How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

Editor’s Note: Traveling to places near and far can have a deep impact on how you view the world and your personal growth. Here, Samantha from Ambitious Life of a City Girl takes us through her personal tale on how studying abroad changed her perspective on things while helping to provide the confidence she never knew she had. 

My freshmen year of college was tough, to say the very least. To say that I didn’t really know who I was yet would be cheesy…but it also might be the truest thing I’ve ever said. My boyfriend and I had been dating for about 4 years at the time and we were constantly fighting due to distance and the pressures of college. We ended up breaking up twice and I sunk into a depression that I thought I would never be able to get out of. My grades were slipping for the first time in my life, and I felt alone and helpless.

But little did I know, those break ups and hardships would be pivotal moments in my life that I needed in order to find myself. I spent those couple of months apart learning ways to love myself. I stopped moping and saying no to things. I became a “yes” person. I realized that in opening up myself to new experiences, I was learning what I love and what made me happy.

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I’ve wanted to go to Italy ever since I can remember. It was the number one thing on my list and every year I would beg my dad to take me. My university has a campus in Rome and I planned to go there while I was an upperclassmen. But one day in late April of my freshmen year, I overheard someone in the hallway talking about how that day was the last day to apply to study at the Rome center. I don’t even know what I was thinking, or if I was thinking at all, but I pulled my laptop out of my book bag and made my way to the application.

In a matter of 5 minutes I had applied to attend the John Felice Rome center of Loyola University of Chicago and if accepted, I would be leaving in two months. Just two months. I immediately called my dad and explained that I would be going to Italy in two months and that I needed to go. I needed it for my sanity, and to finally do something for myself and to make myself happy. He didn’t really say yes, but with the adrenalin rush that I had at that very moment, I honestly didn’t care. I was going. Nobody could stop me.

I think that the mere fact that I was about to embark on the most exciting trip of my life had its effect on me, because I couldn’t seem to stop taking risks. I began to open myself up even more and I also began to see all of the things that truly made me happy. I had been with my boyfriend since I was 15 years old and I was now 19. Being broken up wasn’t the end of the world, and in no way am I saying that I needed a boy to make me happy. But I knew that that’s what I truly wanted. I didn’t want just any boy, I wanted to be with him, but I also knew that I needed to focus on myself first. We began talking again and going on dates. It’s so cliché to say this, but I definitely believe that sometimes people need to fall apart in order to realize how much they love one another. I was finally happy with myself, so why not be happy with him too?

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I thought that the decision to go to Italy was let alone the greatest thing to ever happen to me. But little did I know, I would learn things and experience things that would change me forever. I remember the car ride on the way to the Rome center. All I could do was look around me in awe with my mouth wide open. It was all finally hitting me at that moment. I was in the place where I had always wanted to be, and it was even more beautiful than I could ever imagine.

It was a short month to say the least, those four weeks abroad went by so incredibly fast. I traveled all around the country. I visited big cities such as Rome, Sorrento, and Florence and got to visit smaller towns such as Arpino and Orvieto. It’s funny because I thought that I would enjoy the bigger cities more, because they are what I see in the media and the ones you hear about in school. But I was so wrong. So wrong.

While visiting the little quant town of Arpino, my group and I stumbled upon a hill that overlooked the town and surrounding neighborhoods. I never in my entire life have witnessed such a beautiful landscape. It literally took my breath away. It was the little Italian towns that you see in the movies. Colorful little buildings, scooters, children running around playing, grandmas hanging laundry from their back windows. I knew that that’s the place I was supposed to be. And I also learned at that moment, that I would never take anything for granted ever again.

There were many moments such as this one on my trip, and they each came together to teach me things that I will carry with me forever. I was able to live my dream of eating gelato while shopping the streets of Rome, touring the Vatican and learning its history, meeting people of other cultures and languages, and immersing myself completely into another country.

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I think that has to be my favorite part about studying abroad and what I’m most proud of myself for. I wasn’t trying to be an American in Italy. I was trying my best to be Italian. I learned the language while there and tried to speak to them in Italian every chance I got (believe me they really appreciated this no matter how bad I was). I toured places recommended by Italians, not Americans. And I tried a different food every time I went to a restaurant, so that I could experience as much variety as possible. Doing this enabled me to become somewhat accustomed to the country in such a short amount of time. It helped me learn patience and understanding. In just a month, I fell in love with Italy. It romanced me in a way I never even thought possible.

When people ask me opinions on studying abroad and if they should do it or not, I preach that it will change their lives. They kind of turn their heads, laugh, and look at me funny. But when they return from their trips, I also have the privilege of saying “I told you so”.

I’m happy to say, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Sometimes it takes us taking chances we never thought possible and just going for it. My whirlwind romance with Italy still continues. And even though it’s been just a year since I’ve been, I hope I can move there someday. The new number one task on my bucket list.


About The Author: Samantha Saliba is a college junior at Loyola University Chicago studying Public Relations. Her fashion + beauty + lifestyle blog, Ambitious Life of a City Girl, is catered to the everyday ambitious girl who has limitless goals and dreams. 

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