Kirsten Wise - 2015 Program Participant 

Hillside view of Urbino, Italy

On an IES Abroad trip to Urbino

Why did you decide to study abroad in Rome?

Over ten years ago, my cousin studied abroad in Rome; she loved it, and I always thought it would be a good experience for me. I also decided to study in Rome because I wanted to experience living in a city and exploring my Italian heritage.

Why did you choose IES Abroad?

My school, Ithaca College, highly recommended it.

What was your favorite part about Rome?

People always ask this. They may expect me to say the art, the food, the Italian "Momma" culture, but I say the pace. It was a city and it was hectic, but it was never bustling. You could wander and never feel pressed for time.

What made your program unique?

The size; the program was almost a hundred students. This led to getting to know some people half-way through the program! I'm certainly happy for that because when you meet new people, the city opens up to you a little bit more.

Plants along an alley in Rome, Italy

By my homestay in Rome!

What surprised you most about Rome?

I barely looked up anything about the city before going. I only had the very basics and my gut feeling telling me to go. I was surprised about the large amount of outdoor vendors there were. I was also pleasantly surprised at how safe my neighborhood was at night.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Italy?

More Italian!

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was very helpful. They always had information or knew where to find it. I met some of my favorite and best professors at IES Abroad!

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Not very difficult. I had some Italian going in and my program required you to take a class while there, so I could speak the native language for small conversation. I found that most Italians did not know English fluently or at all, so I always tried to speak Italian first because I felt that it would be rude to make someone else do the extra work. In many conversations, the local or I would assess who knew which language best and go from there. Many who knew English well liked to practice.

With that being said, I noticed that my friends who studied in English speaking countries had different experiences than I because there was no language barrier.

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

Plan on a bigger budget. After spring break I decided to not hold back as much.

Narrow alley in Venice, Italy

In a VERY narrow alley in Venice!

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Normally on Mondays, I would wake up around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. Then I would walk ten minutes to the high school I interned at. After helping teach a class English, I would walk about twenty-five minutes down the beautiful Via Giulia to school. There I had two one-hour classes, Rome as a Living Museum and The Italian Mafia. Then I had a couple hours break where I would walk around and grab lunch with my friends before heading to my class about Italy's public systems. 

After school I would wander around on my way home and pick up food for the week or a dessert. Around nine o'clock I would have dinner with my host family for about an hour. From there I would either meet friends, do homework, catch up with family, or plan the adventures for the week.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

Hopping on a train to another Italian destination! I went to many places with my program and with friends: Pompeii, Naples, Assisi, Siena, the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, The Gardens of Ninfa, Sabaudia, and Urbino!

What was your accommodation like?

I stayed with a host family, who I loved spending time with. The location of the apartment was amazing!

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Rome?

Rome does not get colder than 40 degrees fahrenheit, so unless you normally live in a warm climate, do not bring winter gear. Save that space for all the things you will bring back! Also, I barely wore the couple of running shorts and t-shirts I brought, but I did regret not bringing a light zip-up jacket for chilling in my homestay.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part about studying abroad was every now and then feeling that I was not using my time effectively. But then I would just plan another thing to do the next day!

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

Learning to be flexible and thinking on the go, and with that comes having trust in people. I also think studying abroad lets young people see that the world is so much larger, and that “home” can have many different meanings. 

Port in Venice, Italy

Venice in the afternoon

Now that you're home, how do you think studying abroad has impacted your life?

I went to find out how to enjoy life without all the stress I had been living with. In Italy I realized that it was pretty simple: eat food that has been produced with integrity, wander, and learn how to pass time with a couple friends and a bottle of wine. Additionally, I have gained a broader global insight and am more open to travelling the world. I also have a newfound taste for espresso!

Would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

I would recommend IES Abroad. Every IES Abroad center is different and has its own expectations. I suggest looking up types of living (dorm, apartment, homestay, etc.) and size of the program to get a sense of the center. Some programs go on big trips and have a specific academic focus. Mine was very large and had general classes, but I still got to see many less known spots of Italy with IES Abroad.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

Besides flying right back to Rome, I would go to Portugal or Costa Rica.