Flying 4,189 miles from my suburban New Jersey hometown, I began my four-week study abroad excursion to Vicenza, Italy. Preparing to embark on this European experience left me facing emotions such as excitement, anticipation and nervousness about staying in a city where both language and cultural differences are foreign to me.
Many students have enjoyed their experiences abroad, and I was looking forward to this new experience. However, I was hesitant about leaving my comfortable Lehigh life behind for an entire semester, so I signed up for the next, best option: a four-week mini course.
I participated in the Lehigh in “The Veneto” study abroad program. This program was comprised of two architecture classes over a four-week period.
While these classes were geared towards architecture majors, there were students who had no prior drawing experience. As an English major in the five-year master’s in education program, I was asked why I was interested in taking an architecture course. My response was to have an opportunity to study abroad and expand my creativity.
The program was taught by Lehigh’s art, architecture and design professor Anthony Viscardi. Our first class studied the architecture of Carlo Scarpa. We used project-based learning where we learned about Scarpa’s most famous architecture in the classroom, and then applied this knowledge when drawing his works.
The second course was developing a drawing journal capturing the Italian public spaces and landscapes in detail. Hours were spent drawing at the main piazzas or sitting at an outdoor café perfecting our journal drawing skills.
We also had Italian classes teaching us how to purchase items at the markets and order food at restaurants, helping to immerse us into the Italian culture.
During the week, we visited a variety of interesting places, such as Venice, Padua, Verona, Bassano del Grappa and Florence. The English major in me loved traveling to Verona to see the famous balcony where Romeo declared his love for Juliet. Exploring Venice was also an intriguing city because of its serpentine waterways and its infamous Gondola rides.
I also had the opportunity to explore Barcelona during our independent study weekend. This was one of my favorite moments on the trip, as I traveled with my peers to another country, experiencing another language, Mediterranean foods and Spanish architecture.
In fact, prior to traveling to Europe, I had minimal art skills. However, after taking this course I enhanced my drawing abilities through my daily journal experiences. The daily excursions of investigating Italy’s architecture developed both my artistic and cultural appreciation for Italian cities.
Lehigh in Italy challenged me to go beyond the normal classroom experience and pushed me to draw and appreciate architectural history. Each day was an opportunity to better myself, work harder and persevere to rise above the drawing challenges.
Studying abroad was one of my favorite experiences at Lehigh because I was involved with students outside my core group of friends. I experienced a different culture, and I learned how to appreciate architecture when living through the experience. I am fortunate Lehigh offers summer study abroad programs because it allowed me and over 500 students to have a condensed cultural experience.
My advice to students who choose to study abroad is to explore a different discipline from their major. Finding a way to relate this new course material to your major, brings an entire new meaning to the learning experience. In the end, the lessons learned are worth the struggles of learning something new about both yourself and the culture around you.
If the chance arises to study abroad for four weeks or three months, I challenge you to take advantage of this opportunity. It provides a chance to broaden your horizons, come out of your comfort zone and let the journey of self-exploration make you more interconnected with the world.