April 29, 2019

Scholar Voices: My Semester in Florence, Italy

Within two and a half weeks, I realized the significance and impact of friendship on the other side of the globe. I have had friends back home for years, many of whom I met during my first two years at Stony Brook University in New York. However, the ones I met throughout my study abroad experience in Florence, Italy were memorable. These friends were significant because through them and my short time abroad, I came to realize something about myself and learned exactly how I was meant to live my life.

Study abroad means different things for every person – whether it’s learning independence, discovering yourself or realizing your passions, so much can be gained when you place yourself in a new environment. For me, studying abroad in Florence opened my eyes to the significance of the relationships we create every day.

I was initially reluctant to the idea of only doing a two-week program, but due to my Pre-Med, four-year plan, it was the only time I could. So, I either had to take it or leave it. I decided to take the leap because I wanted to try something new. I consulted my mentors, friends and even family about the possibility, and they all told me the same thing; if they were given the chance, they would’ve taken it in a heartbeat. So, I did. I did not know what to expect, what I would learn, what I would experience, but I knew I did not want to look back and have regret.

Lissette and her peers visited the Colosseum while studying abroad in Rome, Italy.

Interestingly, when I decided to study abroad, I did not have a country in mind. I had heard so much about the beautiful art and history of Italy, but I selected the country at random. The day I walked into the Study Abroad Office on campus I told myself that the first country I saw I would choose. Fifteen minutes later I found myself looking at a pamphlet for the Florence University of the Arts. In fact, I did not start looking at different monuments and cities I needed to go see until I was waiting at my gate at the airport.

Prior to my flight to Italy, I grew more anxious about studying abroad. Was the financial risk worth it? Would I get along with my roommates? Or would I spend my time Italy completely alone in a new country?

Lissette grew close relationships with her roommates while in Florence.

To my surprise, all my fears and concerns were immediately put at ease when I arrived. I met a second family who changed me in many ways. The girls I shared a dorm with became my sisters. We did everything from walking to class together and meeting up for crepes and cappuccinos to staying up until 3 a.m. talking about life over cheese and chips.

Lissette took a moment to capture a photo with the Learning Tower of Pisa.

Maybe it was the time I spent talking with my new girlfriends, the time I spent fascinated by Italy’s unique culture or indulging in everything with a big yes, but somewhere along the way, I felt the real purpose of happiness. This genuine feeling of happiness did not rely on all the Instagram stories I made or the endless pictures I took, but it had everything to do with living in the present.

Lissette and her newfound friends spent time together at the Ponte Vecchio.

I would explore new cafés throughout Florence, living my wildest cappuccino dreams. From coffee drinks in front of the Duomo, before my class or evening strolls in 20-degree weather, I loved every second of it. On the days prior to coming home I reflected on my time in Florence and realized that I had to return home and make the change I wanted. The idea of ‘treating’ myself or living in the present did not exist before visiting Italy, but I had to engrain that sentiment in my daily life on campus at Stony Brook.


And so, I did the biggest “treat myself” I could when I got home. I changed my major and track at Stony Brook, and I decided that from that moment onward I would do what I wanted to do. It was a big decision, but I have no regrets about switching my major from biology on a pre-med track to sociology with a biology minor on a nursing track.

Prior to my time abroad, I had turned away from my family and friends so many times because of a self-inflicted pressure to excel in other things. Now it was time to focus on myself and them. Italy showed me what it’s like to prioritize friends and experiences and find inner balance. I knew I needed more of that in my life.

To some, this might seem obvious, but to me, it was life-changing. My time abroad transformed me from a girl who was constantly anxious about excelling at school and work at the detriment of my family and friends to a girl who was still driven and focused but committed to taking life one day at a time.

Redefining what it means to be a champion.