Image Courtesy of Meredith Hamm

By Liesl Ament

This is an independently submitted op-ed for our Quill section. Views and statements made in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of  The Tower.

Is it worth it? What a silly question. How on Earth could studying abroad not be worth it? 

In January I jetted off Italy. Four months, eight and a half countries, and two continents later, I can confidently say that spring in Europe was my favorite semester by a long shot. There’s nothing quite like the blustering wind against your face as you scale the cliffs of Howth and stare out at the glimmering Irish Sea; like walking along Rome’s cobbled streets after a late-night gelato run with your classmates; like saying a silent prayer of gratitude as you touch your rosary to Jesus’s tomb.

Yeah, Europe was amazing. But that’s easy for me to say after hiking up Mount Vesuvius and skipping through Salzburg’s streets singing Sound of Music tunes at the top of my lungs. Living abroad might seem daunting to someone who’s never left the country before (I hadn’t!), but if you ask me, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t at least consider going abroad.

Course offerings vary depending on where you choose to study, but for me—as a sophomore history major attending CUA’s Rome program—I only took four classes. They were all general education courses that kept me on track to graduate.

Worried about food? As a relatively picky eater, before arriving I was concerned I would hate European cuisine. I was totally wrong. From perogies in Poland to gyros in Greece, trying new dishes broadened my palate. When my roommate Meredith and I visited France, I even tried escargot. Escargot! I wasn’t expecting to enjoy eating a literal snail as much as I did. (And if worst comes to worst, McDonald’s has your back, even in Europe.)

Worried about friends? Chillax. Although I was prepared to go to Rome by myself, it turned out that I knew several other girls in the program. Forty students went to Rome, so everyone was a familiar face by February. We weren’t all best friends, but no one was sitting alone at dinner. And here’s another insider scoop: you get to know people pretty well when you’re traveling with them all the time.

And if, at the end of the day, you really don’t vibe with anyone, solo travel is so much fun. As much as I loved train trips with Meredith and my other pals, my independent trips to Turin, Assisi, and Israel were also rewarding. Traveling alone allows you to explore at your own pace. Sometimes, company isn’t necessary; all you need are the winding roads before you and all your Earthly possessions shoved inside the bag on your back.

“Okay, Liesl,” you say, “that’s nice and all, but I’m a broke college student. You might’ve blown all your camp counselor money on international trips every weekend, but that’s not in my budget.” Dude, just get over there! You don’t need to be globetrotting to have a good time. Explore your host city to your heart’s content. There were plenty of weekends when I stayed in Rome because I was traveled-out or just trying to save some Euros. Those were the days when I’d sketch the view from the Janiculum Hill, walk along the Tiber, or observe the adorable stray cats sunbathing on the ancient ruins. Wherever you might study, there will be interesting history, beautiful scenery, and languages to learn. It’s enough to just exist in a new place for a while.

“But I’ll miss my friends and family!” Well, that’s a valid concern. CUA is forty minutes from my house, and this trip was my first time being away from home for an extended period. No Easter visit, no random pop-in to steal my younger brother’s birthday cake, nothing. When May came around, I discovered I had drifted away from close friends, in part because I was gone for so long. 

It’s a real risk, but it comes with the territory of new experiences. Possible remedies include phone calls, text messages, and FaceTime. I personally enjoyed sending out postcards to every person I could think of back home. The Italian postal service tends to be notoriously unpredictable, but I can’t fault it entirely. The one time it mattered most, my sister’s birthday postcard arrived right on her birthday.

In the interest of appearing unbiased, I’ll admit that Europe wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and all-you-can-eat pasta. Some moments really and truly sucked. Exhibit A: the time my phone was stolen—three weeks into the semester. Exhibit B: the morning Meredith and I missed our flight back to Rome even after hustling to Dublin Airport at 4 a.m. Exhibit C: when Meredith woke me up in the middle of the night because she thought our Palermo AirBnB was being robbed.

Time heals most things, however, and now I can look back and laugh. So what if my phone was stolen? My friends enjoyed the awful camera quality that is to be expected from a €79 phone. Our emergency Dublin-to-Rome flight had a brief connection in Frankfurt, bringing my ‘visited countries’ tally to eight and a half (it totally counts, even if we never left the airport!). And after our 12-hour train ride from Palermo to Rome, Meredith and I love to tell people that we were chased out of Sicily by the mafia. It’s just more glamorous that way.

The struggle was real, but so were the joys. Losing my phone was worth it if it meant I got to swim in the Mediterranean or celebrate Easter with Pope Francis. Life in Europe wasn’t stress-free, but neither was life back home. And if there’s one thing I have to say about it: “I’d rather be depressed in Italy than depressed in America.”

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