There and Back Again
There are many reasons I chose to apply for CIMBA. Among the most prominent reasons was that my brother, Jacob Swanson, participated in the Spring 2014 semester and had come home with nothing but amazing stories and I had seen how much the program allowed him to grow and mature. Even though he and I are completely different people in almost every way, I knew I wanted to see the world and learn the things he had while he was abroad and so I applied for the Summer 2015 program.
After receiving the acceptance email in January, the next four months leading up to my departure date were filled with people offering advice based on personal experiences or posts they had seen on Pinterest or read on Facebook. While most of the information they were streaming to me seemed to be relevant, it wasn’t until after I got home from 6 weeks in Europe that I realized none of it had really applied to me personally. Both a study abroad program and free travel are going to yield different results for each individual, so there is really no way to generalize certain advice on things they “have to do” or “should do” while they’re abroad. But if I had to generalize and summarize it all I would say these 3 things:
- When it comes to academics, manage your time well. Yes, CIMBA is a STUDY abroad program, but studying doesn’t just refer to the classroom. Learn to give enough time to your homework and study sessions, but also leave enough time to explore and experience the wonderful world and culture that surrounds you.
- When it comes to socializing, understand that none of the students really have a grip on what’s going on no matter how confident and capable they seem. If you came into the program not knowing a single soul, don’t be afraid to walk up to a complete stranger and simply say “Hello, my name is ___, where are you travelling this weekend? Can I come with you/would you like to join me where I’m going?” (And don’t be afraid if you have to try this tactic 3 or 4 times before you find someone you are compatible with.) It seems corny, but it’s really just that easy and you’ll end up making some of the best friends you can imagine.
- When it comes to travel weekends or traveling before and after the program, if you don’t get homesick easily or if you do have an insatiable wanderlust in you, I highly recommend traveling as much as you can before, during, and after the program. Plan as much as you can before you even leave home, but also realize that half of what you plan isn’t going to turn out as you expect it to, so leave some room for spontaneity. The best thing you can do is be patient, keep a cool head, say a quick prayer, and then move on if something goes wrong. This applies to cancellations, getting on the wrong train going the wrong way at the wrong time, and getting lost in Germany (or really getting lost anywhere, but I got lost in Munich).
Unexpected Learning Opportunities
When I left home, I knew that I would be experiencing and learning an unprecedented amount of information, I just didn’t know exactly what it all would be. CIMBA taught me a lot about myself as an individual, but also how I work with other people from completely different regions of the United States. When I arrived on campus in Paderno del Grappa, I never imagined I’d be leaving with a greater understanding of how to manage my time, my finances, and most importantly, myself. Learning to balance my time and finances all came down to my priorities (which will be different for each student who attends). I decided early on that my primary focus during the week would be my classes and I wouldn’t allow distractions until I was done with my studying for the day, which hardly ever lasted past 4pm. During the 3-day weekends, however, I was all about traveling and immersing myself in the culture. I learned to manage myself in the sense that I became more aware of my surroundings (whether it was standing in the middle of a crowded street in Berlin or standing alone on a mountain in Italy) and I found out very quickly what I was capable of physically, mentally, and emotionally.
My time in Europe and especially in Italy provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime, which I would not trade for anything in the world.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher