I knew I had to do it, though my family and friends thought that I had lost my mind. Why would I want to leave my school of seven years — my senior year of high school no less — to go to Italy? I wasn’t sure myself, but the culture, language, and sense of adventure had captivated me. I loved my life, but I was craving something more. I wanted to be challenged in ways other than mass-memorization for my next exam. I wanted to meet new people, a luxury only offered to me in the summer because my school was quite small. I wanted to learn the language of a nation whose history fascinated me.
So I applied to School Year Abroad, a yearlong program whose Italian branch specialized in the Classics. I was utterly besotted; I could take classes that actually interested me, including art history, Latin, and Italian, while living with an Italian family in a charming Etruscan town called Viterbo.
After the customary nervous waiting period, when one rushes to the mailbox everyday and tosses aside anything with an undesired return address with disgust, I got the fateful acceptance letter. In the hiatus between applying and receiving the letter, I had somehow won my parents’ approval, and theirs was the only one that really mattered to me. We subsequently informed my college-preparatory school that I would be spending the year abroad, expecting them to applaud my courageous decision and send me off, but we received quite a different reaction. Despite the emphasis my school placed on multiculturalism and the numerous exchange students it hosts yearly, studying abroad during the senior year is strictly forbidden, as is studying abroad for more than a semester at any other time.
They informed me that if I chose to go, I would not graduate and would have to secure other arrangements on my own. Needless to say, this was quite a blow. Would I follow the standard course and stay in Minnesota for another year, or would I leap on this risky but exciting opportunity?
I chose to take the risk. How could I not, after being presented such an amazing opportunity? Come late August, I found myself on a plane to Rome, and many hours later, in a foreign but friendly land.
It didn’t quite seem real at the beginning. I’ve done home-stays before — you suck it up and adapt, but know that at the end of several weeks there will be Chinese food and 3 episodes of your favorite show waiting on the TiVo. Did I really know what I was getting myself into?
At that thought, I mentally gave myself a slap on the face for being so philosophical and doubting. I’d never been more sure of any decision I’d made in my life.
Author’s note: I wrote the post above during the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.