Study abroad is a graduation requirement at my college, but I'd have done it no matter what college I went to. I'm a Navy Brat and I lived in three foreign countries before I graduated from High School. I absolutely love to travel and learn about different cultures. I was inspired to go abroad from a desire to expand my own understanding of the world and to have experiences I knew I could never have at my college in the United States.
Why did you choose USAC?
I lived in Italy for two years as a child. I fell in love with the country and returned several times to visit. When I had to choose where I wanted to study abroad, as a history major, Italy was the obvious choice for me. I chose USAC's program in Viterbo because it offered the most number and variety of history courses of the programs I was considering in Italy. I also very much wanted to improve my Italian. I believed I'd have a better chance of learning the language in a small city like Viterbo than a large city that receives a lot of English speaking tourist traffic like Florence. Additionally, Viterbo was centrally located on the Italian peninsula and close to Rome, which I thought would make traveling around the country easier.
What was your favorite part about Viterbo?
It's hard to choose just one thing. I came to love the people I met and befriended. I know when I look back on my study abroad experience, it will be dominated by the relationships I cultivated with both fellow students and Italian nationals. The unique experiences I had and the people I shared them with were my favorite part of studying in Viterbo, Italy.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Italy offers a really fantastic opportunity to travel throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East economically. I had friends who traveled all over throughout the semester. Italy offers such a wonderful and unique cross-section of cultural exchange that extends back centuries. To have all of that rich history at your fingertips is really special.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff at USAC Viterbo were really wonderful. They put themselves at the students' disposal at all hours of the day and night and were always very prompt with solutions and suggestions when e-mailed. I'll forever love the USAC program coordinators because, during the last month of the program, they went out of their way to help me extend my study abroad experience through the 2018 Spring semester. I'm thrilled to be returning to Viterbo in January.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had put more effort into practicing and improving my Italian every day. I spent too much time with English speakers and not enough working on my fluency and new vocabulary. This is one reason why I'm so thrilled to be going back. I have the opportunity to do everything I didn't do last time.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
There is no typical day in Viterbo. Everyone's schedules are different and people are constantly traveling or going on field trips. There are dozens of exciting excursions all around Viterbo alone. On my typical Thursday, I'd wake up, get dressed, and head out into the city. I'd stop at a cafe and have a cappuccino and a pizzetta before heading to the Universita della Tuscia for my Roman Civilization class followed by my Italian Conversation class. In the afternoon, I might do some shopping, some reading, or have a late lunch with some friends. Then my roommates and I would usually make dinner in our apartment before meeting up with some friends for the evening. But in between my obligations, there are countless things I could do and explore in and around Viterbo.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
It's silly, but I loved going to Settantasette, the bar near my apartment, in the evenings. I'm not typically into the bar scene, but I got to really know and get close to the friends I made in Viterbo there. I have a lot of nostalgia for it as a place where I met people and not just as a local bar. Of course, I also loved traveling throughout Italy and also cooking and exploring Viterbo and spending time with my new friends in various locals.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in an apartment with two roommates. What I liked best about it was that it was inside the medieval city walls of Viterbo, which were built hundreds of years before the United States was even a country. It was very easy to get out into the city from where I lived and there were plenty of amenities nearby. The apartment itself was comfortable and spacious and our landlord was wonderful. We rarely had any issues with our residence and, when we did, our landlord remedied the problem swiftly.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Everyone who studies in Viterbo should know that they should take full advantage of where they are. They should get out and really truly experience Italian culture and society. Explore Viterbo. Travel widely. Try new things every day if possible, especially the food. Take and share photos. Keep a journal if you have the discipline and inclination. Don't be afraid to speak Italian. Make friends with both your USAC peers and with the locals. And every now and again, take a moment to appreciate where you are and what you're doing. It's a rare and wonderful and challenging and unique experience to live and learn in Viterbo. It's not always easy. Sometimes it's frustrating and you may get upset or discouraged upon occasion, but it's all well worth it if you make the effort to have your best experience.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
It's so good to be home with family for the holidays. My friends tell me that I seem more mature and happier in general after my semester abroad. I feel like I've had some very important life experiences in addition to academic and cultural ones. I've proven to myself that I can live on my own and thrive in a foreign country. I feel very encouraged by this fact. I look forward to having more impactful experiences next semester that I can carry with me throughout my college career and throughout my life.
Would you recommend USAC to others? Why?
It depends on what they were looking to get out of their study abroad experience, but generally yes. I would recommend Viterbo. Beyond that, I think I would recommend just about any USAC program. The application process was a bit grueling, but I had a wonderful experience overall and found USAC staff to be very helpful and supportive.
McKenna is a history major at Goucher College, where she is a tutor at the Writing Center. She currently lives in Maryland, but as a Navy Brat, she is not from there or anywhere, really. McKenna has traveled all over the world and has lived in Japan, Italy, Germany, and half a dozen US states.