Studying Abroad in Italy: Dublin High School Alum Rebecca Bomfim’s Florence Adventure
We first wrote about Dublin High School Class of 2012 alum and Cal Lutheran University student Rebecca Bomfim last year (read more…), as part of OneDublin.org’s popular Life in College series. Fast forwards to 2014 and Rebecca has completed a semester abroad in Florence, Italy where she attended Richmond University as part of Cal Lutheran’s Study Abroad Program. For college students and their parents with questions about studying abroad, read on.
OneDublin.org: Before talking about your time in Florence, what was your motivation to incorporate a semester abroad into your college experience?
Rebecca Bomfim: “Studying abroad is really common at Cal Lutheran, a lot of students do it, and I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the same opportunity after graduation, there are so many ‘what if’s’, so I decided to travel while I was still in school.”
OneDublin.org: How did Cal Lutheran make it easier to arrange a semester abroad?
Bomfim: “Cal Lutheran has a Study Abroad Center staffed with advisors who go over all aspects of the process. If you’re not sure where you want to go they provide booklets and talk about different programs. Every advisor in the Study Abroad center has had direct experience with the program. You apply through Cal Lutheran first, and then you apply to individual programs. The advisors help you with every step along the way.”
OneDublin.org: With the many options available how did you settle on Florence?
Bomfim: “Italy was my first choice from the beginning, I just wasn’t sure where in Italy at first. As I started researching further options specific to my major it came down to Rome or Florence. I wasn’t interested in Rome because I’d heard it’s a big, busy city, whereas I heard amazing things about Florence, that it was a much smaller city with a great culture.”
OneDublin.org: Are you able to stay on track to graduate in four years even with a semester abroad?
Bomfim: “Whether or not you can stay on track to graduate in four years depends on your major. I’m a Communications major and have space to take electives and other classes. Studying abroad can be difficult for other majors so it’s important to understand the requirements, for example knowing if classes taken abroad can be transferred. For me it worked out – I took four classes abroad with three of the credits transferring and the fourth satisfying an elective requirement. I’m still on track to graduate in four years.”
OneDublin.org: Did you have to go through a selective application process for the school in Florence?
Bomfim: “Once you choose a program and school you want to attend you do have to apply. The requirements weren’t too onerous in my case, but there is still an application process that may include an essay as well as your transcript.”
OneDublin.org: Did you have to worry about housing or was that handled by the Study Abroad program?
Bomfim: “It was all handled by the university. In my case I had the option of staying in an apartment or homestay. I chose an apartment where I lived with nine other girls who were students in my program.”
OneDublin.org: Did the story of Amanda Knox cross your mind when considering Italy?
Bomfim: “While it crossed my mind, and my parents minds, in the end I felt it was a very unusual situation that could happen anywhere. While I thought about it for a second, it didn’t influence my decision.”
OneDublin.org: Had you been to Italy before your semester abroad?
Bomfim: “I’ve been to Europe, but never to Italy. I intentionally didn’t visit Italy until my semester abroad because I wanted everything about the experience to be new to me. I wanted to have the feeling of getting off the plane into a completely new country and culture.”
OneDublin.org: Talk about the feeling of stepping off the plane, that moment where your 3.5 months in a new country begins.
Bomfim: “It didn’t really hit me right away because after arriving we spent a week in orientation in Marina di Pietresanta, a beach town in Italy, with different activities and excursions; we were super busy. It really only hit me when I arrived in Florence and stopped traveling for a bit. It took a while to process everything because the first week was so fast paced.”
OneDublin.org: Did you speak any Italian or take any Italian language classes prior to arriving in Florence?
Bomfim: “While I can speak some Spanish and Portuguese, I didn’t speak any Italian. Having some experience with Latin languages helped, and I did take an Italian class twice a week while abroad. I learned the basics, which helped, but a lot of people speak some English in Florence.
“All of my courses were in English, even my Italian class was a mixture of English and Italian. When you study abroad the universities recognize that the students may not have any fluency in the local language.”
OneDublin.org: What did you learn about Italy that surprised you?
Bomfim: “It wasn’t so much Italy but Europe in general that I found very different. Little things like paying for a bathroom stall or paying for water, and the pace is much slower than in the U.S. – a dinner can take hours – and take out food is much less common. It’s a very different lifestyle.”
OneDublin.org: Did you find the academic experience different from Cal Lutheran?
Bomfim: “The grades for the courses I took in Italy were based on one mid-term, one research paper and one final, whereas at Cal Lutheran there are most tests and quizzes that make up our grade. While the difficulty of the material being taught was similar, the way the grading worked made it harder because doing poorly on a mid-term, for example, could really impact your grade.”
OneDublin.org: Did you have time to explore more of Italy and possibly beyond?
Bomfim: “I had class Monday to Thursday each week and traveled almost every single weekend. I’d leave Thursday night and then come back Sunday night. I’d hop on a bus and go to Rome or Venice, or hop on a plane and go to Barcelona or Paris.
“While I had traveled a bit to Europe, I have family there, I had never traveled on my own. While it was a learning experience, it helped that I was always traveling with other students. It also helped that my parents weren’t always on top of me asking where I was or where I was going. Staying in contact with my parents was hard because we could only talk when I had WiFi coverage, but it was nice to be independent and figure out everything by myself.”
OneDublin.org: How did the financial side work?
Bomfim: “There are a variety of programs. I chose a partner-affiliate program which doesn’t result in a direct transfer from Cal Lutheran, but ended up cheaper because Cal Lutheran is a private school.”
OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for students that are considering a semester abroad?
Bomfim: “If you are considering a semester abroad just do it because, depending on your major, you don’t lose anything going abroad, and you gain so much. You learn about yourself and other cultures. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It’s one thing to visit a foreign country and another thing entirely to live in the culture for months.
“You do have to have an open mind if you are going to study abroad. Other cultures are very different from what we experience in the U.S. You have to embrace the culture, and the culture shock, and love it.”
OneDublin.org: What did you learn about Italian culture that we could benefit from in the U.S.?
Bomfim: “Living in Florence gave me a much better understanding of how Italians live and how they run their lives. One of the things that really stuck out was how much more low key Italian culture is from American culture. An Italian commented to me that Americans are always thinking about what’s next rather than enjoying the moment. I wish we embraced life more, enjoying a long dinner with family and friends, rather than always being on the go and looking into the future. We could benefit from enjoying the moment more.”