Kellie Garrison's Story Abroad

Kellie Garrison

Current Class Level: 3rd Year PT Student
Major: Physical Therapy
Country of Study: Italy

What has been your most rewarding experience abroad so far?
There have been many rewarding experiences here in Italy. Overall, I think the relationships I’ve formed have been the best. My clinical instructors and patients have taught me a lot and I could not be more thankful for them. I have loved being able to learn from each of them. Whether it’s been fumbling through the Italian phrases I know, or asking directions perfectly, they have eagerly taught me the language and laughed with me when I botch the language entirely. They brought me into their homes for huge family meals involving everyone from In-laws to distant cousins, and indulged me when I asked how to make the food. The most rewarding out of everything was the ability to experience life with them one day at a time. They showed me the importance of believing in humanity whether we are from the same culture, country, or not. That for me, is beautiful.
What has been your favorite part about your host culture?
Coffee for every meal during the day! Most people would think wine, but coffee is a mainstay here. Whether it be expresso or cappuccino, most Italians order coffee after their meal as a social aspect of life. I loved being able to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee with no rush to leave the restaurant.
What has been your favorite trip you’ve taken?
I have a tie between two beautiful and very different places. Cinque Terre was my favorite place along the seaside to visit. The people, views, and colors are very different from your classical Italian houses and countryside. The five cities can be hiked between, and I adored the long hikes. It really gave you the chance to enjoy the serenity of the forest, vineyards, and sea along the way. My second favorite trip would have to be my hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius and exploring the surrounding city of Pompeii. While the weather was not clear during my walk on the volcano to see everything, just the fact that I could stand on top of a landmark that made history was breathtaking. Pompeii was just as beautiful in its own way. I have appreciated history since I was young, and to be able to see and learn more in person was truly amazing.
What will you miss the most when you leave?
Enjoying meals without feeling rushed. In Italy, there is no hurry to eat your meal and leave so the next person can sit down. The meals are very calm and relaxed so that you can enjoy the time with whoever you came with. I feel like they appreciate the time they spend together during meals a lot more than many people, and that is one thing I will miss the most, but am excited about bringing home to my own family and friends.
What has been most challenging living in your host country/culture?
One, the gas stations! Every place can be so different and you can’t always just stick your credit card in the machine and let it go! However, the most challenging part has been the direct immersion into the Italian culture. Both of my rotations were in cities where no one spoke English. My instructors at the facility were my only English communication, and everything else had to be learned as I was there. I think this was the best way for me to take my education and experience to a whole new level. I can honestly say that if had not been this way I would not have learned nor enjoyed my time there as much as I did. I feel like I became more of a citizen than a tourist during my time thanks to that experience.
What is your best advice for a future study abroad student?
Don’t be afraid, dive in, and leave every notion of what you think will happen behind you. I have learned that if you are afraid of being away from home and already think you know what to expect then you are in for a whirlwind of change. I knew very little Italian before coming over here and it was the best decision I made to just jump in and start asking questions to those around me! They were open to teaching me their language and lifestyle and that made the experience worthwhile. Be open-minded. There are many ideas, concepts, and ways of life that you will see that are much different than your own. It’s okay to wonder and ask questions, but don’t judge them based on your own life. It’s new and much different from everything you know at home, especially if you are not in a tourist area, and that is what is so difficult, but very rewarding at the same time.
Anything else you would like to tell us?
I have loved working with patients and their families. Most of the time here, the patients stay for many months in hospitals and other forms of rehabilitation so they can be away from home for a very long time. I am grateful for the opportunity to help these patients laugh on a day to day basis so that they could feel more alive. I will never forget the laughter, tears, and amazing times spent with my patients and their families who taught me so much as I leave my clinical sites.