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I Never Wanted to Study Abroad. Here's How It Changed My Life.

Katie in Malcesine, Lake Garda Katie Smith

My year abroad was the gap year I never knew I needed. 

Writing this now, I only have 21 days left of my study abroad experience in Verona, which means that my Italian adventure is (sadly) coming to an end. Soon, copious amounts of pizza, pasta and Aperol Spritz will be but a distant memory in comparison to what I’m anticipating to be an extremely stressful final year of university. The thought of my year abroad ending is bittersweet. As much as I’m not ready to stop exploring all that Italy has to offer, after almost nine months living abroad, I’m ready to go back to living in the UK and my home comforts.

Funnily enough, when I think back to choosing my degree programme over three years ago, I remember feeling somewhat indifferent to the prospect of spending a term and a year studying abroad. While most people opt for a language degree due to the exciting prospect of a year abroad, I was the opposite—paying more attention to the course content and entry requirements.

In all honesty, I don’t think that I would have taken a year abroad if it wasn’t a compulsory part of my degree. As someone who never saw the appeal of travelling and was a bit of a home-bird (oh how things have changed!), the term and year abroad were a long way away, for future me to think (and worry) about.

I think one of the main things I’ve realized on my year abroad is the importance of a good study-life balance.

Work hard, play hard; right? My dad always says I’ve been academically driven since I first started school aged five and is the first person to tell me when I need to take a study break. In short, striking this balance has always been hard.

I’ve written previously about having more relaxed academic requirements at university here, which when combined with seeing the typical laid-back Italian lifestyle, has actually done wonders for my stress levels and attitude towards studying. Now, when faced with the choice between a trip to Lake Garda or an afternoon with my textbooks I’ll pick the first option without giving it a second thought. Even better, I (much to my surprise) haven’t failed any of the exams I’ve taken so far in Verona, so I really feel like I’ve managed to enjoy the best of both worlds.

The last eight months have absolutely flown by and I can’t believe how much travelling and exploring I’ve managed to cram in.

Before moving to Verona, I’d never been to Italy and now (without wanting to show off) I’ve had the immense fortune to have visited some of the most beautiful coastlines and culturally rich cities in Europe.

The opportunity to just hop on a train and travel to some of the most famous and historic places in Italy has been without a doubt the best part of studying and living in Verona. With one easy train journey, I can be getting lost in the canals of Venice, marvelling at the wonders of the Vatican in Rome or gazing in awe at the Duomo in Florence. This is a luxury I’ll really miss back home in the UK. 

One thing I must make clear is that my study abroad experience in Verona hasn’t been all plain-sailing. When living in a foreign country with a culture very different from your own, any problem you have will, by default, hit you harder and be more difficult to deal with. It’s in these instances that I’ve been so grateful to be sharing this experience with six other English girls who have been my little part of home in Italy. Whether I’ve been stressed and confused by Italian university, having a moment of self -doubt, or just generally having a bad day, I’ve never had to struggle alone and this is something I am very thankful for.

Without wanting to sound like a typical year abroad cliché, I feel completely different from the person who boarded her flight to Venice eight months ago. Although my Italian may still be questionable, studying and living abroad in Italy has taught me so much (not just academically) and I know that I will look back on this experience as one of the defining moments of my life. My advice to anyone nervous about taking the plunge and moving abroad: just go for it! In the end, you might just be surprised.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a 21-year-old student of Spanish and Italian at the University of Leeds. She is currently spending her year abroad on an Erasmus study placement at the University of Verona, Italy.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/katiemenna_/

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