Natalia Gomez recently flew back to her hometown of Santa Barbara after spending most of her summer studying abroad at Villa Aurora in Italy. Applying through ACA (Adventist Colleges Abroad), she saw that she didn’t know anyone in the program but decided to take a leap of faith and go on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure before her senior year. By facing her fears, Natalia met amazing people on campus, learned Italian, explored new places, and indulged in delicious food every day. From her “HOT!, inspiring, and yummy” time in Italy, Natalia couldn’t have asked for a better study abroad experience.
How has your time in Italy been?
My time in Italy has been great! I’ve been able to visit and explore a new Italian city every week as well as really familiarize myself with Florence. It’s pretty exciting to be living in Florence and find my favorite spots to study or get gelato. I have definitely indulged and gotten gelato almost every day I’ve been here. School in Italy is not structured the same as back home, and learning a new language comes with its challenges, but it has been a lot of fun learning a new language and immersing yourself in the culture. I’d definitely say that I’ve gotten the most practice with speaking in Italian through talking with salespeople or waiters at restaurants. I didn’t always understand what they were saying at first or even what I was saying, but it made for some funny moments, and after a few weeks, I got the hang of it. I’m definitely not fluent, but I’ve really enjoyed being able to speak with locals in Italian as best as I can.
What inspired you to study in Italy?
I have to be honest, the foodie in me is what really determined me to study in Italy. I love pasta, and I love ice cream, and the thought of having the best of the best in Italy, on a regular basis? Sold! But of course, I also thought it would be really exciting to make new friends from all over the world. I really enjoyed going on an ADRA missions trip a few years back, and I made incredible friendships from that experience, and I was also hoping the same would come out of studying abroad! I actually took a really big leap of faith and decided to go abroad alone, without knowing anyone else in the program. And after my time here, I honestly would recommend going even if you don’t know anyone.
Describe your typical day studying abroad.
My typical day abroad: I wake up around 7 a.m. to get ready for breakfast at 7:30 at the caf or a quick trip to a nearby cafe. Then I go to classes from 8:40-1:15, usually getting some snacks from the vending machines during class breaks. Once I’m out of classes, I run over to the caf for lunch to be in the front of the lunch line because lunch is the best meal of the day on campus! And after lunch, some friends and I take off to our favorite spots to do homework and study. Then we explore Florence or go shopping before dinner. If I don’t eat dinner in town, I go back to campus for dinner, but regardless- I will always go out with friends after dinner for gelato. Then it’s time for an ice-cold shower before bed, it’s so hot in the summer, that’s the only way to fall asleep peacefully. (keep in mind, I was in Italy during Europe’s record-breaking heat wave). I usually fall asleep around midnight.
What have been your favorite things about studying abroad?
Surprisingly meeting new people has been my favorite thing! I’m actually a pretty shy person and studying in Italy without knowing anyone seemed scary at first. However, I’ve met amazing people while being here, from students to teachers and the volunteers who work on campus! I’ve had so much fun going out with everyone here that I’ve actually already made plans to travel and go out with some new friends after returning home!
What will you miss the most about your time abroad?
That’s tough, I miss so much! But I’d have to say exploring Florence in the afternoons after school was the best time. Practicing our Italian, finding new places, trying new foods – just adventuring without a plan was so fun! Some of the funniest memories came from us just taking advantage of our time and exploring. Was there an afternoon where at one point there were dark clouds and lightning off in the distance? Yes. Did we have jackets or umbrellas? Nope. Did we get caught in a rainstorm and end up running in the rain all over the city? Yes, we did, and it was one of the funniest nights ever. Truly just do it all!
Recommend an Italian dish or restaurant.
Medici’s has the best gelato and this has been confirmed by multiple locals! I went here almost every day of the summer- all the flavors are amazing! Although I’d have to say that Stracciatella is my favorite flavor of gelato, and this was the best place to get it. Everywhere else I went did not compare.
What would you say to someone who is interested in ACA?
Just go for it! Don’t let any of your fears or worries stop you from having once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It sounds so cheesy, but when else will you have the opportunity to be 18-22 ish running around a foreign city with friends, trying new foods, seeing beautiful landscapes, and learning about another culture? It’s probably one of the last times you’ll have a summer camp type of experience before you graduate and start working.