Paola Gamboa - 2014 Program Participant

Capri, Italy

Beautiful Capri

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided to study abroad to expand my horizons. I had chosen to stay in my hometown for college, so I really wanted to explore what else the world had to offer. I chose to take it to the next step and apply to a summer program in beautiful Rome, Italy. I had grown up so sheltered and dependent, I wanted to test my limits and see what I was capable of.

Why did you choose to study abroad with ISA? 

I chose to study with ISA because they were the most supportive, included the most supplemental activities, and had everything I was looking for in a study abroad program. After comparing ISA with other providers, they were the organization that really stood out and made an impression. They were always responsive, answered every question, and had the absolute best staff. I had a fantastic experience with ISA, and can't wait to study abroad through them again.

Leaning Tower of Pisa in Rome, Italy

Corny leaning tower of Pisa picture? Check.

What was your favorite part about Rome? 

There are too many things I loved about Rome to chose just one. Eating authentic Italian food nearly every night for dinner was fantastic, and finally getting to admire Michelangelo's art was an honor; but it was the overall atmosphere of the city and the landmarks that were in it that won me over. I loved how our apartment building was in a calm and quiet area, but a 10 minute tram ride down would take you to the center that was always full of life and provided the big city feel I had looked for. Getting to see so many famous landmarks, and finally visit the Vatican and appreciate my favorite artist's work was an experience like no other.

What makes ISA’s summer program in Rome unique? 

What made my program so unique was all the extra perks that were included, and how accessible the staff seemed from day one. Of course, the main purpose was to study and go to school, but ISA did a fantastic job of including excursions and activities that would further immerse us into the Italian culture. In Tuscany, we had the opportunity to attend an incredible wine tasting with lunch included. The view outside that Castello is something that will stay in my memory forever. There were field trips in both of my classes, which included attending the Pope's apostolic blessing and a site visit to the place many classic Italian movies were filmed.

How supportive were local staff throughout your program?

The ISA local staff were great and super helpful. They provided us with tips on which restaurants to visit, and which places were tourist traps. They were always readily available for anything we needed and had a great sense of humor. Whether it was giving us directions to the Vatican, finding out how to ship my precious Chianti wine to the States, or translating for us at the pharmacy, the ISA staff were all over it

What do you wish you did differently?

The one thing I wish I could have done differently would have been to stay for a full semester. Five weeks flew by SO fast that one moment I was stepping out of an eight hour plane ride in Rome and the next I was tearfully saying goodbye to my roommates. Maybe it was the fact I had fallen so hard for this city, but I felt like something so dear to me had been snatched from me so suddenly. I was just beginning to adapt and learn so much about myself, then everything ended so abruptly.

There isn't a single thing during my time in Rome that I regret. I know that every little decision I made before and during my time in Italy led me to have the life changing experience I had, but if I could have done something for just a little more time in my "Rome Home" I would have done so in a heartbeat

Ostia beach in italy

Loving life at Ostia beach hours before getting terribly lost

Describe a day in the life of an international student in Rome. 

Monday through Thursday my school day ran from about 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. In between classes, grabbing paninos and iced lemon tea was an absolute must. After class was done, I would walk to our apartment where my roommate always seemed to be waiting bright and eager on our red, hipster couch. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing homework, going out to a new cafe to grab dinner, or moving on to explore places we hadn't seen.

Weekends were reserved for excursions, and during one of two free weekends we had, me and another roommate wasted no time and flew down to lovely Paris, France. There was never a moment we found ourselves bored, or out of things to do.

What was your favorite thing about your program, outside of your coursework and the chance to live in Rome?

The excursions included in our program were seriously out of this world. If you would have told me I’d be wine tasting in Tuscany a year ago or watching the sun set over the Mediterranean in Sorrento, I would have laughed in disbelief. If I had to single out one activity as my favorite, it would be our excursion to Sorrento and Capri. Between heart to heart dinners, face painting nightclubs, and boat rides with friends, there were too many good memories to choose from.

During that weekend, we did the brutal (but totally worth it!) hike up Mt. Vesuvius, visited Pompeii, and enjoyed the beauty Capri had to offer. Maybe it was the fact it was our last weekend together in Italy and that soon we would all scatter back home across the country, but that weekend full of dancing, laughing, and delicious 4four euro pizza was undoubtedly one for the books.

Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Il Colosseo

What was your accommodation like?

I lived in an apartment with five other girls in the trendy neighborhood of Trastevere. I know what you’re thinking, six totally different girls in one tiny apartment equals total disaster. Our living arrangement turned out quite well, and I became pretty close to my roommates. We were housed in a complex where other locals lived, so it wasn't unusual for us to pass one of the signoras on our way out and politely say our buongiornos or buonaseras.

Our apartment was conveniently located in front of bus and tram stops, with banks and supermarkets close by. We were also not far from main square where the nightlife was always thriving, and our favorite places to eat, people watch, and grab gelato were always open.

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

It has been nearly a year since I’ve returned, and looking into that year, I can’t believe how much my life has changed. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I was back in Rome. Coming back home was tough. I had only been gone for five weeks; how had I gotten so attached? Getting to Rome symbolized so much for me. I had planned it for so long, and worked so hard to make it happen, sometimes I can’t believe it happened. I learned that not everything you yearn for falls apart or gets taken away. When you go through such a long time believing that and one important thing breaks the spell, it gives you a brand new hope for everything.

Who would have thought? Little old me, living in a huge city abroad. Now I know that it isn’t stupid to think about a life abroad. I learned it was absolutely possible to establish beautiful friendships with people who couldn’t be more different than you were. I know how independent I can be, that I don’t always need someone holding my hand and calling all the shots for me.

I left to Italy not knowing where I was going, what I wanted to do, or where my life was headed. I can’t say Rome solved the existential crisis, but it gave me an idea. Traveling, meeting people, and picking up a new language were now incredibly important to me. Packing up and establishing my life abroad is the next plan. I don’t know where life will lead me, but I do know that now when a “crazy” or impossible idea pops through, I know that it will be absolutely achievable; and that’s something I never would have thought a year ago.