Guest Post by: Lena Peterson, a junior studying Business Administration at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. Lena went on the Foster Rome Program this summer and was a recipient of GBC Study Abroad Scholarship.
This past July and August, I was fortunate to be part of the Foster School’s study abroad program in Rome. From the first week, we fell into a clear routine. We spent Monday through Thursdays in Rome for classes, company visits and local exploration and our weekends were spent exploring the varied regions and attractions of Italy. It was during the third weekend of our program that I traveled with a group of twelve friends to Florence. After two weekends of previous travel experience, we were feeling comfortable with our routine of planning our weekend trips Thursday night, then hopping the train to our chosen destination early Friday morning. Following that pattern, we arrived in Florence around ten in the morning and spent the day exploring the city, and visiting the nearby city of Pisa. We returned from Pisa that evening and went to check into the Airbnb we had booked the night before. Upon arrival, we found a locked apartment with no sign of the owner who was supposed to let us in. After somewhat frantically trying to contact the Airbnb host for the better part of an hour, we finally managed to reach her. In a conversation made up of broken English and our very limited Italian, we discovered that we had accidentally booked the Airbnb for the wrong nights. In the moment, it felt like a disaster. There was no possible way we could find affordable accommodations for twelve people on a Friday evening, in an unfamiliar city, in the peak of tourist season, when we spoke little to no Italian. But something had to be done. We didn’t panic and some relatively quick research gave us some options. In less than fifteen minutes we found a hotel that could accommodate all of us in the heart of the city. Despite the unexpected obstacle of finding last minute accommodations for our large group, Florence turned out to be one of my favorite weekends.
My biggest takeaway from this experience, and the program as a whole, is that I want to spend more of my life pursuing new and different experiences. When I am in Seattle, I feel as though I can get stuck in my comfort zone. I notice opportunities that interest me, but I don’t always go after them because they require that I take a chance and make myself vulnerable. During my six weeks abroad, I realized that if I am able to plan multiple excursions across a country where I have a significant language barrier, and embark on the trip mere hours after planning it, then there is no reason that I can’t make the most of opportunities I receive in Washington, where I’ve lived my entire life.
My second takeaway is that when I enter the business world and begin working for a company, I want to work for a company that has strong, well defined values. One of my favorite parts of the academic program was the company visits. All the organizations that we visited were extremely value driven. The UNFAO shared with us their sustainable development goals; we learned about the values and culture behind family run organizations at Tabarrini Winery; and Certified Origins taught us the importance of quality and traceability. Because these organizations have such a strong grasp on what they are trying to do as companies, they are all the more successful at achieving their goals while maintaining a positive working environment for employees and a compelling rapport with customers.
My last takeaway from my program was that the people you surround yourself with have a huge amount of control over the type of experience you will have while abroad. On my program, I met more than a dozen people who significantly contributed to shaping my time abroad. The people I went on this amazing trip with made it even more incredible than I could have imagined. Sometimes it felt like we could not possibly squeeze one more activity or excursion into our hectic schedule. These people helped push me to maximize my time abroad and take advantage of the opportunities to the fullest. They were also there to talk about what we were experiencing and how it relates to our lives and studies back in Seattle. In so many ways, the people I was with really made the trip memorable and an experience I won’t forget for all the right reasons.