Home Australia Fall Semester Students Share Their Most Transformative Study Abroad Moments

Fall Semester Students Share Their Most Transformative Study Abroad Moments

by AIFS Abroad
Fall Semester Students Share Their Most Transformative Study Abroad Moments

Last Updated on March 3, 2020 by AIFS Abroad

“This photo was taken at the Bunkers del Carmel in the neighborhood of Turo de la Rovira, where my art professor took our class on a field trip during the first week of class. After hiking to the top, it finally set in that I had fulfilled my dream of studying abroad. As a young woman of color, I am doing something that I never imagined possible. The view was so breathtaking and I felt like I was on top of the world. To this day, I am still amazed, grateful, and humbled that I am here experiencing a new culture. I hope to inspire other students of color to do the same when I return home.”

– Gabrielle Hall, Howard University, AIFS in Barcelona, Spain

“This fall, or spring in South America, myself and a few people from the AIFS program decided to take a road trip from Vina to San Pedro de Atacama, about 20 hours away by car. I asked my friend Scott if he wanted to go to the driest desert in the world and, of course, the answer was yes. So we met one afternoon and discussed our plan then invited 4 more people we knew would be down for an adventure. Scott went to find a van and I went to plan food and camping gear for 6 people.

We met once as a complete group and a plan was set. We picked up our van, all of our food, water, tents and everything else we would need and a week after asking Scott if he wanted to go, we were on the road. Dani took the first turn driving since she was the only one confident enough to drive stick shift through a South American city, then, trading after dinner, we pulled over to the side of the road to camp at 4 in the morning. The trip continued in this fashion for the next few days, driving through endless desert, stopping at random beaches, climbing mountains, willing our tiny van up steep hills.

Three days later we arrived at San Pedro, our destination. We spent one sleepless night in the desert, wind howling and the dry air sucking every bit of moisture out of us and our time had run out, we had to turn back to Viña. The van, which we had named ‘Journey’ was getting weak. The incredibly frustrating engineering of this van had begun to find it’s limits and we were only half way. We turned south and began to pray our way back to the sunny beaches of Viña.

On our second to last night we pulled off the road and drove toward the beach to camp. Scott came down with a pretty nasty case of food poisoning and we decided to call it a night. That night Harry, Sofiya, Dani, Elliott and I took a walk to the coast and were treated to one of the most impressive displays of power we have ever seen. The southern coast raged against the dark rocks, crashing hard, spraying the salty water inland. We could taste the salt on our lips, feel the powerful wind and see dimly in the moonlight the power of the ocean we stood before. It was at this moment, sitting on the jagged rocks in the darkness that I realized we had done something pretty incredible.

Waking in the morning we slowly gathered our things and packed them away in the van. Our trip was coming to an end and as excited as we were to take a shower and sleep in a bed, we had begun to love the road trip life. The bond we had developed had become pretty special, we had spent 5 days stuck in a tiny van and no one had fought or argued, pretty incredible considering we were basically strangers before the trip began.

That morning we took this picture and it still defines my time in Chile. Friendship, adventure, discovery, courage, kindness, and a fair amount of luck had gotten us that far and carried us to have a great time to this day. Considering that 6 strangers could ride and sleep together for 6 days without a single argument or disagreement is pretty special and says a lot about how people act when they are treated with respect and kindness. At the end of the journey we had driven over 3,000 km in 40 hours in 6 days, seen the driest desert in the world, been blown away by the diversity and beauty of Chile, and created a pretty special bond between 6 strangers.”

– Charles (Carter) Clarke, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, AIFS in Viña del Mar, Chile

“I grew up in Hawaii and have always returned there. Hawaii will always be home, but this picture taken in Shark Bay is important because even on the other side of the planet, I felt at home. I was with a friend that even though we met a few months ago, she will always be apart of my journeys. This picture represents the strength this study abroad semester has given me; I came to Australia hoping to make friends and desperately trying to meet every expectation, but I am leaving a confident person who accepts only the best friends and feels comfort in being alone as well as not exceeding every expectation. This picture means that even if you are homesick, home is where you make it, even if it is a temporary one. The home you made as a child, will always be there but the opportunity to build yourself and create new homes with new places, people and things is one that can change a person for life. My home is the laughter of the people I have connected with, the beaches I have explored, the professors that invest in me, the countries I have explored, but most importantly my home is the feeling and confidence I have built for myself here. I am returning to my home in the United States, and I will enjoy every second, but I will know from this picture that on the other side of the planet, I have another home too.”

