone and not being able to see them for those couple of months was hard, but helped me become more independent.

Study abroad students in Florence, Italy

Two of my roommates who became lifelong friends

How was the onsite CISabroad staff?

The local staff was really helpful in maintaining my safety and being helpful when needing extra support. After the Paris attacks, the program checked in and started to make us fill out independent travel forms to have accountability of everyone throughout the rest of their time.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have gotten more involved in campus programs, like the Italian Family club. This would have helped me practice my Italian and interact more with the locals.

How was your average day abroad?

If it was a class day, it consisted of either classroom learning or trips around the city. My sketchbook drawing class was typically held outside as we walked around the city and had to draw different buildings and features. If it was a day I did not have classes, I would explore the city and take streets that were new… or I would be traveling in other cities or countries.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Only having classes two days a week allowed me to take long weekends to travel or just extra time to get to know the city. I was able to walk around, enjoy the slow everyday pace of the Italian culture, and, most importantly, try delicious Italian cuisine.

Arno River at night, Florence, Italy

Night picture of the Arno River with the Ponte Vecchio in the background

How was your housing situation in Florence?

I was in an apartment with three other girls who I did not know beforehand. At first, I was scared that we would not get along, but I quickly became close to two of them and still keep in touch now. Going through an experience like this allowed me to really open up to these new roommates, as they were the ones there with you at night when you may have had a rough day trying to navigate the city or adapting to the new culture.

What is one thing every student should know before studying abroad in Florence?

You will go through an emotional roller coaster, from "What was I thinking and what did I get myself into?" that takes place as you are saying goodbye to your family and friends for an entire semester to the thought of "I don't ever want to leave this place I have learned to love and now call home" that usually takes place when you are leaving your apartment one last time. No one can ever explain this roller coaster well enough, but just know it is completely normal to have a whirlwind of emotions.

What is the biggest lesson you learned while studying abroad?

I learned that, although I thought things changed a lot while I was gone, maybe it was only me that really changed. Going through an experience like this is unexplainable to people who haven't gone through it. I now value those friendships I made abroad and continue to stay in touch with them.

Heart-shaped pizza from Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy

Heart-shaped pizza from Gusta Pizza- one of my favorite pizza places in the city!

Would you recommend CISabroad’s Semester in Florence program to others? Why?

I would recommend Semester in Florence to anyone who likes the small city feeling and wants to travel. Florence put me out of my comfort zone, but also allowed me to travel and learn about other parts of Europe.