Build the confidence to make big, bold moves

Standing on the Ponte delle Navi bridge in Verona, Italy. I crossed this bridge everyday going to and from school.

Alumni Interview with Krislyn Gilbertsen ’23, USAC Verona, Italy

Interview published with permission from GoAbroad.com

Krislyn is a 26-year-old non-traditional student Missouri. They are an only child and a first-generation college student who studied abroad in Verona, Italy.

What inspired you to travel abroad?

I wanted to go abroad because it was a dream of mine to experience a new lifestyle — to see how people in a different country grew up, went to school, and lived a life different from mine. I wanted to see a new side of the world and experience new skills and learn a new perspective on my personal life and the life I want to live in the future.

Why did you choose University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC)?

I chose USAC because it was a program that was partnered with my home university, Lindenwood University (St. Charles, Missouri), and offered more countries and courses different from the ones that I researched. It was also a program that made it easy to apply and submit the necessary documents to complete the application process.

Also, I liked that the program offered several cities to study abroad within one country. So, if there was another location that offered different courses that sparked my interest, I could change and choose that city to study in based on the courses offered to fit my degree.

What was your favorite part about Italy?

I stayed in Verona, Italy which is not as big of a tourist destination as Tuscany or Rome. My favorite part was that it was not overcrowded or filled with tourist spots for photos. I would come across people that were visiting the place, but it was not overwhelming and busy.

Verona was a small city with more locals than tourists, so it was nice to be integrated with more locals than tourists. Italy is also a smaller country compared to France or Germany, so it was easy to travel within the country and visit major cities like Venice and Milan.

What made your experience abroad extraordinary?

Solo traveling to other close locations, like Venice, Milan, and Lake Garda, as well as traveling to other countries on my own was a great experience. That was an experience I needed in my life to grow and show myself that I can do something this big and bold in my life.

I gained independence for myself, and this experience abroad showed me how much I am capable of doing for myself. Visiting new cities and seeing other countries was amazing and rewarding.

How did the local program staff support you throughout your program?

Unfortunately, the local staff did not help me as much as the administrators and advisors when filling out my application. I felt more involved when asking the USAC advisors questions rather than the local staff. I felt they did not get as involved with our study abroad time, only the first week when touring the city.

After the first week, they were not involved with our schooling or lifestyle and left us to do our own thing. They also did not advise us about any events or transportation delays or road issues that debilitated us from showing up to the school on time or events that would have been fun to be a part of, like carnival festivals.

It is amazing how Venice is 118 small islands separated by canals, but as a whole, it is a beautiful city with so much to see!

Did USAC provide specific pre-departure COVID-19 support? If yes, tell us what kind of support you received.

There was no pre-departure Covid support, but it was recommended to get the booster shot, bring your COVID-19 vaccination card, and bring extra masks for traveling if any buildings or cities still required masks.

There were health and safety protocols that needed to be reviewed before departure. The advisors could see if those protocols were reviewed or not to help remind us of the precautions and how to be safe when traveling or with others.

How did your program help you stay (and feel) safe abroad amidst the ongoing pandemic?

Before departure, there was a webinar meeting on health and safety precautions on staying healthy and safe while abroad. The moderators mentioned if there was an emergency and we had to end the program and return home, the courses would remain online and we would do Zoom classes so we would still receive credits.

I still brought and wore masks when I felt sick while traveling or going to classes to make sure others would remain safe. It was required to get fully vaccinated and recommended to get the booster shot before traveling and upload our COVID-19 vaccination card for approval. I felt safe knowing that the program enforced these regulations, so everyone was vaccinated.

What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently during your time abroad?

I wish I had traveled sooner than waiting until mid-March to finally travel to other cities or countries. There were many dilemmas as to why I did not travel. One was that it was early in the year, so the weather was gloomy and cold throughout all of Europe. I thought no matter where I went it would have been cold and dreary and it would feel less enjoyable.