– Kyra Armstrong, Hofstra University, AIFS in Perth, Australia


“This picture shows a mural painted in the local township of Kayamandi, that is just 5 minutes drive from Stellenbosch University where I studied in South Africa. While studying abroad, I was able to do service learning at the iKaya primary school with preschoolers. Each week we sang a song in English called ‘its a rainbow.’ At the end of the time we worked with the school to create this mural at the school. While I was helping the children paint their hands, they exclaimed, ‘Teacher, teacher!! It’s a rainbow.’ I will never forget those children and this moment I shared with them.”

– Leah Hapke, Westminster College, AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa


“When I was six, instead of having a piggy bank filled of coins, I filled it with wishes. This past summer, I decided to break it and read all of the wishes one by one. Beyond wishing for good grades in school or my family’s well being, I knew I wanted to come to Rome. What I didn’t know was that I’d meet incredible people, awesome places and have memories that will stick with me forever.  Behind that little piece of paper, stating ‘deseo ir a Roma’ (I wish to go to Rome) in a very childish font, is the Tiber leading straight to St. Peter’s Basilica. During this semester I have been lucky enough to walk by this stunning view two times a day, everyday. I cannot explain how grateful I am for being here, how happy I am for making this wish come true. When you are living in Rome, there is no way you can pick just one place as a favorite. Indeed, every corner or street, and every museum or monument just makes you want to stay here forever. I am forever in love with this country.”

– Catalina Arango, Flagler College, AIFS in Rome, Italy


“I took this picture while climbing a hill in Dingle, Ireland. I was with UL’s International Society and we were just starting to climb the hill when I turned around and witnessed this amazing view. These kinds of views are inescapable in Ireland. You don’t even need to be climbing a hill. Sitting on a bus, you can glance out the window and catch a glimpse of the horizon and the rolling hills. It can be hard to catch those views with a camera, though. The hill gave me the altitude necessary for the picture, but rest assured this is not one of a kind in Ireland. This is everywhere.”

– Alice Allpow, Bradley University, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland


“This picture was taken outside of St. Basil’s Cathedral during our excursion to Moscow, Russia. It is important to me because it is with another AIFS student who I met and got engaged to during this program.”

– Andrew Sexton, University of Puget Sound, AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia


“Behind me are the majestic Austrian Alps. I’ve never experienced such beauty before in my entire life. This experience of being surrounded by snow capped mountains has shown me that it’s so important to get outside and experience nature. Don’t get me wrong I love to travel city to city to experience the man made beauty of the Duomo in Florence or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but for me, experiencing the mountains and their natural beauty knowing it had been completely untouched by humans was unlike anything I’ve ever done. Get outside and encounter the beautiful world around you. You won’t ever regret it.”

– Alicia Dahlman, Miami University, AIFS in Salzburg, Austria

“This picture was taken on the ferry right after we took off from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia. My friend from America met me in Finland, and this was about to be his first time in Russia (and I know he must have been nervous). The night was lovely, and the overnight 13 hour ferry ride was certainly a memorable one. I enjoyed this night very much.”

– Lillian Jenner, Point Loma Nazarene University, AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia


“This picture of me in front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy means a lot to me. Ever since I could remember Rome has been a location I always wanted to travel to. It is featured in many movies and life in Rome is portrayed as relaxed to me. So I booked a ticket halfway through the semester to Rome for a few days. A month later I could not believe that I was finally actually there at the Colosseum. My smile does not show my full emotions of how happy I was at the moment. I felt like I was in a dream almost in a way and still looking at the picture I can not believe I was there. It was truly the best moment of my trip to date.”

– Jesse Caverly, Western Illinois University, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland


“This picture signifies my first taste of Spain, our trip to the Alhambra the first weekend I got here. I love looking at this picture because it reminds me of that exact moment I fell in love with Granada, at the Alhambra, learning about the history of this beautiful city and how it came to be.”

– Ashley Whitwell, California Lutheran University, AIFS in Granada, Spain


“A few friends and I were a bit lost while trying to find our way home from a group trip when we stumbled across this enormous and beautiful park, Parc de la Ciutadella. We decided to stop worrying about being lost and would stroll through the park to see what else we could find. And we sure hit the jack pot with this one right here. This is the fountain Cascada de Gaudi, one of the most famous land marks within the park. Of course we had our own mini photoshoot in front of this gorgeous fountain. However, it made me realize that it is okay to get lost in a new country with new friends. It allows you to wander around and find all the amazing and beautiful things that this city has to offer.”

