#StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

Stasia Lopez's picture

Emily Kearns is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh dual-majoring in Communication and Business. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy in the spring of 2015 and developed a deep love for travel. Upon graduation in May, she hopes to find a career that incorporates her passions for photography, writing, and travelling.

Emily Kearns: #StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

Being a relatively shy and anxious girl my whole life, I never pictured myself spending three and a half months in a foreign country, and I definitely shocked my friends, family, and myself when I made this decision. The idea of study abroad never really crossed my mind until my older brother and a few of my friends spent time abroad. They all told me that it was, hands down, the best decision they’ve ever made, and those who didn’t study abroad ultimately regretted it. I eventually realized that if I have this amazing opportunity to travel the world, why not do it? I didn’t want to live with that “What if…” feeling my whole life, so I made the decision to just go. 

After deciding that I was actually going to go, my next obstacle was deciding where to go. I wanted to do a program where my academic credits would transfer easily back to Pitt, and the two main options that met that qualification were Florence and London. I’ve always thought Italy looked beautiful (it absolutely is!), and I wanted to challenge myself with the language barrier, so I ultimately decided on Florence and I’m beyond happy with that decision!

Emily Kearns: #StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

It’s so difficult to put my experience into words. It was by far the greatest and most fulfilling journey I have taken part in and I still think about it every single day. My favorite memory from abroad would have to be right when my roommates and I returned back to Florence after our weekend trip to Switzerland. It was our first trip outside of Florence and throughout that weekend, we all agreed that we missed Florence dearly (even though we were having a great time in Switzerland). We arrived back very late on that Sunday night and on our way back from the train station, we walked past the Duomo. The area around the Duomo is always crowded, and this was the first time we had the chance to see it in all of its beauty, with absolutely nobody else around. It was a beautiful night and a defining point in the semester when I truly realized, “Wow, I’m here. In Florence. And this is my home for the semester.” My roommate even shed a tear as she looked up at the beautiful masterpiece, and we all just enjoyed the present moment we were in.

A challenge I faced at the beginning of the semester was really putting myself out there and meeting other students in the program. I went to Florence not really knowing anybody, so it was necessary for me to be as social as I could upon my arrival, which was definitely a little nerve-wracking for me. Though it was scary at first, going without knowing anybody was the best thing I could have done and I’m glad I didn’t let that hold me back from going. I was forced out of my comfort zone and met so many amazing people as a result. 

One of the main challenges I faced while abroad was, unfortunately, getting sick multiple times! I actually had to go to the emergency room in Italy because I was so sick, and it was really scary, to say the least. I unfortunately had to miss out on a few things I really wanted to do, but it ultimately made me grateful for all that I did get the chance to experience.

Besides that, a few other obvious challenges are the language barrier, adapting to a completely different culture, and balancing finances.

Emily Kearns: #StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I certainly feel that I have changed from this experience. While reflecting on my semester, I noticed that I definitely became a more independent person. I didn’t want to come home with any regrets, so I realized that I had to do what I wanted (within reason, of course), even if my main group of friends didn’t want to. It was scary for me to break away from that and do things on my own, but I believe that I grew as a result of doing what I wanted to do, and not always conforming to everybody else’s desires.

One piece of advice that my dad told me before I left was to be flexible, and I definitely took that to heart and, as a result, learned how to adapt to new situations better. Things almost never go as planned — you’ll get lost, your flight will get delayed, you’ll miss your train, etc. — but I learned how important it is to simply go with the flow and be flexible because those situations, which at first seem unfortunate, sometimes make for the best stories and the best opportunities for growth. 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

I definitely think this experience changed me for the better, and I learned so many valuable skills that have helped to prepare me for my senior year and career search. This experience helped me realize some of my passions and has caused me to think more about what I really want to do after graduation. I was chosen to be the “Official Blogger” for the program provider that I went with (CAPA The Global Education Network), and that opportunity further confirmed my passions for photography and writing and has made me realize that I would like to incorporate those passions into my future career. This experience has also made me consider looking into careers that involve travel or international education.

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Balancing my finances is something I was definitely worried about before going abroad. Since I decided I wanted to go abroad in October (I left for Florence in January), I really didn’t have much time to get a job, but luckily, I had some money saved up and I had help from my wonderful parents and grandparents. I highly suggest saving up as much as you can beforehand because, chances are, you’re going to spend more than you think you will. But it’s okay. While you have the chance, splurge on the things you really want because the last thing you want to do is return home with regrets.

If you’re still on the fence about going, do as much research as you can so you’re prepared to make the right decision for you. Make a pros and cons list and take time to really think about the factors that are holding you back. 

There are so many resources out there to take advantage of — travel blogs and websites, your school’s study abroad office, and study abroad alumni. I highly suggest connecting with several study abroad alumni, even if they didn’t study in the location(s) you’re considering; that’s where I gained the most valuable information.

Emily Kearns: #StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

The term “culture” is comprised of so many different aspects and you cannot truly understand another culture unless you’re placed into it for an extended period of time. Studying abroad helped me develop a more global perspective and caused me to gain an appreciation for other cultures that I previously had no knowledge of. Even though there are so many different cultures around the world, we all still live on the same planet and we can learn so much from one another.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

If you’re even slightly considering going abroad, DO IT. You will learn so much about yourself and the world around you, you will experience things that some people could only dream of, and you will constantly be placed out of your comfort zone, resulting in tremendous personal growth. It is truly a unique experience, one that cannot be compared to anything else.

Emily Kearns: #StudyAbroadBecause... you’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of

#StudyAbroadBecause... You’ll surprise yourself each and every day when you realize all that you’re capable of



Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

All photos courtesy and copyright Emily Kearns