I knew that I wanted to travel. Any time I'd previously broken out of my comfort zone I'd had amazing experiences. I wanted to do this in an entirely new culture. Many of my friends and mentors encouraged me, saying their experiences abroad changed their lives for the better.
Why did you choose the Athena Tour of Italy program?
I like how Athena is smaller and more personalized. Representatives from Athena would call me, and knew my name and situation. I could contact them at any time and expect to talk to a voice I recognized. I also loved their program locations, including Paros Island and Tuscania, which not all program providers can offer.
What makes the Tour of Italy program so interesting?
Spending time in three different cities means you get the chance to meet and befriend so many more people. In every new community that I immersed myself in, I connected with people who taught me so many important lessons. I also met a wide variety of students participating in the programs in each city as well, so I had both Italian and American friends by the end of my semester. Touring Italy allowed me to learn about the country as a whole, including perspectives from different regions. For someone who appreciates city life and small-town life equally, it was the perfect balance. Each month was a new adventure!
What is the best thing about the Tour of Italy program that future participants need to know?
You will meet and connect with incredible people in each city, if you reach out to them. You will leave Italy with friends that you will never forget. Sometimes, they will be your teachers or people who work in your school. But these are the people who will show you their city as they see it. They'll teach you more about culture than anything you can learn in a book or museum.
What is one thing that surprised you about studying abroad?
One thing that surprised me was the realization of just how much I didn't know I didn't know, if that makes sense. I think we all have preconceived ideas of what other places might look like, or what people might be like, based on stereotypes and assumptions. There is so much we can learn if we are open to it. By the end of my time abroad, I learned to go to every new place with only the assumption that I knew nothing about it. I drew my conclusions based on what I observed rather than what I thought I knew. I was lucky to connect with so many incredible people, each of whom had something to teach me.
What did you enjoy doing on your free time?
In my free time, I would look at a map of the city I was in, choose a new place, and go there to explore for the day. While I was in Venice, I would challenge myself to take the vaporetti to a new island each afternoon. I stumbled upon so many beautiful places, and had so many beautiful interactions. If you stick to what you know, you'll only know what you know - but if you venture out into the unknown, you can learn something new.
What’s one thing you would have done differently?
I would have liked to experience a homestay situation. If I had remained in one city, I could have lived with one family and really improved my language skills. However, I am really very happy I chose the Tour of Italy program.
Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?
The influence of my study abroad experience continued long after I stepped off the plane. I now know how to live and work with people who are very different from me. I know how to embrace their eccentricities and treat them with respect. I am thoughtful when I choose my words, because I understand the power of language, verbal and nonverbal. I make plenty of time in my life for the people I care about, and I take time for myself to relax and enjoy the company of good friends each day.
Being abroad gave me time to evaluate my life and my character and to realize what is most important in my life. It taught me that human connection, even just for a moment, is one of the greatest life experiences we can find anywhere in the world.
Why do you think international travel is valuable for students everywhere?
I think international travel is not just valuable, but crucial for students to develop their worldview. We are limited to knowing and understanding only what we have had the opportunity to experience firsthand. In order for us to begin to understand and humanize other people and other places in the world, we must experience something which makes us feel "other," an outsider. Living abroad taught me that discomfort, or through the interruption of what I find comfortable, is when I grow and learn the most.
As a communications/PR major at Marietta College, Sydney chose to spend her junior year abroad in Italy with Athena Study Abroad. During the fall semester of 2012, she participated in the Florence, Italy program and she later participated in the Tour of Italy program in 2013. Between her fondness for the international students she has met over the years, and her excitement for stepping outside her comfort zone, Sydney made the most of her abroad experience.