Not only did my perspectives on life change while studying abroad – through food, travel, and experiences – but I made connections with people I never would have met if I stayed in Chattanooga. Studying abroad provides a unique opportunity to form meaningful friendships with unlikely people. When you are thrown into a completely new environment, with a new language, and new everything, those unlikely people become the closest thing you have to family. The 10 other students in my program made my experience. They helped make Viterbo, Italy feel like home. Since the friendships I made greatly impacted my four months abroad, the most important things I can say are about them. A few of my peers made my daily routines and travel dreams so comforting and exciting.
Wilder is someone who reminded me not to take life too seriously when being alone in a foreign country felt overwhelming. We only had one class together throughout the semester called travel writing, but we saw each other almost everyday between language classes or around the city. Wilder is from northern California but is southern Italian. He gets just as offended when people assume he’s from southern California as he does when others refer to him as northern Italian. They aren’t his people, he would say. He made connections everywhere he went and religiously checked in with his favorite café and bar owners. He challenged me to love the moment I was in and find a reason to laugh always. Even if you don’t have much to laugh about, be someone’s reason to laugh.
Tristan is probably the most unlikely person I met while in Italy, but he quickly became one of my closest friends. At first, he seemed like someone I wouldn’t be able to connect with because of different experiences and other factors that make friendship difficult back home. However, shortly after we arrived the whole group stayed in Rome for the weekend. Not knowing him, he asked the group if any of us wanted to go shop and walk around Rome. I, having nothing else to do and ready for dinner, said yes. Tristan, Wilder and I wandered through the rainy streets of Rome and happened upon a rooftop bar. We talked. We laughed. We danced. That night in Rome, I gained two new best friends and am already planning to see a Vols game when Tristan visits Knoxville.
Lastly, Marianna was my roommate. She was and still is the absolute biggest reason that Viterbo felt at home. She’s a northern girl who isn’t afraid to tell people how she feels and loves people so hard. The first day of orientation, the girls and guys split up and tried to write a list of similarities. I asked, “is everyone a people pleaser,” assuming that all would say yes because of my southern upbringing and experience throughout my life. Without hesitation, Marianna laughed and said, “definitely not.” I couldn’t have chosen a better roommate, gym partner, personal chef, role model, travel buddy, and big sister than her. Marianna taught me to believe in myself and surround myself with the kind of people that see me and love me for exactly who I am.
The city of Viterbo was beautiful, but the people of Viterbo made this place unforgettable.
Sarah Turner (BA English) spent the Spring 2023 semester studying abroad in Viterbo, Italy through USAC. Sarah had the following to say about studying abroad, “I always knew I wanted to study abroad, but I never expected to be as challenged and changed as I was in Viterbo, Italy. During my four months overseas, I traveled, cooked, worked out, studied, and experienced our little medieval city with people I never would have met if I stayed in my college town. These unlikely connections gave me some of my best friends and I couldn’t imagine my life without our time abroad. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, jump head first into the deep end. This will be the best decision of your life!”
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