Opinion: Shanghai to Rome and the Importance of Studying Abroad

By Avery O’Neill, Guest Columnist 

As Robert Burns once said, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the spring of my sophomore year at Gettysburg College, I was preparing to study abroad in China in the fall. I have been studying Mandarin and Chinese culture for seven years now, and it has always been a dream of mine to go to China. Part of the reason I chose to attend Gettysburg College is because of its Chinese and study-abroad programs. However, as I prefaced this, even with careful planning things do not always turn out how we thought they would. 

I applied and was accepted into the Shanghai program. I would have been studying Chinese politics and hopefully would have had a legal internship in China which would have been an invaluable experience as I am currently studying to go to law school after undergrad. However, just a day after I attended the pre-study abroad CGE event wearing my China name tag, I was informed that the program in Shanghai had been canceled. When I found out that I could not go to China I was at a complete loss. That was always my plan; it aligned with my interests and career path, and there was never a Plan B. 

In disbelief that I could not go to China, I had several meetings with the Center for Global Education and I scrambled to find some way for me to get to China. I researched other programs; however, while there was a program running in Taiwan, Gettysburg did not have a connection with them and therefore I was unable to go there. Finally, reconciling with the news, I accepted that I would have to come up with an alternative plan. 

Steering my sights away from China I started to look at other options. Sadly though, many of the program applications for studying abroad had already closed. My final two options were Berlin and Rome. I had always said that if I was not going to China I would love to study abroad in Italy. The problem was I just did not think it made sense. I am a political science and Chinese double major, why would I go to Italy?

I am a plan-oriented person. I do things because they serve some type of purpose and my initial reaction to studying abroad in Italy was, there’s no point. So then I was left with two options: go to Italy or stay at Gettysburg. 

Avery O'Neill '24 while studying abroad in Italy (Photo provided)

Avery O’Neill ’24 while studying abroad in Italy (Photo provided)

Thankfully my roommate was able to convince me that going to Italy was going to be the best choice, and as it turns out she was right. I do not think I realized all of the benefits of studying abroad outside of being able to study in a region connected to my major. Italy changed me in so many ways and helped me understand that studying abroad is about so much more than just studying. I was in a new country where I did not speak the language and did not really know anyone. It forced me to challenge myself and become more independent. I gained invaluable problem-solving skills and I impressed myself every step of the way. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I had to rely on myself and ultimately I proved to myself that I could.

I left Italy with so much confidence in myself and I can see how much it is benefitting me already. So no, my plan did not go as expected. But now I cannot help but think that I was redirected to the place I was supposed to be. I am still hoping to go to China, and I know that someday I will get there. However, I would not trade my experience in Italy for anything.


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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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