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Senior Jacqueline Youngdahl, a communication major, rode a donkey in Santorini.

Penmen Abroad

A Hundred Stories to Tell: Making the Best of Everything Studying Abroad Has to Offer

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When I walk out of my apartment and onto the cobblestone sidewalk, I feel happy. Living in Florence, Italy, has made me fully understand what it means to live in a completely different society and culture. Both good things have happened and bad things have happened, but I wouldn’t give any of it back.

I’ve made new friends, met a guy I clicked with, gone to different countries, learned how to budget money, all within my three months living here.

But making new friends anywhere can be tough, even if you are outgoing. Most of my friends are from America, because Florence University of the Arts is mostly for international students, but others are from Italy and Albania.

It’s been at the club or the bar or just walking down the sidewalk that we’ve made friends with random people and later found out where they came from. But despite this friendly nature, one must also be aware of everyone that walks by. Just this semester we have been whistled at, honked at, growled at, stared at, glared at, quacked at (which was a new one) and chased down the street.

But if I wasn’t running out of money, I would want to stay if I could. Money is always the issue when studying abroad, but knowing how much can be spent each week on food and how much can be spent on travels and shopping helps significantly and can teach you how to balance a budget.

Youngdahl’s trip to Greece. (image credit: Jacqueline Youngdahl)

I am also doing a homestay where I live with a family from Italy that cooks us dinner, does our laundry and cleans the apartment. The “family” we were put with is a widowed woman and her large dog, which is not exactly what we were expecting. Most families host students because they are lonely or to help pay for rent.

Our host mom speaks primarily Italian and her English vocabulary consists of “Dinner is ready,” “Out tonight?” “Away weekend or here?” “Okay” and “Yeah.” Similarly, I took a three-week intensive Italian course to help communicate, but unfortunately that was about two months ago, and now my Italian vocabulary consists of remembering how to order food.

Speaking with the woman in our homestay is not a problem though, with the help of the Google Translate app that helps with the language barriers! Living a homestay has its ups and downs. For example, the dog and I had a bit of a run in, which led to a night in the ER and three scars on my arm. I guess I’m not actually a dog person? There are random holes in my clothes and my whites are magically grey, but the food can definitely make up for that.

Another aspect of living in a homestay is that we are provided a free dinner Tuesday through Thursday, where we have either a pasta or risotto, and then some sort of meat with a side, usually potatoes in oil. Our host mom also serves us bread, but because I am gluten free, I get crackers.

Many people who are gluten free may worry about studying abroad, but being gluten free in Italy is easy. Everything is made fresh, with no random ingredients. Most restaurants have gluten free options, and if they don’t, I’ll get vegetable soup, my new go-to. Even markets, much like Stop & Shop or Hannaford’s, have gluten free sections. It is limited, but there. And everywhere I go there is always gluten free pizza, which has caused a hole in my pocket and possibly two extra pounds.

Of the many positives is the opportunity to travel. Flying to other European countries while in Europe is so cheap it hurts. My friend and I just booked a one-way flight to England for €20, about $22. That’s like buying a sweater from Forever 21. If there is time in the schedule to go, then go, because there may not be another opportunity like this that comes along. There are so many ways to book trips through travel agencies, which are nice because they know all the best places to go.

With the travel agencies, I went to Croatia, Germany, Greece and the Amalfi Coast. We went white water rafting where I almost fell out twice because I thought you sat in the boat, not on the side.

A boat in the ocean at the Red Sand Beach in Greece. (image credit: Jacqueline Youngdahl)

In Germany, we camped at Stokeland and went to Oktoberfest. 10/10, would go back.

Greece was amazing. We went on ATVs for a full day, went to a pink toga party, spent over two days on ferries and cruise ships and got to take in the sights everywhere we went. If I could live there I would, though finding anything gluten free was a struggle.

Then, on the Amalfi coast, the wind was so bad one day that when we went on a boat tour of the island, we were the only boat on the water, literally. We went to the back of the boat because it was open, and about one minute out, we got hit by six-foot waves, and we were drenched. I took out my water-resistant phone and started filming while my other hand held on for dear life, and that was when the boat turned sideways. Not just a little, I mean sideways, and even the captain looked nervous as we all looked at each other, dripping with salt water, strands of hair smeared across our faces.

Still on the list is Scotland, where I am going solo next week, France, England and Switzerland.

Of all my adventures, all the friends I’ve made from different places, the different experiences I’ve had, the 4 a.m. nights and the random pizza runs at 1 a.m., my study abroad experience has still a month to go and hundreds of stories to go with it.

I’m so used to living here, that going back to SNHU is going to be a huge adjustment. I can say that I miss home, but doesn’t everyone?

Being here has made me realize things about myself that I never could have learned in New Hampshire, and because of that I am entirely grateful that SNHU gives students the opportunities to go to places they have never explored, to see things they have never seen and become the person they may never thought they would be.