A commuter student on studying abroad

Studying abroad in a post-pandemic world is a big jump. For commuter students, it’s a leap of faith.


Ryan Walker

The transition from being a commuter student to studying abroad can be challenging, especially during a pandemic. For students in Florence handling a language barrier and change of pace, the experience can feel surreal. (Staff Photo by Ryan Walker)

Emily Kerrigan, Staff Writer

FLORENCE, Italy — COVID-19 has robbed me. That’s not a nuanced thought, but it occurs to me regularly. It has stolen momentous occasions from me: my high school graduation, prom and first year of college. The pandemic has taken something so much more personal: my autonomy. The beginning of college was supposed to be a time of newfound freedom. Instead, I found myself sitting on the subway 10 times a week, consistently missing my Long Island Rail Road train, and succumbing to the difficulties of being a commuter student that far too closely echoed my high school experience in Queens.

So I decided to study abroad at NYU’s academic center in Florence, Italy. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think I was actually going anywhere — my travel plans had become a fun tidbit that I would bring up if someone asked what was new in my life, but the mere concept of studying abroad felt so abstract that it was more like a distant dream than reality.

Now that I’m here, I’m not quite sure how to explain the experience at all. I don’t have a hot take on study abroad or some profound way of describing it. All that comes to mind is that the experience is entirely surreal. Although occasionally, to my surprise, I crave the sound of subway announcements and street noise when my apartment feels too quiet, I also bask in the fact that this is nothing like my life at home. I needed a completely new experience in order to fully feel like I was in college and not in perpetual COVID-induced limbo. 

I’d be lying if I said the transition from being a commuter student to being an abroad student was seamless. It was equally, if not more, terrifying as it was exciting. I didn’t know if I could handle the language barrier, homesickness or the complexities of living with people I hadn’t met before. I think it’s too early to tell if I’ve successfully trumped any of these challenges, but I do know that I don’t regret coming to NYU Florence. Sure, I have occasional moments of panic when I feel that I’ve made the most egregious mistake of my life, but those feelings subside when I look out of my window and see the Italian countryside or NYU’s idyllic campus.

Nonetheless, being in Italy is still quite intimidating, and my experience is admittedly imperfect. I find myself wishing the days would go faster, before suddenly wishing they would go slower. I dread the walk up and down the steep hill to get to the city center and back to campus.

But unlike when I was at the Washington Square campus, I don’t feel like my semester can be measured by the state of my academic success. While I still strive toward good grades, I recognize that they aren’t the be-all and end-all here — in that way, studying abroad offers what commuting does not. College is equally about finding yourself with a scary and questionable amount of independence as it is about trying to get a 4.0 GPA and gracing the Dean’s List.

Contact Emily Kerrigan at [email protected]