Greenlee students studying abroad in Italy went on a class trip to Florence with their professors on Feb. 16, 2018. The Florence Cathedral, formally known as the Santa Maria del Fiore, was the first place they visited. Here, Grace Ekema stands outside the church’s dome where there
Greenlee students studying abroad in Italy went on a class trip to Florence with their professors on Feb. 16, 2018. The Florence Cathedral, formally known as the Santa Maria del Fiore, was the first place they visited. Here, Grace Ekema stands outside the church’s dome where there's a beautiful view of the city. Photo by Krishaun Burns

What it’s really like to study abroad your freshman year

By Grace Ekema, senior in public relations

A typical college freshman or first-year student takes general courses, lives in the dorms and maybe knows what major they want to pursue. Most of these students live this lifestyle their first full year and then do more exciting things in their later years.

In my case, I chose to spend my second semester in college studying abroad in Urbino, Italy. This has allowed me to experience my first year of college in a different way.

As a 19-year-old, I assumed my classmates would consider me to be pretty young. I figured everyone else could be a couple years older than me. I was surprised to find out some of my classmates were also 19. Still, occasionally, someone would say something to me along the lines of “You’re so young” or “I can’t believe you were in high school last year.” I was not bothered by these comments, but they did remind me my choice to go as a freshmen may seem unconventional to some.

six students eat around a table at night
Greenlee students, including Grace Ekema, enjoy their supper at Sugar Café in Urbino. Giovanni Garbugli, the owner of the café, made students a home-cooked meal, and the students are seen enjoying the dessert portion. Photo by Krishaun Burns

Students have a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether to study abroad. I asked several of my Urbino classmates if they thought they could have done this trip their freshman year. They had various reasons why they thought they could not or would not have wanted to do it at that stage.

Gillian Holte, a junior in journalism, said she already was dealing with being farther away from home her freshman year and studying abroad would have made it too far away.

Others said they had already picked the year they wanted to go. Makenna Chapman, a junior in public relations, said, “I always imagined that it is something that comes later.”

I had a similar thought process as well, but I decided to take a chance on Urbino.

Studying abroad brings lots of changes and things to get used to. I had to adjust to a new way of living my first semester in Ames. Adjusting again so quickly, but in Urbino, brought its own challenges.

A simple change was the dorm life. Instead of living with a roommate, I had a single dorm room, which allowed me to become more independent. The courses I took were unlike any I had ever taken before. The class field trips were my favorite part about my courses. There is nothing like being able to actually view the places or things you are learning about in person.

The best things I have experienced abroad are things I do not experience in the classroom necessarily. We are pretty unscheduled on the weekends and are encouraged to travel, which is not always feasible back in the states. Without this, I would not have had the chance to visit places like Venice or Milan.

I also experienced a different type of nightlife in Urbino because I was old enough to participate in a safe way. Meeting up with friends to play a game of foosball or dancing at a pub are some of my favorite memories. Whether I was spending time with classmates from Iowa State or meeting new people from around the world, I was always bound to have a fun night.

After spending a semester in Urbino, it is going to be very hard to adjust to being a student at Iowa State in the fall. I feel fortunate for everything I have learned in just one semester.

Yes, I studied abroad as a younger student, but it was OK. You may find it may be too hard to go your first year in college and that is OK, too. Regardless of your age, status in college or where you are as a person, studying abroad in college will create long-lasting memories.



Grace Ekema is a senior at Iowa State University. She is majoring in public relations.

This post is one in a series of blog posts written by Iowa State University students who studied abroad in Urbino, Italy, in spring 2018 with Deni Chamberlin, Greenlee School associate professor. The program focuses on mobile image making, Italian language, Renaissance art history and literature and the history of food and culture. The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication will offer the program in collaboration with LAS Study Abroad in spring 2020.