Although the prospect of studying abroad is exciting, preparing for the things you want to do and see on your trip can be beyond daunting. Before leaving for Italy, my TikTok was filled with recommendations for restaurants, leather and jewelry shops, gelaterias and excursions that “I simply could NOT miss.” I found myself completely overwhelmed—I only had two and half weeks in Italy, and I did not want to pass on any experience. With only one free day in Rome, Florence, Siena, and Venice, I had no idea how to plan it all.

After spending a week in Italy, I have found that my most memorable and valuable experiences outside of the faculty planned museum and cathedral excursions have been the spontaneous moments. During a hot day in Rome, one of the first days of the trip, my group of new friends and I explored a small fountain in the neighborhood next to the Colosseum. We sat down with our sketchbooks to draw the scenery around us, and a mother and her young daughter passed by. She urged her little girl to go look and my sketchbook, and she shyly approached me. I will never forget the excitement on her face as she recognized the sculpture next to us in my drawing.

While in Siena, my group and I decided to walk around the small town looking for dinner. We found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that only sold 5 types of to-go pasta with 5 sauce options. After, we stopped in a small grocery store for some waters and sodas, and we had our dinner in front of the Palazzo Pubblico as the sun was going down. It remains my favorite dinner we have had on the trip! Walking back, we stumbled across a block party held in a small church plaza. We spent the night dancing and meeting locals and other study abroad students.

Although I have seen some of the most extravagant art and architecture of the Renaissance period on this trip, these two experiences are some of the most vivid and fond memories I have made so far. They were not recommendations I found online, and they were not listed on the itinerary. Do not be afraid to explore what a city has to offer—you may make your favorite memory of the trip!