Without a doubt the number one regret of all past study abroad students I have spoken with was their own failure to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the country they chose to study in. Many of them didn’t even notice until the very end how much they had actually wasted their opportunity. I knew that I wanted to do Italy a little bit differently. I decided to get out from under the blanket of the study abroad program and meet some locals, immerse in the culture, and learn the language. I have been able to do all of the above through a language exchange. The way this works is you as a native English speaker meet and hang out with a native of another language, in this case, of course, Italian. The two of you go out for coffee or whatever else and get to know each other. Through this system you not only get to meet people but also take away the anxiety and pressure of learning a new language because the whole time you’re simply getting to know them. The connections I have made so far have been amazing. I can already consider a couple of them friends, which makes this experience for me one hundred times richer. I know now that at the end of this semester I’m not just walking away with a great time but fully knowing another language and having friends I am sure to come back to and visit. It has been said, “Have friends, will travel,” and truer words have never been spoken. If you are interested in doing something like this I encourage you to visit Language Exchange-Florence on Facebook. I know that there are plenty of other opportunities but I can personally vouch for this one. And of course, it goes without saying to always meet your language exchange buddy in a public place and never at night. Generally I meet anyone new in Piazza della Repubblica no later than 5pm. Try not to end this semester having any regrets. If you have any desire to step out and do something new then definitely give language exchange a try … Who knows what or whom you might discover.
Yaquelin Shephard, UCONN