By Meredith Pratt | Reporter
Studying abroad was something I always knew I wanted to do at some point in college. Before coming to Baylor, I scheduled a meeting with the study abroad coordinator so I could see the different options that would be available to me. I discovered that the university offered hundreds of programs, 40 of which were led by Baylor faculty.
The summer after my freshman year I got on a plane to Florence, Italy for the Baylor in Tuscany program. I had two semesters of Italian under my belt and was about to complete two more in the one month I would be living there.
Baylor in Tuscany is one of only five Baylor study abroad trips that allows students to live with a host family. Students are paired with another Baylor student on the trip and are then matched with a compatible family. I remember being both nervous and excited to live with an Italian host family. Little did I know that it would be the highlight of my entire trip.
The host family I lived with consisted of a working couple in their 40’s and their dog. They also had a student from Brazil renting one of their rooms while she interned at a nearby hotel. They were so welcoming and had even installed air conditioning for us since they knew Americans were used to having it. Our host dad did not speak any English, but our host mom was nearly fluent. She was so helpful as we adjusted to speaking Italian more routinely.
I also became fast friends with our Brazilian housemate. She was like an older sister to me. We would often go shopping at the mall, grab some gelato and walk around the park, or meet for lunch on our lunch break.
Our mornings consisted of a warm breakfast spread served with the best coffee, all prepared by our host mom. We would watch the morning news with her and discuss our agenda for the day before rushing out the door to make our bus.
At night we would return to enticing scent of our host dad cooking some sort of Florentine specialty that we would all enjoy around the table. You may have heard that Italian meals are typically several courses and span several hours, and that is completely true. These conversations at mealtimes were some of the most special moments for me.
Near the end of our time in Florence, our host family took us on a road trip. We sang along to the hits on Italian radio and laughed at all the memories we had made together. That day they bought us each our very own espresso maker and at the end of the night they treated us to a Florentine steak.
The next morning, we went out for breakfast before our host parents had to drop us off at the train station. They were unusually quiet, and I could tell they were upset about our impending departure. Our host dad, a jewelry craftsman, gave us each our own bracelet to remember them by. They stayed with us until the very last minute and when it was time to leave, we all cried and hugged each other.
My host family’s kindness is something I will never forget, and my experience in Italy would have been completely surface level had I not lived with them. If I had stayed in a dorm with other American students I would not have felt as immersed into the Italian culture. They gave me priceless advice on the city they were familiar with, reinforced my Italian language capabilities and provided comfort by being the people I could come home to at the end of the day.
I still keep up with my host family and housemate on Instagram. They always tell me that if I ever return to Florence, I am welcome in their home.
If you are planning on studying abroad, consider living with a host family. Not only will it transform your experience, but it will also give you a home abroad you can always come back to.