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2019 Hawai‘i College Guide

(Sponsored) Your guide to navigating the admissions process, financial aid applications, preparing for college, avoiding the Freshman 15, building a network and more. Plus, get an insider perspective on studying abroad.


(page 15 of 17)

A World Away

I spent four months studying in Italy. Here’s how it broadened my worldview ... and elevated my pizza expectations.

By cassidy keola


Cassidy study abroad

Photo: Courtesy of Cassidy Keola


The timing couldn’t have been more right. I was clicking through random stories on my Instagram explore page when I came across this post: “There comes a moment when you’re 19, thinking about life, when you realize why people tell you, ‘don’t grow up too fast.’ No one can prepare you enough to leave your family, but it’s going to be OK. You have to go on your adventure.”


I read this at LAX while waiting to board my flight to London, then to Florence to start a study abroad program. It was my first time flying internationally by myself. My first time traveling to Europe. My first time having to deal with weather below 60 degrees. As cheesy as I thought this post was, it couldn’t have been more true at the moment.


I spent my whole life on O‘ahu. As much as I love Hawai‘i, I was ready for change. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools Kapālama in 2016, I left home to attend Chapman University in Southern California.   


My first year at Chapman was an exciting one full of firsts—first time using Uber, first time eating Chick-fil-A, first time making friends not from Hawai‘i. But after a year, I found myself craving a new adventure. I applied to study abroad at Richmond University in Florence.




Italy has always been on my travel bucket list. From its rich Catholic history and trendsetting fashion to the breathless Tuscan scenery and delectable cuisine, I knew that Florence was the adventure I desperately wanted. (Plus, what girl didn’t want to ride a red Vespa through the streets of Italy after watching The Lizzie McGuire Movie?) Richmond was a perfect choice for me academically as well—classes in digital photography and journalism tied into my major requirements. I also decided to participate in service-learning so that I could spend time getting to know people living in the community. After applying for a visa, getting all of my classes approved, finishing weekly assignments and other homework from Chapman’s global education center, I left California to spend four months in Florence. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.


As a communication major, I’ve spent hours in the classroom reading about social interactions among cultures, comparing one culture’s communication style to another and much more. However, I am a firm believer that the best way to learn something new is to experience it for yourself. While my friends at Chapman buried their noses in a book about the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, I admired its stunning architecture every day on my walk to class. Rather than just sitting at a desk writing sentences, I practiced my Italian ordering risotto from Il Teatro restaurant.


Living in Italy also brought the unexpected. I remember the first time my roommates and I made the 1.5-mile walk to Esselunga supermarket. Never did I think that I would have to Google translate simple words such as shampoo or apples. I lived without a dryer, microwave or flat iron for my hair. The trash had to be separated into organic waste, residual waste, glass and multimaterial before being hauled to the nearest disposal unit five minutes away. Even Netflix was different.


It was about two months into the semester when I realized how exhausting this new lifestyle was. Living in Italy, I felt that I owed it to myself to always be on a great adventure. I felt guilty when I wanted to lie in my little dusty apartment rather than trek through Rome or skydive above the Swiss Alps. But then a friend gave me a piece of advice: Studying abroad is not a vacation. I would be living here for four months, not four days. I reminded myself that it’s OK to want to rest on weekends, to crave katsu curry over pasta and to miss the aloha spirit.


Study abroad


I would be lying if I said I didn’t complain, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I now know that I have no sense of direction without Google Maps, but that I can still spend a whole day in an unfamiliar city and be OK. I learned that I’m a person who can easily let go of things that are out of my control.


I taught Italian teachers and students about Spam musubi and how to throw a shaka. I ate heaps of gelato and the best truffle penne pasta I will ever have. I learned a new language (kind of), adapted to a different lifestyle (I walked everywhere) and traveled across Europe with new friends I know I’ll keep for life.


I also realized that I couldn’t escape the responsibilities of being a college student. Despite living in another country, I continued to plan my meals for the week. I learned to keep an even closer eye on my budget, always converting the cost from euros to U.S. dollars on my phone. The adventure made it worth it.


Studying abroad was like diving into the ocean after a long week of work. The experience widened and refreshed my outlook on the world and life. It taught me to stop running through the motions, to learn from each experience and treat it as if it were my last. I’m sure returning to Chapman after being away for eight months will be an adjustment, but I wouldn’t change anything about my experience (yes, even the millions of carbs). Instilled with a newfound desire to travel, my friends and I are already planning a study abroad reunion trip in New York.


After returning home for the summer, I’m ready for my next adventure, but I can’t help but feel grateful–grateful for the chance to travel, grateful for parents who understand the importance of a good education and grateful to forever call Hawai‘i ku‘u home kulāiwi (my native home).


How to Start Your Journey Abroad

  1. Research a program that fits you. Does the institution abroad teach classes in English? Do the offered courses meet your interests? Does the program include a meal plan? What about homestay?

  2. Choose a location. There are so many choices when it comes to picking a destination, whether it be a small town in northern Italy or a major city in South Korea. Some factors you may want to think about before choosing include the difference in language, currency exchange and the weather when you’re there. Many students choose to go abroad in Europe because of the simplicity of travel between countries. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s a place you can imagine yourself living in.

  3. Talk with a study abroad adviser. Some colleges have an office where prospective students can learn more about what it takes to study abroad. The advisers there can offer guidance when it comes to applying for a visa, getting classes approved for credit, etc.

  4. Start saving. There are a ton of scholarships specific to study abroad, and some universities may allow you to apply your federal financial aid. You’ll also need funds during your time abroad for food, traveling, souvenirs, etc. Setting a monthly budget before going will help you limit your spending as well.


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