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    Posted March 16, 2014 by
    Washington, District of Columbia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

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    La Bella Vita- Un Anno in Italia

    Studying abroad in high school changed my life. It opened my eyes to a world outside of my little New England town, determined what I would study in college and helped me become a more independent and understanding person. Although my experience was one of the hardest ones of my life, it was also one of the most rewarding and one that I do not regret in the least.

    When my guidance counselor first mentioned study abroad to me my freshman year I only took her half seriously. However, the more I thought about it, the more I became excited about the prospect of spending 6 months or even a year in somewhere like Germany, Switzerland or even Thailand. In the end I decided on Italy.

    When I first arrived in Italy, I remember thinking to myself, what did I sign up for? I suddenly found myself in a foreign country, with no knowledge of the local language and absolutely no one I knew. However, when I walked off the plane in Rome (and after an hour bus ride) I found myself surrounded by 400 other students from around the world feeling similar culture shock, with the same excitement for the year ahead. One of the best parts of studying abroad was that I gained insight not only into the Italian culture but also into cultures from across the globe. Some of my closest friends were ones from Germany, New Zealand, China and Norway. While I was learning Italian, I was also learning about local Norwegian cuisine. There were times when I was learning how to make homemade pizza from my host mom and other times when I was learning how to make German apple cake with an exchange friend. This opportunity to meet people from so many different cultures enhanced my abroad experience and was one of the most rewarding parts of studying abroad in high school with AFS. I now know that I have friends all around the world. Two years after I returned from Italy I spent two weeks in New Zealand visiting one of my closest friends from my year abroad. Even though two years had passed since I had seen her, within hours it was as if we had never left Italy.

    Another important part of my experience was the opportunity to live with an Italian family and truly become a part of the community. I attended an Italian high school, took all of my classes in Italian and spent my Friday nights eating pizza and watching Italian game shows with my host family. I learned how to cook traditional Leccese meals with our older Italian neighbor and played Italian cards games with my host brother. I came to Italy only knowing what little Italian I had taught myself before leaving, however, I left speaking and understanding Italian fluently. Being so integrated into the community gave me a unique opportunity to become a part of the Italian culture but also to share my culture with others.

    My experience abroad showed me how much I love experiencing and becoming a part of other cultures and how much I love to explore and expand my horizons. By going abroad I gained a new family, friends from around the world and discovered my passion for for travel. It has been four and a half years since I left Italy and yet it still holds a special place in my heart and is somewhere that I truly consider home.
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