The Experiences I Didn’t Know Existed

Kayla Williams is a UC Berkeley student who studied Language, Culture, Food and Business in Florence this past spring. Kayla took part in several different opportunities to interact with locals, allowing her to learn more about Florentine culture than she had ever expected. She reflects on her ability to connect with people living halfway across the world, noting that we are all the same at our core despite our perceived cultural differences.

I left Florence a week ago and I miss it already! Since I’ve returned, I’ve had multiple people ask me my favorite part about studying abroad. Most people assume my answer would be something surface level, but the more I reflect on the question the more I begin to realize that the experiences that were most valuable were the ones I didn’t know existed until I arrived in Florence.

One of my objectives abroad was to integrate myself into the culture by learning the language. I was paired with a conversation partner for the semester and at first I was nervous to practice the language. Now, I can’t imagine my study abroad experience without Giulia. Every week, we met for dinner to practice Italian and catch up. Although I came into the experience with the goal of practicing Italian, I walked out with something much more valuable. Through speaking with Giulia I realized just how similar we are, despite growing up in completely different parts of the world. Although it seems like an obvious truth, I had the realization that all people are the same at our core despite differences in language and culture. Speaking with Giulia helped me better integrate myself into the culture and I highly recommend this experience to others.

Toward the latter part of the program, I connected with a local family. The family exchanged homemade pizza for my time practicing English with their kids, an offer I couldn’t resist. The first meeting went so well that by the end of the night we were playing charades in English, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. In that moment, I again had a feeling that my world was becoming much smaller because the differences I had once imagined were virtually nonexistent. This is one of the experiences I couldn’t have planned before coming to Florence, but by making the effort, I found something more valuable than I ever imagined.

I really hope my stories inspire you to take the plunge and meet the people where you study abroad. It’s so important that we remind ourselves of the commonalities we share globally. We are all so similar, and study abroad gives you the opportunity to feel that firsthand.

~Kayla Williams, UCEAP Made In Italy: Language, Culture, Food and Business

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