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Education Abroad

Megan Mullsteff

Megan Mullsteff in Florence, Italy. [View Image]

Destination: Florence, Italy
Major: Communication Arts

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

I have always been interested in traveling and have a passion for experiencing new cultures while expanding my artistic knowledge and abilities. I had known for a while that I would eventually take part in study abroad once I was in college. I put the idea of study abroad on hold for a while; it wasn't until the Florence Revealed program came about that I knew it wasn't even a question whether or not I would be participating.

What program and destination did you choose and why?

I chose the Florence Revealed: Communication Arts in Florence program because the program took me to one place I have always dreamed of going, Italy. I would be drawing where the Masters once found inspiration and created their art; it was also a bonus that it was through my department and with teachers that I respect.

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

I took two classes while abroad- Fundamentals of Drawing and Landscapes and Cityscapes. I considered the classes to be much more challenging than the courses offered at VCU because we, as students, were immediately immersed in drawing for six hours straight every day. The classes were held off of crowded city streets, within famous piazza's, and even in rose gardens overlooking the city of Florence. It was hard staying concentrated on one subject for so long while battling the heat and uncomfortable sitting positions, but as challenging as the classes were they were equally as rewarding.

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

I expected some major homesickness as well as the overwhelming feeling that comes with being in a new country with a completely different culture and language. Upon arriving in Florence I felt at home and completely comfortable. I am still amazed at how content I felt in a place that, at the time, was so foreign to me.

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

The biggest challenge I faced in adjusting to life in Florence was all of the walking! Our apartment was about a 20-25 minute walk outside the city so we had to power walk in every day to get to classes on time. My roommates and I never used a cab or bus to take us places. Eventually I became used to the walking and started to enjoy it more once I learned to relax and take in the atmosphere around me.

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

The experience has made me realize that I would love a career that allows me to travel. Studying abroad also offers a conversation topic and something that may set me apart in my future job searching endeavors.

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

I did not meet many students from my host country but I was able to meet students studying abroad through Penn State and other United States Universities; these students were studying through the same program as my group, CAPA.

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

My roommates and I attended festivals held in Florence, such as Calcio Storico. The event is held every year and is football (American rugby) in costume. The competitors were men from the different neighborhoods of the city so it was exciting to see the history behind it and learn the culture of each neighborhood.

What were your most memorable experiences?

One of my most memorable experiences has to be watching the sunset on a bridge over the Arno River, on my last night in Italy, while eating gelato. That experience, as simple as it was, basically summed up my whole trip and sealed my love for the country and the city of Florence.

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

If I could do it all over again I would chose the same program in a heartbeat.

For you, what are the benefits of studying abroad?

As an artist it was highly beneficial for me to travel to such an artistically respected city and country. I was able to expand my knowledge of art and my experiences helped to shape my future as an artist and mold my visions for the career that lies before me. It was necessary for me to immerse myself in the culture and in turn that positively affected the drawings I created while there as well as the art done upon returning to the states.

How has your study abroad experience helped your language skills?

I took a semester of Italian before I left for Italy but once I arrived in the country and tried to speak the language I, in a way, got stage fright. I was able to relax eventually and try to converse as much as possible in Italian, though I can't say that I am anywhere near fluent or efficient in the language.

How has your study abroad experience changed your worldview?

I have become even more open to different cultures around the world. I have always been interested in other countries and cultures but this trip sealed my curiosity and desire to learn more. I am also more aware of worldwide news and events and try to break out of my little bubble that is Richmond.

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

It may sound bad but upon returning to the states and my "own culture" everything seemed ugly to me. Italy was beautiful, the people were warm and welcoming and there is a different way of life there. It isn't all about cell phones and technology, people take their time and enjoy their days and in turn have slowed down to better enjoy life in general.

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

Before I went abroad I wish somebody had told me to do everything and make sure I have no regrets. There are places I wanted to go and see but I kept putting things off until the last minute until I completely missed the opportunity to do those things. I still regret missing out on things but in my mind I know that it just means I will return one day and fill that void.

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

I believe that it is beneficial for every student, no matter what you are studying, to take part in a study abroad program. It opens your eyes to so many new things and I have never once heard anybody say that they regret their study abroad experience. Your college career may be the last chance you have to take part in such a journey. The knowledge and experiences gained are priceless.

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