My study abroad experience was completely based on countdowns. Countdowns until application deadlines, countdowns until flying to Italy, countdowns to fall break and finally countdowns until we go home. In my last 14 days in Florence, Italy, I was counting down every single second until my flight home.
My friends would often ask, “Are you not having fun?” or “Do you not like studying abroad?”
Do not mistake my eagerness to go home with having a bad experience. I did have fun while studying abroad. I learned new skills, traveled a lot and built some great friendships.
But it wasn’t quite as sunny as the marketing would like for one to think.
My living situation while abroad was a growing experience. I lived in an apartment with six other American male students studying abroad from other universities. Our apartment was not in great shape when we moved in: our couch was completely ripped up, our shower head spat out water over our shower curtain and our washing machine and oven were both broken. To put it nicely, our place had personality.
For a little while things got better; our washing machine was fixed and FUA gave us a microwave in place of the oven (not a great alternative, but still better than nothing). But later on, more things started to break. One of our bathrooms would flood once, if not twice, daily for a month. Finally, we contacted SNHU’s Study Abroad department, and the issue was addressed by FUA. The bathroom stopped flooding, however, the toilet became unusable, forcing seven people to use only one toilet.
Adding to these maintenance problems, we also developed true safety concerns.
I realized that we did not have any fire safety devices in our apartment. We had no smoke/CO2 detectors, no fire extinguishers, no first aid kit and no Fire Blankets.
Other FUA apartments did.
I submitted a maintenance ticket promptly, and after two weeks we had no response. Later, one of my roommates was frying chicken, and the oil caught on fire. We had no fire extinguisher and no fire blanket to put it out. It was a scary situation. Following this incident, we emailed FUA maintenance services to follow-up with the support ticket. We received the following response:
Thanks for your email and I’m glad to hear everyone is ok.
Following your earlier suggestion about fire safety equipment, we asked the landlord whether it would be possible to add the items you requested, but they are away until the end of the month. I should clarify that by law these are not required, and as such different landlords supply their apartments differently.
We will follow up with him immediately and hope to be able to provide these items in the near future.
Please stop by the Student Life Department and let us know how this happened and what follow-up may be necessary from the agency.
We were disappointed to learn that FUA was not going to install smoke detectors. Although the law states that FUA is not required to provide smoke detectors, we wished the school would have helped to keep us safe, protected and informed while living in a foreign country. We wished that FUA was more focused on our safety rather than the details regarding the fire as well as whether or not the university’s housing agency might have to fix parts of our house.
Although it is not a law in Italy, smoke alarms have been instated in American culture to provide safety. It seems as though they should be a routine item, considering they are required in apartments habited by students in the United States.
Consequent research also showed that in March 2018, three American students studying abroad in Florence found themselves in a similar situation with a cooking fire and ended up having to call the fire department as the apartment did sustain some damage. This situation made worldwide news, as quoted by Jelisa Castrodale in VICE.
“Unsurprisingly, Italians have responded to the incident with a combination of embarrassment for the students and smug superiority.
‘Return to the USA to eat hamburgers & chips from [McDonald’s],’ one commenter wrote.
‘[F]rom one of those three could come the next US Secretary of State…or the next president!’ another warned.
Comparing SNHU academics to FUA academics is also a very eye-opening experience. In my experience at SNHU, professors always try to get to know you and continually want the best for you. According to SNHU Student Lexi Gardiner (’19), “[FUA] professors don’t take the time to get to know you.”
By the fourteenth week of classes, most professors still did not know our names.
In terms of the academic rigor of FUA, Sarah Guttman, a current FUA student, said, “FUA is 1,000 percent a joke, and most tests here are based on topics not actually taught in class or really obscure topics that a professor might have mentioned for half of a second.”
The most infuriating part of the academics, however, is the complete lack of productive classrooms; there are few to no desks at FUA. You are expected to use a clipboard or have a laptop on your lap.
In terms of student success, SNHU is at the forefront of helping students be successful and prosper throughout their college careers. SNHU’s motto is, “See yourself succeed at SNHU.”
When asked about whether FUA cares about its students, SNHU student Emily Vadeboncoeur (’19) mentioned, “[FUA has] failed to meet expectations on every level; teachers are unaccommodating, and school policies do not support student success whatsoever.”
It’s not hard to believe that classes are not set up for success, according to SNHU student Sarah Sigot, who said classes are unorganized and syllabi and agendas are often unorganized. Although a syllabus is supposed to include a final agenda and due dates for assignments, it is not uncommon at FUA to hear professors say, “The syllabus is from 2009 when I designed the class. We are just going to ignore that” or “Does anyone have any questions about the paper due next week? I had to add it to make up for xyz.” This lack of organization from teachers impacts a student’s education, making students’ tasks more difficult and it is harder for them to retain information and keep track of deadlines.
At SNHU, students are easily able to gain access to effective and important counseling services through the Wellness Center. When researching study abroad options, SNHU boasted FUA’s access to counseling resources as a smooth transition into the study abroad experience. For one student, who preferred to remain anonymous, the counseling aspect was a large letdown:
[FUA’s] counseling services are NOT counseling services. NOT at ALL. The moment I walked in there (my second week and I never went back) she immediately told me that it isn’t really counseling and she can’t treat mental illnesses (depression, anxiety). It was pretty much a vent session where she repeated everything I said back to me by rewording what I said then asking whether that is how I felt. I remember SNHU telling me that students that seek counseling at the Wellness Center will still have access [abroad], but it is absolute trash. The counselor I saw at FUA is not a counselor and I do not think she is certified to be called that.
When I was looking at colleges, I remember President Paul Leblanc giving a speech about how SNHU had redesigned all of its study abroad programs to better suit academic and student needs; therefore, it was disappointing to see these issues come forth after hearing his wonderful perspective on the program.
When asked for a response to these student’s situations, the SNHU Study Abroad Department Director, Stefano Parenti, had the following to say:
The Study Abroad Office has implemented its communication for allowing students to benefit of a more engaging study abroad programs outside the Florence kind of “American Bubble.” But the Program in Florence remains our most popular program not only for the brand that Florence represents in the States in terms of study abroad destination but, in particular, for the FUA’s expertise in managing visiting students and for the related quality of the level of their services (curricula, extra curricula, housing, advising, emergency contact, etc.).
It happened that sometimes, we would say very rarely, some students had to face some housing maintenances’ issues that usually have been promptly fixed by our Partner. More common are roommates’ issues. In this case, the collaboration of the students is a priority for letting FUA to manage in the best way each specific case.
In the Fall 2018, it looked like more students are experiencing some issues with the housing and for this reason we have already started [an] open discussion with our Partner for digging into this, getting more details and avoiding for our future students the same concerns. At the same time we’ll be trying to implement our communication and advising on [these] topics, for preventing some of the issues and for letting future applicants to have more tools in these circumstances.
We really appreciate any kind of feedback from our students during their stay overseas and once back during the mandatory Re-Entry Program, when they can fill out a very detailed survey. It’s fundamental to know on those aspects of the program that can be implemented in collaboration with our Partner and our students as well.
If you are considering studying abroad, I would highly recommend it; the experience of being in another culture can be an amazing, eye-opening experience. Just make sure you do your homework and fully consider all your options and countries before applying to a specific school.