"It sounds cliche, but being abroad is about opening yourself up to new experiences and living in the present moment. If the present moment has you sprinting through the Bologna Train Station to catch a last-minute train to Ferrara on a random Wednesday night, then you're doing something right."
"Italy, oh my gosh, that's so exciting! You're going to love the food there!" was the standard response that I received whenever I informed friends, family members, and professors about my summer plans to study in Bologna. More often than not, this assurance that Italian food was life changing was followed by some brief anecdote about a week-long trip to Rome/Venice/Florence. While some of these stories might reference a historical site or a museum, for the most part, they focused solely on all the various dishes and wines I had to taste and they never took place in Bologna.
When my first ever international flight touched down in Italy, I didn't have any concrete expectations about what to expect during my 6-week stay in Bologna, other than 7 nights a week of eating pasta for dinner. A few surface-level Google searches prior to my application had given me only a faint snapshot of an architecturally impressive University city. Not that any amount of researching travel blogs could have prepared me for the life of a student in Bologna.
Particularly compared to travel destinations like Florence and Venice, Bologna was so authentically Italian. There was a wealth of opportunities for my friends and me to engage directly with the culture of the city simply by walking outside. We were fortunate enough to be in the city during their annual outdoor film festival and concert series on the piazza. Whether it was accidentally wandering into the crowd of a famous Italian band, Lo Stato Sociale, or spending an evening watching the Italian screening of "Sacco and Vanzetti," under the stars on Piazza Maggiore, we got to experience "real Italy," rather than one designed to please the tourists. Certainly, the classes and excursions were invaluable, but what has really stuck with me, now two months removed from the program, are the days spent sitting on the piazza, listening to street musicians and speaking with the University of Bologna students.
These interactions with "real Italy," have inspired me to continue on the Italian minor track upon my return to Duke. Initially, I wasn't quite sold on the idea of a foreign language minor,but Duke in Bologna proved that Italian studies were more than learning verb forms and vocabulary. When I enrolled in 101, I wished to learn Italian for the express purpose of being able to go to Italy. Now, I want to continue learning Italian in order to better understand the country that I called my home for 6 weeks, particularly in regards to its literature and film.
The greatest piece of advice that I can impart to students considering studying abroad is that, if you decide to participate you need to embrace spontaneity. In the end, you are only going to be in your host country for a few weeks. Memories will not be made if you follow a routine of "go to class, return home and study." It sounds cliche, but being abroad is about opening yourself up to new experiences and living in the present moment. If the present moment has you sprinting through the Bologna Train Station to catch a last-minute train to Ferrara on a random Wednesday night, then you're doing something right.