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Education Abroad

Rebecca Schmid

Rebecca Schmid [View Image]

Destination: Rome, Italy
Major: History, minor in Anthropology

What were some of your reasons for deciding to study abroad? Would you recommend it to other students?

I had only been outside the states once to Jamaica before my Study Abroad and I wanted to see more of the world as well as some of my best friends had study abroad/were going to and basically told me to just go. I also for personal reason just wanted a change of pace and space, I needed to let go and wanted to experience something for myself. I would completely recommend study abroad to students; it opens your mind and selves to new and different things. It really does change your life.

Why did you choose the location and program that you did?

I chose Italy mainly because I knew nothing other than it was old and in ruins. I wanted a place that I knew nothing about and to just have an adventure. The program, AIFS Richmond in Rome, was one those multiple study abroad books Stephanie Tignor, Director of Education Abroad, handed to me and I liked what the program entailed, the trips and the people involved. It was also a program that I thought you got a lot of bang for your buck and it wasn't so structured that you spent every waking moment with your other American classmates, it had more freedom to explore and do more on your own.

Did you receive academic credit? Which courses?

Yes, I did receive academic credit and all the courses transferred, just make sure you get them approved BEFORE and if they change notify VCU immediately. I took mainly history and art history class while I was there because it worked with my major but I did get to take a photography class, which was amazing, and since at VCU you can't really stray outside your own major, it was great to have a chance too.

How did you pay for study abroad? Did you use financial aid? Scholarships?

I paid with my financial aid, my savings and a Parent Plus loan; I was lucky enough to have my parents help me. I unfortunately applied late to my program and missed a lot of the scholarships.

Every study abroad program has a different housing situation. Students may live with a host family, or in an apartment or dorm room. What type of housing did you stay in and would you recommend it?

My program offered host families and apartment housing. You could choose to live with a host family or in an apartment in the city with other classmates. I chose the apartment, which when you were grouped together your houses were all over Rome in the different neighborhoods. They mixed us up and we had to literally walk all over Rome to find each other. I would recommend the apartment to other students just because if you don't know the language it can be difficult to communicate and most of our host families lived outside the city, some of those students had troublemaking it to class on time when public transportation went on strike, Italians like to strike a lot. The apartments also kept us right inside the action of the city in, we had to just learn how to get around and take care of ourselves.

What was the best part of studying abroad and what did you find to be most challenging?

The most challenging was fitting in, trying to adapt to the new culture; sticking out like a sore thumb was not the way to go and the Italians generally avoided you if you stuck out as a tourist. The best part was when I did fit in and I could speak Italian and just be Italian, I learned so much from the people and could see Italy from a completely different point of view. Another challenging part not a difficult but definitely worth mentioning is their limited access to internet, in America we are tapped inconsistently and constantly, not in Italy, you'll be lucky to use your internet once a day so sorry techies.

Is there anything you've done abroad that you would have never done at home?

I was myself, more than I am at home. In Italy I was more open and adventurous than I am at home. I spoke up and actually experienced what others tell stories of their 'college year, the best years.' I finally got to experience it and have my own stories. So I guess it wasn't much of what I don't do at home, more like I had the chance to breathe more there than the busy, go-go life here at home.

What are some of the major differences in the academic environment/experience between VCU and your host country?

Italy is VERY relaxed about school were as VCU is very not. Italians are slow-moving, relaxing people as they are with their schooling, it was less stressful. Classes were smaller and I got to really know my professors, along with the rich history literally outside my door.

What stereotypes were broken when you entered the host culture? Were you disappointed, surprised?

Italian men don't chase you down the streets, most of the time. Italian woman are as fabulous as you think and are the only ones who can wear stilettos and walk on cobble streets. I was surprised on how many beggars there were in the city, every corner; you have to watch out for them though because they will steal if given the opportunity. The most surprising stereotype that was broken was that once you speak to them a small amount of Italian, they open up to you, but if you only stick to English you can expect them to shut down to one-word responses. Italians believe you should be like them, not the other way around.

Studying abroad hopefully affected you academically. Perhaps you've considered changing your major, adding a minor, or your career ambitions have changed. Has studying abroad reinforced your academic interests, or changed them? What do you plan to do after graduation?

Studying abroad changed my whole life. I became the strong, confident person I feel and am today. Though I struggle with self-esteem still, I feel like I can conquer the world. My major hasn't changed but what I want to do has, I hope to go into the study abroad field and help other college students do what I got to do. I believe and think everyone should have the opportunity to have an adventure. I want to go to SIT Graduate Institute after I graduate so that I can have this opportunity and hopefully someday read something like this from one of my own students about their awesome experience.

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