Guest post by Shawntel Bali, a Foster senior majoring in marketing and information systems. She studied abroad on the Foster Rome Program in 2016. Shawntel received a GBC Study Abroad Scholarship.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be selected for Foster’s 2016 Business Italy Program. This was my first time travelling to Europe. It was also my first time flying alone. At the time, the idea of travelling solo left me trembling in both excitement and fear.
When the plane touched down at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport, I (internally) screamed with joy, ready to explore this beautiful country. But as a novice international traveler, completely new to the European continent, and having no background in the Italian language, I slowly began to worry. What if someone tries to speak to me in Italian? How am I supposed to respond? I’ll probably get lost. What if I don’t get to the UW Rome Center? Oh no… How will I even get there?!
It’s a 30-minute taxi ride from the airport to the UW Rome Center, and a taxi was my only reasonable option in getting there. Leading up to the trip, I listened to story after story of taxi drivers scamming and taking advantage of travelers. So, in a relative state of culture shock, I was (unreasonably) terrified to take that taxi ride on my own.
I stared at the taxi line for 20 minutes. I circled around it. I even called my friend on the airport Wi-Fi to stall for another 10 minutes. In that moment, I was surprised to find myself overwhelmed and afraid—afraid to be the naïve American, afraid to make a complete fool of myself, afraid to take that first step into a world totally unknown to me.
After half an hour, and a couple pep talks later, I finally found myself on the Roman roads with a taxi driver named Fabio. Fabio was kind. Fabio told me about his simple life and loving family. Fabio was not a scammer. Fabio was not out to kill me. I arrived at the Rome Center safe and sound, having made my first friend in Italy.
The moments after that: pure bliss. Joining my cohort of students and staff relieved any worries and opened my eyes to see Italy in all its glory. The ancient cobblestone streets, the maze of alleyways and outdoor restaurants, the walk across the river to the Rome Center every day—it all felt like a dream. Even the blazing summer heat couldn’t bring me down! Besides, it was nothing a quick scoop of gelato couldn’t fix.
Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the program were the various company visits to Umbra Cuscinetti, Certified Origins, and AS Roma! We enjoyed meeting passionate business professionals who taught us how each company operates within their specific industry.
Overall, the program’s structure and supportive peers challenged me to find comfort in the uncomfortable. It even equipped me with the tools and courage for a 2-week solo trip after the program finished! From Italy, to France, to England, travelling Europe alone boosted my confidence and showed me that the world has an abundance of lessons to teach me.
Biggest takeaway from my first trip abroad: no matter how long or scary the ride is, or how inept you may be at using public transportation, just jump right in and go. You may only be one taxi away from an experience of a lifetime.