Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience


Laura Faye Albrecht, Creative Director

I was sitting in Upton Hall 311 when Daniella came into my life. She was giving a big spiel in her sassy Italian accent about the program she directs ­– SUNY Siena Study Abroad Program. I was mesmerized.

Not only by the classes: Wine Essentials, Painting in Italy, Italian Language – but by this overly passionate Italian lady who seemed to be speaking directly to me. If your journey through SUNY Buffalo State’s undergrad program has been anything like mine, I was feeling pretty burnt out. I needed a big change in my life and I needed new inspiration.

“Travel will change your life forever,” Daniella said, I think she was staring into my soul. “You need to go to Italy, you will never regret it.” Twelve weeks later I was frantically running through the JFK airport, about to miss a connecting flight to Frankfurt, following the mysterious Italian woman who showed up one day in my class. I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into.

Everything leading up to the moment you sit down on your international flight is excruciatingly frustrating and nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve never travelled for a long-term stay before. Paperwork and fundraising is endless, and the anticipation of jumping into the void is somewhat terrifying. Once you’ve made it this far, you’re golden.

The only thing you have left to do is open yourself up to the world, be proactive in submerging yourself in a strange culture, and be like an infant in your curiosity and acceptance of the world around you. It’s easier said than done, but worth every experience you’ll find.

I lived with a Sienese host-mother who showered me with love and hospitality every minute of the day. She cooked and cleaned for me, spoke to me in Italian, taught me Italian, taught me about Italian men, told me jokes in Italian, made sure I was happy every day and helped me feel better if I was down. The bond with her was instant, I still think about her every day.

I attended classes in the center of the city, where the classroom windows overlooked the piazza and town hall of Siena. Our four-day weekends were full of traveling to new places and making new friends who I will remember for the rest of my life.

This hiatus in my undergrad studies is by far the most valuable life experience I’ve ever had. It made me realize that I can do a lot more than I think I can. There were times when I was alone, somewhat lost and without a phone, in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and I made it back home on my own.

Before traveling, this is one of the very specific scenarios that seemed like a living nightmare to me. Once you’re in the middle of these situations, you’ll surprise yourself by how resourceful and courageous you can be. It taught me to open myself wide to the world, accepting positive and negative experiences alike, and allowing them all to grow and shape me.

Traveling with a school group is also a huge safety net, and will help your first international living experience tremendously. Professors invest themselves in your life and your safety as if you are their own child. Every time we left the country to travel, someone would check in to make sure we were safe and helped us arrange plans when things went wrong (which they often do!).

Living in Italy was beautiful. The inspiration I found is indescribable and beyond anything I ever imagined. Being inside the “heart of art” is truly priceless, there is nothing like it in the world.

I stood directly in front of so many masterpieces that sent chills down my spine. Italy is much older and richer in history than is even comprehendible sometimes.

My Italian language professor, Vittoria, reminded me in class one morning, “The greatest journey is the one within.” In my experience, travel is one of the most radical and necessary catalysts for personal growth. My perception of the world and myself was so very inaccurate.

I had notions and prides that needed to be released and I realized that I have so much to learn. My knowledge of how the world works is a tiny blip on the universe, but it’s so good to feel challenged in this way. I am so happy that I stepped out of my comfort zone to take this journey.

I carry new things inside of me that I’ll have forever. All of the challenges that occurred along the way pushed me to grow, and opened my heart and mind to new people and ideas. I can’t wait to travel again.

If I could offer one piece of advice, I would say something very similar to what my beautiful Italian friend Daniella once told me: Go travel, you will never regret it.

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