William Downey - 2014 Progam Participant

Study abroad students in Rome, Italy

William at the closing dinner with some of his new best friends that he made over his three months in Rome.

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I chose to study abroad because I realized the “once in a lifetime aspect” of it, as well as wanting to learn more about myself that I knew wasn’t necessarily able to be done in the U.S.

What drew you to studying in Rome? 

I am a history major with a minor in religion and I didn’t think there was any place better than Rome.

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?

Skydiving in the Swiss Alps! 

What was the biggest challenge you faced while studying abroad in Rome?

Learning to love and accept others that are completely different than who you are used to. We all want inherent things that I believe everyone has the right to—happiness and the lack of suffering. I learned that someone else’s ways of attaining these things are different than mine, and that’s ok. But, what is not okay is my predisposed notion that “I don’t like these people” because of their differences.

Fountain in Barcelona, Spain

A visit to Barcelona with college friends! 

How have your international experiences shaped your life? 

When I first decided to go abroad I was a little hesitant and here is why: I played basketball all of my life since I was a kid and was, at the time, playing for Sewanee: The University of The South, a small division three liberal arts college in Tennessee. Thus, my identity as I knew myself, was in basketball. Granted, I had joined a fraternity, and gotten involved with various groups on campus, but I was still rooted in basketball.

Deciding to go abroad would cut my career short. I decided, however, struggling through a lot of prayer and thought, to go. I can honestly say that this was the best decision that I have ever made in my life. I was stretched in ways that I never knew I was capable of. I knew that if I was going to go abroad, I had to go by myself because if not, I would just be in the same old bubble I had been in. I wanted to stretch myself and see things about myself that I had never seen before. Hence, I decided to go to The Eternal City of Rome (mainly because I am a history major and a religion minor, I will readily admit).

When I got to Rome I was awestruck from day one. I was completely interested and immediately inquisitive about this place and what it had to offer to me—because as one can easily see, Rome has dealt with a plethora of people all containing differing identities. I promptly decided I would let this place change me—the way I thought, the way I wandered around this life, and the ways that I was used to. 

The John Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic

The John Lennon Wall Prague.

Looking back I can honestly say that this place has given me things that I never thought possible of attaining. I learned to love people that were different than myself and had differing opinions on almost every topic. I learned that people everywhere are all innately attracted to happiness, and all equally impervious to suffering. I learned that basketball is not the only sport that people love. I learned to not only appreciate the differences in others, but also I became fond of my thoughts, beliefs, and values. I learned that reading a book is not the only way to learn—although I will admit it is very valuable. I learned that if you have a fear of something the best way to overcome it is to face it head-on. I was completely petrified of fights, so I sky dove through the Swiss Alps one weekend. These are just a few of the examples of what IES Abroad and the experience of studying abroad has done for me. My perspective on life is completely changed and it’s something that I am very thankful for.

I want to thank IES Abroad and all the people involved because I can truly say that my life would not be the same had it not been for study abroad. C.S. Lewis said it best, “It’s funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.” My time abroad is something that is not a four-month experience I hold in my mind, but it is a life-long memory I will savor until the day that I die.

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

Outside of Italy, maybe India, because it is so different.