Alexa Dombkoski

One of Alexa's favorite places in Florence, Boboli Gardens, which has amazing views of the city.

One of Alexa’s favorite places in Florence, Boboli Gardens, which has amazing views of the city.

Alexa studied abroad for two semesters in Florence, Italy.  She is currently finishing her degree at the University of Pittsburgh with plans to return to Italy to teach English and pursue a career in international education.

Where do you go to school?

The University of Pittsburgh

When and where did you study abroad?

Spring 2012 & Fall 2012: AIFS Richmond in Florence, Italy

What was the BEST part about studying abroad?

There are so many amazing aspects to studying abroad that it is hard to narrow them down to just a few! For starters, one of the most important parts was gaining a sense of independence through living in a new city where I knew absolutely no one and did not initially speak the native language. The ability to travel to other countries and experience other cultures around Europe, in addition to living in Italy, was also a big plus. Furthermore, I made lasting friendships with Italians, Americans, and people from all over the world. Overall though, the best part of studying abroad was the feeling of accomplishment I had once I made Florence my home. Feeling like I belonged and was at home in a place where I had no friends or family when I originally arrived and that was so different from my actual home was by far one of the greatest feelings I experienced during my time abroad.

What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?

Studying abroad opened me up to other cultures and ways of life. I learned that other people and other cultures might do things differently than my own culture, but that does not mean that the other way is bad or negative in any way. It was also interesting to learn about Florence and Italy when all of the history was right outside of the classroom!

Living in Italy taught me how to be independent and live entirely on my own. Studying abroad also helped me to discover my passion for travel and the Italian language.

What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?

For the most part, I adapted very well to life in Florence. There was never one large, defining challenge during my time abroad. Instead, I experienced little, everyday challenges. For instance, being the only American at a local cafe or out with a group of Italian friends can be a little intimidating and uncomfortable. However, instead of steering clear of these types of experiences, I pushed myself to partake in the authentic Italian lifestyle, even if that meant forcing myself completely out of my comfort zone. I looked at these uncomfortable moments and scary experiences as a positive challenge to, not only experience the Italian lifestyle, but to grow as a person. I began to enjoy the thrilling feeling of doing things out of my comfort zone instead of seeing experiences and challenges as negative obstacles.

How did studying abroad change your life?

Throughout my time in Florence, I learned to adapt to different multicultural environments. Working and living in Italy taught me to be comfortable meeting and working with all different types of people from around the world. I now feel that I can easily work in all different types of environments.

Before studying abroad I had next to no clue what I wanted to do after graduation. However, my passion for travel and my love for other cultures were certainly awoken during my time in Florence. Now, I have a clear career path in mind for the future as I would like to work in the field of international education.

The most important lesson I took away from my time abroad was what I learned through the relationships and friendships I gained while living in Florence and traveling in Europe. Through meeting people from all over the world I not only learned about other cultures and peoples, but I learned about myself and grew as a person.

What are your future plans?

I am currently working towards a degree in Communications with minors in Anthropology and Italian and plan to graduate this April. After graduation, I hope to return to Italy to teach English as a second language and continue to travel the world. Long-term, I would like to work in the field of International Education.

What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?

As a student who is fortunate to study abroad, it is easy to get caught up in the idea of traveling everywhere and seeing everything. However, realize how lucky you are to actually live in a foreign city that most people only get to travel to for a week or two out of the year. So, don’t spend every weekend traveling to another country. Create roots in the city you live in-learn the language, get to know the locals. Don’t spend all of your time solely with Americans. While I made lasting friendships with many Americans at my school, I also became friends with people who were born and raised in Florence. Natives can show you a side of their city that you might not get to see otherwise, so do not spend all of your time only with Americans.

Try new things. Do something that forces you out of your comfort zone each day. It might seem difficult and terrifying at first but by then end of your time abroad, you will get a thrill from being pushed beyond the limits of your comfort zone.

Most importantly, your time studying abroad will go by extremely quickly-you will blink and the whole experience will be over! Cherish every single moment you spend abroad!

Andy Steves

Andy grew up traveling with his dad and writer, Rick Steves. He studied abroad in Rome, Italy while at the University of Notre Dame and then founded the travel company Weekend Stu[...]

Jared Kahan

Jared studied abroad in Florence, Italy. He now works as a Program Assistant for the Short-Term Abroad Programs at George Washington University.

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