CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
MADDY CHOATE: My name is Maddy Choate and I am a senior majoring in Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the Spring of 2017, I studied abroad with CAPA in Florence, Italy! I was born and raised in San Jose, California and can usually be found hanging out with friends, binge watching Netflix, or behind a camera lens. I am very passionate about traveling and people in general!
CW: For students studying abroad with CAPA during upcoming semesters, is there anything you’d advise to pack that you wouldn’t necessarily come to mind? How did you manage the packing process?
MC: Personally, I was very stressed out about the idea of packing my life in a couple of suitcases! To ease the stress of it my packing process consisted of a lot of research. I googled, pinterested lists, wrote things down as I thought about it, and asked people that had already been abroad. A few of the most helpful tips for packing was to bring items you didn’t care about tossing at the end. This leaves more room in your suitcase to bring back gifts and souvenirs and you don’t feel bad about leaving things behind. For clothes, bring basics and layers. I recommend buying toiletries when you get there – don’t waste space or weight in your bag. Medicine – pack to prevent not just cure! Pack practical.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as “Your City” – the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
MC: The places that I carved out as “my city” in Florence were places that became sentimental and special to me throughout the program. The restaurant Corte Dei Pazzi was one of these because it was our first night of the program and where my strongest friendships formed. San Miniato al Monte was another because it sits above Piazzale Michelangelo and was the first church I visited in Florence, where I did some free assignments, and watched numerous sunsets. There are a bunch of places but what was so special about them were the moments that I shared with the people that I met through CAPA.
CW: Did you find that there was a sense of community at CAPA? Was it easy to make friends on your program? Tell us about some of the relationships you built while in Italy that you won’t soon forget.
MC: From the first moment, CAPA was extremely welcoming. The staff is always more than happy to help with whatever you need – from a broken heater to the best place to get gelato. I knew when applying to my program that I wanted a program with few CU kids – well that wasn’t the case and it was the best thing that happened. Eight of nine of my best friends from Florence attend my school and we all get to go home together after sharing the life-changing experience of study abroad. There is something special that transpires in friendships when you go abroad together my friends will be my friends for life and I have no doubt prospective students will feel the same way!
CW: Did you travel outside of Florence? What are the challenges you faced and advice you can offer other students?
MC: I did travel outside of Florence. Including Italy I traveled to 13 countries during my time abroad. My advice to other students is to accept that you are not going to make it everywhere on your list, avoid planning trips before going, and do your research on cities before! Relax and enjoy traveling but use your time wisely! Of course, document what you can with pictures or journaling – you’ll be happy you did when you’re back!
CW: In what ways are you balancing the academic side of studying abroad versus exploring your host city and wanting to make opportunities to travel? Do you have any time management tips to share?
MC: The CAPA professors were really wonderful about knowing how to incorporate class and assignments into exploring the city. Many of my assignments forced me to go places I maybe wouldn’t have gone otherwise. My Creative Travel Writing course assignments were based off of my adventures. Just prioritize, it’s the time of your life but don’t forget you’re there for school.
CW: What was the food like in Florence? Did you find any favorite dishes or restaurants? Did you try anything new or unusual that you’ve never had before?
MC: My list of restaurants could go on for miles! Restaurants I personally loved were Za-Za’s, Dante’s, Santo Spirito, Corte Dei Pazzi, Mercato Centrale, and kebabs will end up being your new favorite fast food. Fiorentina Steaks and truffle were some of my favorite dishes. In other countries my friends and I did our best to eat traditionally, so I tried escargot, duck, goulash, and more. The food is amazing everywhere you go so enjoy it while you can!
CW: Reflect on keeping in touch with friends and family back home. How did you keep in touch? How often? How did it make you feel after you spoke to them? What recommendations do you have for other students on this topic?
MC: I am very close to my friends and family who were mostly 7-9 hours behind me so it was a little difficult to keep in touch but apps like WhatsApp made it easy. I installed the app and set it up before I went abroad so it was already connected to my US number and installed an Italian SIM in my phone upon arrival. I tried to send pictures or notes throughout the day so they would wake up to everything I had done which was always fun for them. Be sure to ask what is going on at home and how everyone is doing- it is easy to get consumed with your life overseas but social media has made it so easy to check in with people. Utilize it when you have spare moments!
CW: Have you or do you think you will experience any sort of reverse culture shock? Have you found it easy to talk about your experience abroad with friends and family? What advice would you offer other students on returning home?
MC: In complete honesty, I did experience some reverse culture shock. Although I was with American friends in Florence, I thoroughly missed 3 hour dinners, the hustle and bustle of the city, and new experiences all the time. I knew that I would be sad returning home, but if you prepare for it you can handle it. Reach out to your abroad friends because they are going through the same emotions. Start to appreciate the little things about being home and try to find new restaurants or smaller scale adventures to feed that travel urge.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Are they positive or negative? Why do you think these changes have occurred?
MC: I think some of the positive changes that I have seen in myself since I began my study abroad program is a stronger sense of independence, increase in confidence, and an appreciation for other cultures. Any time that I feel nervous about an interview, or being somewhere alone, I have the fact that I interfaced with people who spoke other languages and navigated metropolitan cities in other countries in my back pocket.
Studying abroad has instilled a sense of adventure and appreciation for the world that I didn’t have before. I don’t believe that anything negative came of study abroad and I recommend studying abroad to everyone that I can as it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!