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Student Participant Reports

Study Abroad in Florence and Prague

I planned my year abroad with two goals: having a semester of fun in the fall and a semester attaining language fluency in Italian in the spring.

My semester of fun, I had decided, should be in a relatively large city (Prague, as it turned out), and my semester of Italian should be in a smaller city with more of a chance to get to know the locals (Florence). In retrospect, I should have done more research into the nature of the two cities and their citizens. I did have a lot of fun in Prague and I did learn Italian in Florence, but I wasn't quite prepared for the somewhat reserved nature of the Czechs and the aloof nature of the Florentines. It was more difficult to make friends than I had expected.

I also enrolled in two very different kinds of study abroad programs: my fall semester in Prague was through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), an independent organization, and my spring semester in Florence was through James Madison Univ.

In Prague, students from several different programs lived in a student dorm at Charles Univ. for foreign students only. Our weekends, with the exceptions of two prepaid group trips, were completely free, allowing for a lot of independent travel. The extent of our cultural immersion was up to us.

In Florence, most weekends involved required group excursions. Because the program was organized by a state university, most of the participants came from the state of Virginia. I hadn't considered that the program itself would determine the place of origin of its student participants. We also had homestays, which are essential for the development of language facility.

My two different goals were served quite well by the two programs I had chosen. This may well have been luck! There is nothing more important than lots of research! Cultural histories, guidebooks, and even listings of programs, such as the online version of IIEPASSPORT'S Academic Year Abroad, are necessary tools.

Being able to successfully live and study abroad requires more confidence than anything else. You are the visitor. You are the foreigner. Your program might act as your base, but is your own courage and confidence to accept and deal with the unknown and unexpected that will keep you there.