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How studying abroad in Italy shaped my outlook on life

Updated: Jun 13



There are many ways to do things and the way I was raised to do things in the U.S. is just one of the ways

Olivia's Story


I grew up in the small town of Vashon Island, near Seattle, Washington. Growing up, I traveled with my family many times to places like Oregon and California for vacations. I even had the opportunity to go to Mexico with a friend in high school. However, it wasn’t until I studied abroad in college that travel impacted my perspective on things in a significant way. 


In college, I studied Public Relations through the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Simply put, I loved my college experience. My job where I got known as “salad girl” at the campus cafe, my sorority, my roommate turned best-friend that I found on craigslist, going to shasta lake for spring break (too many times), the list goes on. But there was something unique about my trip to Siena, Italy the summer after my junior year - that pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one-  and, ultimately, earned itself a spot as a top highlight from my college experience. The program, offered through Global Education Oregon (U of O), was focused on wine marketing. 


I wanted to learn more about wine marketing specifically since I dreamt of getting into wine PR post graduation, and because visiting Italy was something I’ve had at the top of my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. Something about the food and wine that was just calling my name. It was the first trip abroad that I went on alone and I had to completely rely on myself. I learned a lot from the experience and it helped to shape my mentality on life to this day.


Overlooking the vineyards in Siena, Italy

What I’ve learned from studying abroad


The biggest thing I gained during from my trip to Siena was a better sense of perspective.I realized there are many ways to do things and the way I was raised to do something in the U.S. is just one of the ways.


I also realized how things in smaller quantity (but higher quality) are usually better. For example, in Italy, I lived in a tiny apartment that would essentially be a small tiny house by U.S. standards, but I loved how perfect it was. It had everything I needed. The coffee was also a good example of this. In Italy, they do tiny espressos, but they are so much better than the grande sized drip coffee you find in most places around the U.S.



My classmates and I. What a great crew!

My toughest moments studying abroad


When I first arrived, I was terrified of leaving my tiny hotel room because I didn’t have phone service and thought I would get lost. I got there before my classmates, so really only had myself to rely on - especially with the language barrier with the gentleman I called “ciao man” at the front desk of the hotel. Although, what was arguably scarier was when I finally left my room after a couple days -  in dire need of pizza and cell service - and befriended the local guy at the phone shop who took me out to show me Siena that night (starting at 10pm or something?). 


It was fun to see the city from a locals perspective, of course, but looking back, I was putting myself in a dangerous situation. In order to ditch the guy (who was getting very Italian on me), I befriended some gals from Croatia we were sitting next to in the Piazza del Campo. What I learned that night is that no matter what language you speak, or what country you are from, a good woman has your back. I’m glad it all worked out in the end.



The view from above Siena

The moment I realized studying abroad was a great choice


When we were about mid-way through the program, I had developed close friends and we were making dinner together. We had great wine, yummy food, good conversation, and a lot of laughter. These group dinners became standard for us throughout the program and it was invigorating to live this way.


There were many moments like this when I was studying abroad. Times where I was able to really live in the moment and learn new things about either the people I was with or the culture I was immersed in.


One of the coolest cultural moments that we were all involved in was the Palio di Siena. An annual medieval-style horse race around the centre square in Siena that brings tens of thousands of people to a cascading roar of emotion. When we were watching the horses, it felt absolutely lawless and a bit scary that the horses could just run on cobblestone just a few feet away from the crowd.


In the middle of the famous Palio di Siena

The most unexpected thing that happened studying abroad


I didn’t think I would be so okay with not working out every day like I do in America. Since I often walked 15-20K steps a day in Italy, I didn’t feel the need to workout the way I do in the United States. Ever since returning, I’ve incorporated long walks into my holistic wellness routine since I learned to enjoy them so much that summer in Siena.


Takeaway tips studying abroad


If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend pursuing it. 


It was not only a highlight from my college years, but also in life. It not only set me up for my career by strengthening my ability to problem solve on my own, but it also gave me the confidence I needed to know I can do anything I set my mind to. If you let it, it can have this effect on you, too.


Overlooking Cinque Terre, a beautiful array of 5 Italian towns

Follow Olivia


Olivia kicked-off her career in Public Relations following graduation from U of O in June, 2017. She started out at Edelman where she supported the Charles Smith wine account, among others. Now, she’s employed at WE Communications where she helps manage communication for Microsoft Teams. She still gets into adventures of her own when she can squeeze it in! Check her out on instagram @olivia_andrus.



People all around the world have had life-changing travel experiences. Whether it's studying abroad, traveling for leisure, working abroad, or living abroad! Check out moretravel stories from other travelers around the world.




Have you studied abroad before? What was your takeaway from the experience? Comment below!


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