– Peyton Rutigliano, Adelphi University, AIFS in Barcelona, Spain


“This picture is important because it was the first trip I took within Ireland to the Aran Isles. We had uncharacteristic weather the whole weekend, sunny and warm. I think this picture captures the joy and amazing experiences Ireland has brought me.”

– Gabrielle Viens, University of Rhode Island, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland


“Nothing like being on top of the world in Girona.”

– Liam Davis, Assumption College, AIFS in Barcelona, Spain


“This photo is of the first four leaf clover I found while abroad. I collect four leaf clovers back home, and I had made it my goal to find one while abroad to bring back with me. I looked on the ground relentlessly on campus the first few weeks, but to no avail. One day, while exploring King John’s Castle, I stopped walking to take off my jacket, and this clover was right between my feet. It’s now my lucky charm.”

– Victoria Marcario, Russell Sage College, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland

st-petersburg-tay-cameron-1“My first souvenir-buying experience in Russia took place in Veliky Novgorod, a smaller city about 200km from St. Petersburg. Russian souvenirs there were the usual ‘matryoshka’ nesting dolls and ‘platok’ paisley scarves, but the special Veliky Novgorod souvenir is made out of birch wood, like the signs and toys in the photo. I ended up purchasing a beautiful handmade bookmark with a panorama of the city carved into it, and the artist was a kind old woman who genuinely appreciated my visit to her booth. I’m currently using said bookmark while reading Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina.'”

– Tay Cameron, University of Kansas, AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia


“This photo is on top of Le Moucherotte, a mountain in the Vergers mountain range, one of 3 ranges that surrounds the valley of Grenoble. I can see the top of this mountain from my bedroom window! We hiked up in snow that came up to our knees and it was so clear that we could even see Mont Blanc from the summit!”

– Kelly McCain, University of Virginia, AIFS in Grenoble, France


“The picture I have attached was taken this past weekend when I visited Málaga. Although I have visited several Spanish cities, this is by far my favorite one. I am a person that absolutely loves nature, so being able to view the beautiful ocean and mountains all at once was unforgettable.”

– Maggie Gruszka, Saint Xavier University, AIFS in Granada, Spain


“This picture was taken on the hike up to Gaisberg mountain. I can see this mountain in the distance from my dorm window, so when I finally decided to make the trek, I knew it would be worth it. The wind was a refreshing reminder how crucial it is to put yourself in the way of natural beauty.”

– Amanda Hailey Spivak, Ohio University, AIFS in Salzburg, Austria


“This picture is important to me because this semester abroad is my first time ever experiencing a world unlike one I’ve ever known. I’ve met the most incredible and inspiring people while being able to pursue my dreams of traveling the world, learning Spanish, and visiting Spain. This picture was taken at the Alcazar (Castle) of Segovia, Spain. It was a fairy tale for me; not because my inner 5 year old was ignited from seeing a real life castle, but because this study abroad experience is the beginning of my ‘Happily Ever After.'”

– Kaitlyn Emerson, University of Wyoming, AIFS in Salamanca, Spain


“This is set with me standing below the statue of Nikolai Gogol in Nievsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg, Russia. It is important to me because I think he was one of the most influential writers of Russian literature and I like his work.”

– Andrew Sexton, University of Puget Sound, AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia


“This picture is important to me because Venice has been my favorite place I have visited in Italy so far. The canals are breathtaking, and riding a gondola for the first time was incredible; it was an experience I will never forget. Public transportation by water is a completely new idea to me, and I loved soaking up every moment I spent in Venice.”

– Anna Elliott, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, AIFS in Florence, Italy


“Before I came to St. Petersburg, I was the most excited about visiting the Hermitage Museum, which you can see behind me in the photo. I study art, so this was a huge accomplishment for me, especially since I really never thought I would have the opportunity to see it and the works it houses in real life. The art and culture in this city is unlike anything else. Russians appreciate it, preserve it, and take pride in it, and seeing these beautiful things first-hand has been a life-changing experience.”

– Tay Cameron, University of Kansas, AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia


“I am almost done with my semester here but if I had to look back at a pivotal moment for me it would be when I went to the Pyrenees Mountains to see “Els Jardins Artigas” made by Gaudi for a wealthy family. It was very beautiful and he used a lot of elements from nature in his garden structures. This section of the garden made me smile because I love lions. I am a leo at heart. I just had my best friend take this for me and I was trying to imitate the lion but I thought it would take away from its beauty. If I were to live in this garden, I would set up camp next to this lion.”

