Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Seek out the unexpected by studying abroad

A semester of adventures and Galileo’s thumb

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Joe Frank/Collegian Staff

Joe Frank/Collegian Staff

Joe Frank/Collegian Staff

By Joe Frank, Collegian Columnist

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Last semester, I saw Galileo’s thumb.

When I walked into the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy, I expected to see telescopes and maybe some artifacts from Galileo’s life. What I didn’t expect to see was him. After all, the renowned astronomer is buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce (along with Michelangelo and Machiavelli), so I was shocked to find a small glass urn with bones inside of it and a plaque reading, “Index finger and thumb of right hand and a tooth of Galileo.” Apparently, when Galileo’s body was moved to Santa Croce, a few of his appendages were removed. You can add that to the list of surprising things I saw while studying abroad last semester.

There is no better way to spend a semester than to go abroad. Last semester, while living in Florence, I met people from all over the world – from South Dakota to Spain. I explored a 1,000-year-old church and Renaissance palaces. I ate pizza in Naples, the city where pizza was invented.

Yet, it is not always comfortable to go to school in another country. I struggled to adapt to two-and-half-hour-long classes, and I dealt with a severe case of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) with friends and family still at home. With Florence being a touristy city, I found it difficult to find “true” Italian culture. I had to work to make my study abroad experience what I wanted it to be.

But these struggles were rewarding because I was in a new environment – one that challenged me. As sociologist Charles Horton Cooley said, “To get away from one’s working environment is; in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” Despite the challenges I faced, my semester abroad was the most memorable semester of my college career.

About 1,200 of the University of Massachusetts’ over 21,700 undergrads — about 5.5 percent — study abroad every year, and that number is likely to increase in the coming years. Yet, the majority of the University’s undergraduate population neglects the opportunity to mix travel and academics. For some people, study abroad is the best travel experience of their life. So why do people choose Amherst over Amsterdam or Athens?

Well, the perceived cost may scare many people away. An average semester abroad can cost around $18,000, although prices vary depending on the program and city, as well as the amount of travel and sightseeing the student does. Students can sometimes be prohibited from working when studying abroad, which makes it more difficult to pay for the trip. Even so, some study abroad programs are cheaper than a semester at UMass, especially for out-of-state students. Plus, normal financial aid can apply to study abroad, and there are many scholarships and loans that can make paying for the trip easier.

Furthermore, many people may be worried that escaping to another country for a semester will prevent them from taking the classes they need to take. Depending on the study abroad program and the foreign school, necessary classes may be offered abroad and may fulfill academic requirements. On-campus obligations like sports and clubs may dissuade students as well, in which case students can try to plan their study abroad for the off-season or choose to prioritize travelling over clubs.

Not everyone can find the money and time to go abroad. But many of these barriers can be overcome, and anybody who can afford to study abroad should. With my workload reduced and the freedom to travel, I had some of the most fun I’ve had in college while studying overseas. I hope that in the future, much more than 5.5 percent of UMass students go abroad. If you want to know more about a semester or a year abroad, contact the International Programs Office (IPO). If you go abroad, you never know whose thumb (metaphorically speaking) you’ll find.

Joe Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Seek out the unexpected by studying abroad”

  1. Walter Mitchell on September 5th, 2018 10:03 am

    Bravo, Joe! You touch all the bases here. It’s a home run. Thank you for sharing this! Mitch

    [Reply]

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