At GCU we offer various study abroad programs to allow our students to not only take an extended trip, but also to be immersed within a new culture. This past spring semester, one of our incredible honors students, Christina Boyle, took an opportunity to pursue her dream of studying abroad in Italy.
Her Study Abroad Experience
Christina, originally from Littleton, Colorado, is majoring in justice studies with a minor in pre-law. She’s graduating this spring after only three years. She has wanted to study abroad ever since she attended a general meeting about the program that GCU partners with. Once she met with her SSC, she felt it was meant to be since everything fit into place perfectly. At the same time, it was a difficult decision to leave GCU for a semester since she is graduating an entire year early. After conducting research, Christina decided she wanted to go to Italy since its history, beauty and of course, pasta have always fascinated her. She also added, “I thought I loved Italian food before I left but I had no idea how much I would love the food and the simplicity of Italian dishes after I lived there.”
Christina spent her semester living in Reggio Emilia, Italy which is a small city in the north about halfway between Milan and Bologna. “Studying in Reggio Emilia was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” explained Christina. The initial adjustment was difficult due to differences in culture. She was surprised how much it impacted her day-to-day activities.
Her program was only 38 people, 37 Americans and one Brazilian, but it allowed her to make many amazing friendships with people from all over the U.S. Since Reggio Emilia is a small city, she was fully immersed in authentic Italian culture and had to use Italian to communicate, which she enjoyed because it gave her a true taste of Italian life (unlike the touristy cities that attempt to cater to foreign travelers). Even traveling around Italy, she loved going to the touristy places, but her favorite experiences were in small towns, small family-owned restaurants and places off the beaten path. She truly appreciates the Italian culture and although it took a while to adjust, she didn’t realize until she returned to the US how the phrase la dolce vita Italiana (the Italian sweet life) is true, how impactful the slower the pace of life is and how valuable it is to be intentional with your relationships.
While abroad, Christina was able to grow in her relationship with God as she was completely removed from all support groups while living with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country. She realized how much she truly relied on the friends, church, family and bible study groups that helped her stay on her path as a Christian. Instead, she had to learn how to foster her own relationship and thus God put her in a place of complete reliance. During her semester, many times she’d take a mini trip and things would go wrong. For instance, she lost her wallet, which contained her driver’s license, and about a month later it was found by the police. Another time her phone fell into a waterfall, making it very difficult to travel. However, through it all, she continued to place her trust in God and lean on him for strength when it seemed everything was going wrong.
Since she only needed to take elective courses to fulfill her requirements at GCU, Christina studied Italian language, Italian cuisine, Italian food and hospitality food study, aging, Italian culture and cognitive psychology. She enjoyed all her classes and the intensive Italian class at the beginning of the semester was very helpful when it came to learning the language quickly. By being fully immersed in Italian culture, it assisted her in learning quickly, and her class assisting her tremendously in her transition to Italy. Her favorite class, however, was Italian cuisine, where they went to a local hostel and were taught how to make traditional Italian dishes. At the end of class they could enjoy the meal together. I mean, who doesn’t love some good Italian?
During her free time, she explored other countries in Europe during the weekends and explored Reggio Emilia during the week. She traveled to 11 other countries and over 20 Italian cities during her semester. One of the most beautiful countries she went was Croatia, and her favorite place in Italy was a small city on the edge of Lake Garda called Sirmione where she got to explore the abandoned Scaligero Castle. One of her favorite things was to go to coffee shops and people watch or walk through stores in Reggio and practice Italian with the people working there. Being regulars at favorite restaurants and coffee shops meant the locals would greet members of the group like family when they stopped by.
Italian Culture and Personal Reflections
Christina commented that Italians live life at a much slower pace than Americans. She said it seemed like they took more time to enjoy meals with friends and family. She learned how important it is to be present in the moment, and despite feelings of homesickness, Christina chose to live in the moment and enjoy the culture and people around her, which helped her flourish and grow.
Christina highly encourages others to study abroad. Everyone will have a different experience, while learning valuable life, communication and travel skills that will be with them for the rest of their life. It’s also important for students to make themselves culturally aware in order to broaden their mindsets and be more inclusive of others.
To learn more about how you can join a community of likeminded honors students in making change in the world, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.