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Education Abroad

Alexandra Leigh

Alexandra Leigh

Destination: Florence, Italy
Hometown: Chester, Virginia
Major: Interior Design

What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to study abroad?

I have always wanted to go to Europe, specifically Italy, and when the opportunity came along to go and earn college credit for it, I knew it was the perfect chance to fulfill a dream of mine!

What program and destination did you choose and why?

I chose to attend the Interior Design program in Florence, Italy because I’ve always dreamed of studying architecture in Italy. The originally masters of architecture designed Italy’s most famous buildings, and I wanted to see them for myself.

What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare them to taking courses on campus at VCU?

I took a fieldwork studio class, which consisted of sketching on site, and a culture class, which consisted of learning more about the history of Italy in subjects other than architecture. These classes allowed for a lot more independence and diversity than classes on campus because I had more freedom to explore on my own and make my own decisions.

What were your expectations before you went? How did those change once you arrived in your host country?

I honestly expected to be overwhelmed the entire time I was in Italy, but after the first few days, I felt much more comfortable than I expected. I really got to know the area where I stayed, which helped me out a lot.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while adjusting to your host country?

My biggest challenge was adjusting to the environment and the schedule. I actually ended up getting sick because my body was so run down. Luckily, I found a really sweet, English-speaking doctor that fixed me right up!

How has your experience changed your future academic and career goals?

My experience in Italy made me realize that I definitely want a career that will allow me to travel.

What contact did you have with students from the host country? Other international and American students?

I met so many students just from going out and talking to other people my age. SRISA, the school where I took my classes, also had students from all over America studying there as well.

How did you integrate into the culture and meet members of the host community (community events, extracurricular activities, etc.)?

I met members of the host community by doing what the locals do! I watched the soccer games in the pubs, sat on the steps of the Duomo, and went shopping in the market. These were all normal Italian activities.

What were your most memorable experiences?

I actually have too many “most memorable experiences” to list! The opera, visiting Venice, and the vineyard tour in Chianti were probably my top three favorite memories though.

If you could do it all over, would you choose the same study abroad program again?

I definitely would choose this trip if I could do it all over again, but now that I’ve gone, my next trip will definitely be somewhere new!

For you, what are the benefits of studying abroad?

Studying abroad has not only broadened my horizons and fulfilled some of my lifelong dreams, but it has also made me more independent, confident, and brave. After studying abroad, I feel like I can do so many more things that I would’ve been afraid of or shy about before.

How has your study abroad experience helped your language skills?

I wouldn’t say it helped my language skills, except that I may be more willing to hold a conversation with people I don’t know.

How has your study abroad experience changed your worldview?

Studying abroad has made me realize that there really are so many different ways of living life. Life in Italy was extremely different from life in America.

How has your study abroad experience changed your perception of your own culture?

I feel like the American culture has its pros and cons. Most of us don’t take the time to cook every meal from fresh ingredients or enjoy the simple things in life. I believe that’s something the Italian culture really does well.

What do you wish you had been told before you studied abroad?

I wish I had been told to take advantage of the fact that I was in Europe. Many students continued their trips in Spain or France, but I didn’t really consider extending my trip. Nobody ever encouraged me to do so.

What would you say to a student who is not considering studying abroad?

You haven’t lived until you’ve studied abroad. It will change your life, and you will remember it forever.

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