– Michella Mousaed, Mount Saint Mary’s University, AIFS in Barcelona, Spain


“This picture is important because its from the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. In this picture I am embracing the natural beauty the world has shown me and giving the world a hug.”

– Taylor Derouen, McNeese State University, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland


“This is my favorite photo because as I took it I found myself lost in the beauty. Not only the beauty of this picture but everything surrounding me, including my friendships and the opportunities that have arose from coming to Spain. I truly love it it will always be a second home to me.”

– Samuel Fields, AIFS in Granada, Spain


“This photo is from my first week here in Australia taken in Kings Park, Perth. The park had an amazing look out to the city and the ocean. This photo was taken when I was off guard (I wasn’t ready yet!). However, it shows exactly how I felt to be there which was hard for me to put in words. Since the middle of high school, visiting Australia has been my DREAM. I’d talk about it all the time to my friends and family to the point that it became a fact; I’d travel to Australia..someday. Honestly, I thought my only chance to make it here would either be a week long vacation in my 30s or to celebrate retirement. Yet, here I am, studying for a semester during my senior year of undergrad for 5 months at the age of 21!  This photo is a literal image of my dreams becoming a reality. A picture of so much joy that I can’t help to laugh and smile to myself when I look back at it and other pictures I’ve taken. I am so grateful to have been able to take advantage of this opportunity and to the AIFS staff that has helped me get here.”

– Jenala Jones, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, AIFS in Perth, Australia


“Some of the best moments happen when you don’t plan them. This was the first time abroad where I was able to get lost and find the beauty of nature in Ireland.”

– Hannah Wright, Assumption College, AIFS in Limerick, Ireland



“My experience in Interlaken, Switzerland was absolutely life changing. I was able to fulfill a dream of mine that I never thought I would have been able to do, let alone do in the Swiss Alps. Paragliding was the most breathtaking, thrilling, mind blowing experiences of my life. Being able to see the snow of the alps, to the greens of the grass, mountains, and trees, to the mineral blue of the river and lakes, gliding peacefully through the air over the small town of Interlaken is something I will never forget and will cherish for the rest of my life!”

– Giana Monterosso, California State University – San Marcos, AIFS in Florence, Italy

“After hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains, we got to take in the wonderful view and fresh air in Lles de Cerdanya. I couldn’t help but smile and subsequently, lift my arms up.”

– Jewells Santos, DePaul University, AIFS in Barcelona, Spain


“This is one of my favorite pictures from my study abroad experience so far. This picture was taken at Manuel Antonio National Park, which was my favorite excursion with AIFS. I like this picture because it represents a calm before a storm. Soon after this photo was taken, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and the sky and ocean were completely gray. My friends and I swam in the warm ocean in the cool rain and I’ll never forget it. We felt so small among the huge rolling waves and the endless sky. I felt humbled by this experience and I believe that is an essential part of Study Abroad. When you travel, you feel very small because you finally realize how big the world really is. You meet hundreds of people that before you came did not even know of your existence. And in these humbling moments, you learn the importance of acting like a global citizen. This picture represents to me how grand Nature is, how small we are in comparison, and how much we have to lose by destroying our Earth.”

– Erika Robinson, University of California San Diego, AIFS in San Jose, Costa Rica


“This picture represents the moment when my heart felt the most full. I realized then and there that I was surrounded by incredible people, incredible experiences, and a vast adventure ahead of me. This picture was taken on the top of a tower in Siena, Italy on a school-funded day trip. I spent the morning looking at impressive frescos painted thousands of years ago, exploring the cute town and culture of Siena, and laughing along with people who I was blessed to be experiencing it with. In the picture, we were looking out over the countryside surrounding the city. We were told to pose, and the ridiculous positions we immediately took describes all our personalities very well. We cherish the experiences we have embarked upon, counting our lucky stars, and smile at those we have yet to form. This was the moment when I took a look around, and realized I was the happiest I had ever been. I couldn’t wipe a smile of my face as my best friends – whom I had met a month before – and I realized we were infinite, just like the landscape we were overlooking.”

– Ginette Andre, Elon University, AIFS in Florence, Italy






“Whenever I’m having a bad day in Greece I go hiking up this trail and watch the sunset and it makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and untouchable. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and turns my frown up side down.

– Alexis Williams, Albertus Magnus College, AIFS in Athens, Greece

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