For me, the year 2020 started with spending the first two weeks of January in Italy. However, we all know that this is not the way this year continued on for just about everyone worldwide. To be more specific, I chose to study abroad for two weeks rather than an entire semester.
If you have a jam-packed schedule or your major does not allow you to take classes at another university, I highly recommend taking advantage of short-term study abroad trips.
Say you’re just not comfortable with the idea of being away for four months, then this would be an amazing opportunity for you to still travel.
As a freshman, I was in an introductory business course when a guest business professor came to speak to the lecture hall. For the first ten minutes of the lecture, she explained the “Business in Italy” opportunity that UMass Amherst offers during the Winter semester. She presented a video that summarized the experience of this Italy trip from previous students’ perspectives. Right away, I knew I wanted to go on this trip in the future.
Flash forward a year: I am headed to the Boston Logan Airport on Jan. 5, 2020. The excitement was overwhelming, as I’ve never traveled to Europe before and always dreamt of the day I finally would.
Two professors and 30 students went on this trip, so everyone had an opportunity to meet 31 new faces.
We met as a class once every few weeks during the Fall semester before the trip, so we had the chance to meet everyone beforehand. The class revolved around the “Italian Business Economy” that culminated in a two-week field trip to Italy where we could then see the Italian businesses that we have been learning about in real life while getting to experience true Italian culture.
The trip took us all throughout Italy, starting with Rome and moving upward to Siena, Florence, Bologna and finally ending in Venice. We arrived in Italy with a full itinerary, mapping out every hour of the trip. We stayed in each location for about two to four days, but the itinerary left a few hours open on most days to venture off in small groups.
Rome was an amazing starting point; the city was so unique compared to the cities we visited throughout the rest of the trip. Within our three days in Rome, I hit all of the known spots, like walking through the Colosseum and taking pictures in front of the Trevi Fountain.
Nothing compares to the amazing, breathtaking architecture that Rome has to offer.
Over the course of our jam-packed trip, we moved to five different hotels. The key to success was packing light, which worked out well in the end because the number of souvenirs I left with was enough to fill another suitcase. Additionally, we stopped at a winery between each city, reaching a total of four winery tours and tastings.
The land and mountain ranges that backdropped these vineyards were a vision like no other. Every winery was family-run with its own unique story, ready to share with visitors. One main takeaway that I learned about these family businesses was that each and every Italian works with their whole heart.
Italians put all of their efforts towards their work, beliefs and embodying their family’s history.
After Rome, we continued traveling north to Siena, followed by Florence. We stopped in Florence for four days, the longest leg of our trip. During my free time, my friends and I went shopping, had Florentine steaks and climbed the Duomo di Firenze just in time for sunset.
These sunset pictures were definitely one of my top pictures out of the thousands I took during the trip.
In addition to sight-seeing, the stops we made in between cities were what made the experience so unforgettable. For instance, we went balsamic vinegar tasting, toured a leather factory and walked through a parmigiana cheese factory. Each of these stops amazed me, really making the trip a unique, worthwhile experience.
I really miss the gelato and balsamic vinegar. I have always been a huge ice cream fan (how can you not?) and being Italian, of course, I love balsamic vinegar. It was incredible to be in Italy and see how the vinegar gets aged, along with seeing the passion that the Italians who make it have for their product.
I literally fell in love, and have been adding it to everything ever since.
From Florence, we stopped in Bologna for only one night and then continued onto Venice, the final destination. At this point, I’m stuffed with all of the delicious food and drinks from the previous two weeks, while my jeans were borderline about to burst. Here in Venice, we went to the Murano Glass Factory, where we watched a man hand-sculpt a glass horse.
We cannot forget that students need to take classes when being abroad, rather than the trip being a free-for-all. With this specific abroad trip, the itinerary included activities that taught us more about the Italian business culture. Specifically, we spoke with business owners, attended meetings and took note of what makes the Made-In-Italy brand unique.
Being Italian, this was the perfect opportunity for me to finally experience Italy and spend time around where the culture began and prospered. I do wish that I could have fit an entire semester abroad into my college schedule.
However, I took advantage of the two-week trip since I know that I was unsure that I could go abroad again.
I got back from Italy in mid-January 2020, roughly a month before COVID-19 drastically spread through Italy. Though I wish that I could have been abroad longer, the timing ideally worked out in my favor. If I decided to wait and didn’t sign up for the trip when I did, or if I didn’t get into the program, then I would not have had this great experience.
At the end of the day, I learned that you need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. You never know when the opportunity may pass, and it could be nearly impossible to go back. Similar to the way that if I did not join this short-term Italy trip, I would not have had the chance to study abroad at all—due to the pandemic.
Think less, do more and take every chance you can get without hesitation. You never know what you missed out on until the opportunity disappears.