An Introvert Abroad: The Benefits of Foreign Study from Someone Once Reluctant

During  my freshman year at the University of New Haven, advertisements for the study abroad program were everywhere. The Prato campus staff manned tables at events, sent out emails, and even appeared in classes to explain the benefits of studying internationally. It was inescapable, and I vehemently refused to listen. I’d made up my mind already. Studying abroad wasn’t for me and it never would be.

Aside from whatever my father yelled at the television, I did not know a word of Italian, and the prospect of trying to navigate a place while not knowing the language terrified me. Not only that, but I was a loner by nature, and if I wasn’t going to be out in Italy every night drinking with friends or participating in outdoor activities with my classmates, what was the point? What if I got lost? What if I got kidnapped? No way. Someone else might want to study abroad, but that person was not me.

Then my mom found out about my decision and did what all moms are best at: Pressure.

“You love travel,” she said. It was true, but every previous excursion was with someone else. What if the experience was different and I hated it? It wasn’t like I could just go home. Home was a several-hour, thousands-of-dollars flight away.

But my mother was not convinced, and refused to relent.

I didn’t go abroad freshman year  or my first semester of sophomore year. By that point, I told my mother I would think about it. I went to the study abroad office and voiced my concerns to them.

They were incredibly understanding. They reassured me that, aside from taking an elementary Italian course to learn the basics, I didn’t need to worry about knowing any Italian while I was there. Many  people in the area surrounding Prato knew enough English for me to be comfortable and safe. They also told me that every Friday there would be an excursion hosted by the school, going to different places in the region. That got my attention.

So, after a lot of questions and a lot of begging on my mother’s part, I went.

I loved it.

All the worries I had before going almost instantly melted away once I settled in. Not only was it easy to get around, but I felt safer there than I ever did in the United States. Learning a new language and culture provided me with an insight I never had before, and I grew quickly accustomed to the casual daily routine.

The food was fantastic, the cities were beautiful, and the people were friendly. I traveled everywhere I could, whenever I could. I went to Pisa, Florence, Lucca, and Pistoia. Over the fall break, I even went to Naples, Rome, and Venice. I saw the ruins of Pompeii, the Colosseum, the Grand Canal, and I didn’t need to pay any extra tuition to do it. Abroad, I was in charge.

Maybe I didn’t play soccer with my classmates or go out drinking with friends, but I didn’t want to. I did what I wanted when I wanted to, and, most importantly, I did it at my own pace. Studying abroad granted me autonomy as I’d never had before, and if I had the chance to go back again, I would do it in a heartbeat.