Any time students come back to Spokane after a break, it seems they carry with them a longing for home no matter how relieved they are to be back. But for those returning from studying abroad, the dynamic is a bit different.

Returning to Spokane from Florence feels, at times, like waking up from a dream. It’s been two months now and I still miss walking past the Duomo on the way to school every day. I miss the great Italian food, the cathedrals, the art, the wonderful Italian people — all of it.

Many people who study in Florence refer to it as the best semester of their lives. I’m inclined to agree with them. It’s a rare privilege — you get to live in a place some people don’t get to see their whole lives and travel wherever your heart desires on the weekends, with few commitments and less “study” than “abroad.” You spend four months focused on experiencing as much as possible. A return to normal schoolwork can feel mundane in comparison. It’s easy to miss it, and long to be back in a place you’d just begun to really know. 

But being back on campus also feels more complete after you’ve been gone for a long time. You’re older and wiser, but with that same desire to experience as much as possible, to live for fulfillment. You see friends you’ve missed dearly and the campus you’ve known for years, and you get to be around the people you’ve met abroad in a completely different setting. Suddenly, Spokane isn’t that bad, and you’re reminded that home is whatever you make it.

Studying abroad has become part of the Gonzaga culture in a way unlike most other colleges. Only 2 percent of undergrad students at U.S. colleges study abroad. But at GU, that number nears 50 percent. It’s not a stretch to see a correlation between that statistic and what it means to be a Zag. 

Every semester, a group of students leaves to go abroad and another group returns; be it to and from Florence, Madrid, Valparaíso or numerous other places. And every time a class returns, they bring back with them something new, a sense of change and a passion for life that’s tangible. Being abroad is an experience in how amazing the world is, and what it’s like to understand and love people who live in a way completely different than you’re used to. When you’ve experienced that, you carry it with you no matter where you go. I believe that passion manifests itself on this campus every day through people like that.

When people ask me, there’s no single part of my semester abroad that I can pick out and say that I miss the most. But I tell them yes — that they should do it, go for it, it’s worth it, that they’ll have the time of their life. I urge them not to take it for granted, as I worry I did sometimes. I could say a million great things about it; that’s what everyone who went before me did for me. But I know that anything I could tell them would still leave them woefully unprepared for those four months.

I am of the opinion that the best things in life are those that you have to experience to fully understand. I still don’t think I can completely articulate how much Florence changed me, what in-consummate part of my heart still misses that time in my life. 

Some things are beyond explanation, and others have grown close enough to your heart that you don’t feel the need to explain them.

Connor Gilbert is a contributor. 


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