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Study Abroad: A Cultural Immersion

Have you ever wanted to live in a foreign country for a semester? Study abroad offers that opportunity and more. The Black Sheep took to the streets to find out what Pitt students find so appealing about immersing themselves in another part of the world for a chunk of their time in college.


“Everyone should study abroad,” declares Jake Hawthorne, a rising senior and history major at the University of Pittsburgh. “We sampled so many different cultures. Italian wine, French absinthe, German beer, Scotch whisky. It’s surprising how much diversity is out there.”


Hawthorne spent the recent spring semester in Florence, Italy, learning about Italian culture and seeing the sights of Europe. Immersion and exposure to foreign cultures are two key selling points for study abroad programs, something Hawthorne supports wholeheartedly.


Academic studies are another core aspect of a semester abroad. Students take classes in the native language combined with cultural lessons in order to better acclimate themselves to local customs. “Italy was completely different than America,” Hawthorne says. “The drinking age over there is unenforced. I went over six months before my twenty-first, so it was basically like being overage half a year early.” Students are encouraged to learn about the local culture, but structured classes offer a means to stay grounded.


“My program had really strict rules about classes,” Hawthorne reports. “You could miss like five classes, most other programs you had unlimited skips.” When asked about his schedule, Hawthorne says “It was really rough, I had 8a.m. classes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, so I couldn’t go out until the end of the week. It really put a damper on immersing myself in the culture and traveling.”


The ability to travel to many different countries attracts huge numbers of students to Europe every year. Students commonly visit ten or twelve countries during the semester.


“Amsterdam was probably the best place we went,” says Amy Sharp, a classmate of Jake Hawthorne’s who majors in business. “The canals, the coffee shops, everyone biking around, it was all so unreal but, like, right there in front of you… like you could touch it.”


These trips out of the host country can provide insights into cultures students otherwise would not see.


“We visited a church in Amsterdam,” Jake Hawthorne says, “which I guess was cool. It was right across the street from the Red Light district, so it wasn’t too far out of our way. Plus you can smoke, like, so much weed there. I’m not sure Amy even knew where she was the whole time.”


Amy rattles off a list of local establishments when asked about her favorite landmarks. “Homegrown Fantasy was good if you wanted to just chill. They had a lot of seating. Route 66 was good too. More of a club vibe.”


Amsterdam abounds with numerous attractions and cultural sights to see in the city known as the “Venice of the North.”


“Basically any drug imaginable is legal in Amsterdam,” says Jake Hawthorne. “Everyone knows about the weed, but synthetic cocaine, magic mushrooms, even crazy stuff like DMT — it’s all legal, right there in the storefront. Wish I could tell you more, but that weekend, and pretty much the whole trip, was kind of a blur.”


Study abroad offers students the chance to see the world and experience cultures they might not otherwise see. Amy and Jake both say they would “definitely” do it again and “for sure” recommend the experience to other students. So if you are looking for an adventure, lifelong friends, new cultures, or just a change of pace, study abroad is for you. 

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