Do you ever think about what it would be like to spend months at a time in another country? Ever wonder how you would be faring with being thrown into a new culture, with a new language and new customs? Kayla Barrett used to and she finally put her curiosity into action by studying abroad last year.
Barrett decided to leave her mountain home to study in Florence, Italy during her spring semester as a junior. The study abroad program “helped me become more immersed in the culture because of the way our classes were adjusted to reflect the culture we were in,” Barrett said. The group took classes like Italian Life and Culture, Italian, Modernity in Literature, Ethics, as well as a Theology course. The classes were all focused on Italian history, culture, philosophy, and architecture due to their location.
“Sometimes in our classes, especially the core curriculum, it’s hard to understand why we are taking the courses we are,” Barrett said. “The way the classes were taught in Florence made it really easy to apply everything to real life.” The group was able to become fully immersed in their studies because they were living them and actively using every piece of information that they had learned.
Barrett hails from Orange, CT, a town home to over 13,000 people, but has small town mentality. Orange is described by Barrett as a “middle-of-nowhere farm town.” Due to the small size and lack of diversity she experienced at home, Barrett wanted nothing more than to branch out and see more things in not just the country, but the world. She has vivid memories of watching The Lizzie McGuire Movie as a child and always wanting to study abroad in Italy because of it.
A Communication major with concentrations in Public Relations and Journalism, Barrett’s worldly travels would be written about in her blog. “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,” it says, and this is exactly what she did.
Being fearless was something that she became on her trip to Florence, having new things to overcome every day. She feared the unknown. The trip ahead had more uncertainty than certainty, and this was the height of her fears. She knew no one else on the trip, would not have a phone the first week, and was unfamiliar with a place she would call her new home and had to rely on roadmaps and natives to navigate.
“I was terrified, but I knew I was ready for an adventure,” Barrett said. “I was ready to leave the world I knew behind and go to a new one.”
Having never been too far away from home, she had never before traveled by plane and was absolutely terrified to do so. “Before leaving for Florence I was terrified of planes and never had actually been on a plane before,” she said. “As my plane was speeding down the runway for liftoff I kept thinking over and over, ‘What am I doing, what am I doing? I’m not ready for this. I can’t do this.”
The junior, at the time, had to overcome her uneasiness to make it through an over ten hour flight to make it to this foreign country that would soon be her home. She knew that the flight alone wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as three months in a foreign place with a foreign language and strangers to call family. This trip would eventually be about conquering her fears and finding herself.
The first few days alone brought dread she didn’t even know to think about. She was the foreigner now. She had heard stories of disastrous pick-pocketing and worried that she could fall victim. She was also told to dye her hair within the first few days so she wouldn’t be attacked, as her blonde hair made it clear she wasn’t an Italian. She was told the Italian men may hone in on her because of this. Regardless, she purchased a cross-body bag to keep her belongings close to her and she embraced her blonde hair, her own foreign feature, to roam the streets of Italy.
Within the first week, she was conquering more fears, but this time her concern of heights. In Florence, she was set to climb the Duomo, a total of 463 steps, totaling 376 feet in the air. She continued attempts to erase this anxiety from her memory by going on to climb the Florence Bell Tower, which is similar in height to the Duomo; the Eiffel Tower, at 906 feet; Mount Vesuvius, a whopping 4,203 feet in the air!
Barrett says that conquering her fears to reach the highest point of these cities meant that she could look out at the amazing views from above. “Traveling to the mountaintop city of Assisi was scary, too,” she said. “Everything is built on top of another, but the view at the top of the mountain is amazing.” She goes on to describe a sunset in Assisi as “completely indescribable” and “nothing a picture can truly capture.” She remembers the sun falling over the rolling hills below, and that being the biggest reward after her reservations about the heights.
Barrett discusses her study abroad experience with the same words she said about the city of Assisi, “completely indescribable.” She urges other students to take the plunge and go to study abroad because you will not come back the same person as you were before. She describes the independence she gained and her look into adult life outside of college. “It opens up your world. Changes your worldview. Just because you cannot see what is ahead of you in your future, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.”