The second reason was that I was too intimidated. I was nervous and scared to travel to places where I had never been to or knew nothing about so I would feel out of place and lost.

An overview of the city of Verona, Italy. The students in the program called it “The House on the Hill.”

Describe what a typical day in your life abroad looked like.

A typical day would include me waking up early for school. The majority of the time, I was the only one in the apartment who had the most 9 a.m. classes, so I was the only one up in the early mornings. I would get ready, make breakfast, then clean up the dishes that I used.

I would always walk to school, which was about a 40-minute walk, but I enjoyed seeing the shops and cafes on my way to school. Walking is common in Europe because everything is close by and within walking distance. After school, I would go back to the apartment to make lunch, then head back to school for my 2 p.m. class.

That was my schedule for pretty much the entire semester. On the weekends, I would do my grocery shopping for the week or I do my laundry (when I knew a lot of other students would be gone for the week).

What did you enjoy doing in your free time abroad?

I had plenty of three-day weekends during my time abroad. I would save my solo trips for longer weekends so I could enjoy my time away visiting a new country. But, I usually had the apartment to myself for those three days and I enjoyed deep cleaning the apartment, cooking, watching videos, grocery shopping, and reading or journaling. I found those weekends necessary to fully relax and decompress before the beginning of the school week.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment complex that was rented by USAC and housed all the students in the program. It was four roommates per apartment, which helped with splitting rent and utility costs. I enjoyed having a roommate for the first time in my life, as I am a commuter at my home university. It was nice having all the students from the program in the same building for group work or partnered projects.

Now that you’re home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

My time abroad has made me think more about what I am capable of. I never thought of myself as a solo traveler or one to take on this challenge. It has shown me how much I was able to do on my own with no one to help me; to observe of the locals and learn from them. I became more confident and more assertive in what I want to do in my life, what I need in my life, and how I want my future to be.

What is one thing every future participant should know about your program before their program begins?

I would recommend asking your school or the program provider if there are any scholarships that you can apply for to help with your study abroad experience. USAC offers two scholarship programs and I was lucky to have earned a scholarship while I was abroad. You will also have the chance to travel and meet other scholarship winners in networking events as an alumni.

Also, see if your program offers group travel to help plan and meet other students while traveling abroad. I was lucky that my program offered a group travel option, since I have never traveled alone or abroad before. It was nice to meet plenty of the other students and travel together to other airports. The program advisors also arranged for a group pick-up at the airport, which took us to our apartment complex the day we arrived.

Would you recommend USAC to others? Why?

I would recommend this USAC program to others. It was easy to apply, and any questions or concerns were easily resolved and clarified. The submission process was easy to manage and plenty of webinars were offered for presentations and immediate feedback for any questions.

The submission was a lot of paperwork to submit, but nothing was overwhelming or complicated. I also felt comfortable knowing the program took our personal health, allergies, medications, and personal assistance needed into consideration.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of traveling abroad is?

The biggest benefit of traveling abroad is learning new skills, techniques, while navigating daily life. There is so much I learned about myself while living on my own, including cooking, scheduling trips, and grocery shopping.

Also, my experiences abroad helped me learn to think quickly when problems arise, such as when a train breaks down while traveling and then transferring to get to the nearest train station. I gained so much knowledge about other countries and the city layout that if I were to travel to those places again, I would feel a sense of familiarity and nostalgia.

What does meaningful travel mean to you?

Meaningful travel is fully enjoying yourself, doing what you want to do, going to places you want to visit, and taking your time to take everything in. I had a meaningful travel moment when I went to Basel, Switzerland, in mid-March. I went for a longer stay and did a day trip to Lucerne, Switzerland, so I could see another city while I was there. I ate food I have never had before, went to interesting museums, botanical gardens, and the zoo. Also, I walked along the Rhine River, brought my journal and book, and collected seashells. I felt content, safe, and happy knowing that I enjoyed my time doing what brought me joy. I have to go back to see and experience more of the city.