Christina McNeill is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Rome and Greece
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
While in Greece, we had the opportunity to spend the day at an olive grove and harvest olives to make olive oil. This is one of my favorite memories from the semester because it is something that I would never be able to do in the United States. We drove out to the farm from the center of Athens and spent hours in the morning picking olives off of the trees. Then we had a delicious, home-made Greek lunch and learned about the process of making olive oil. Each of us then got our own bottle of olive oil made from the olives at that specific, family-owned grove, and take it home to our families. So many people think of olive oil when they think of Greece, so the fact that I had the opportunity to actually harvests olives is such a cultural experience that is very unique to Greece.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I wanted to study abroad to travel to different countries and learn how to live in a different culture than my own. It was important to me to take advantage of the great experience that CSB/SJU has to offer, because I had no clue when I would get the chance to travel like I did again. I chose the Roman-Greco program for a couple reasons. One was because I am Italian and wanted to learn more about my Italian heritage. What better way to do that than to live in Italy? Another reason why I chose this program is because it gave me the opportunity to experience not one, but two different cultures. Greece always seemed like an amazing place to go to, but I never thought that I would go their to live for an extended period of time. When I found out about the Roman-Greco program, it seemed like the perfect combination of countries to go to.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
The best way that I would describe this experience is as the opportunity to build homes in two very different countries. Not only do you learn how to live in these countries, discovering your favorite cafes, foods, and places to spend your free time, but you develop a family within your study abroad group. When you come out of this trip, you won't be able to think about the places you have been and the memories you made without thinking about the people you went to these places with. Because you formed a family in these places, you found a home there as well. Going on a vacation doesn't do this, but studying abroad does.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
As unoriginal as it sounds, this trip made me grow so much as a person. I am so much more independent from spending an entire semester making decisions on my own without the help of my parents. I learned how to survive in two different countries on my own with no "grown-ups" to help me, and I also planned and navigated an entire fall break on my own. I also am much more aware of what the American culture is like. As much as we can all talk about what American culture is, I feel like nobody can truly describe it for what it is until they experience a completely different cultures. I discovered things that I absolutely love about my American culture, but I also discovered things that I don't necessarily like. I found qualities in both the Italian and the Greek culture that I want to try to incorporate into my daily life in the US, which is something I did not expect.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
My advice is to come up with a list of things you want to do and places you want to go and check them off as you accomplish these tasks. You know you are going to the right place if you have a list that you can't possibly finish, which gives you even more reason to go back one day. I think you will make the best of your trip if you have that list that you can always look at when you have a free afternoon or weekend and come up with something to do.