Lana graduated high school in May 2016 and has taken a gap year before heading to university. She is interested in anthropology, history, art, and global cultures, and hopes to travel more in the near future.
Why did you choose this program?
Anyone can read about the works of Michelangelo or the ancient city of Pompeii, but AHA gave me the rare opportunity to see them in the flesh and form my own opinions about them.
I gained so much knowledge just from living the history over learning it in a classroom. And a chance to go to Italy for a month and a half - who could pass that up?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I had a Gap Year advisor who directed me toward AHA when she learned of my interest in art and history. Most of the ground work to get me into the program was my own responsibility. I had to make sure I applied by the deadline, send in a deposit, and scan in any materials AHA needed for their records. I scheduled my own flights (although they gave us the opportunity to fly as a group from London), and budgeted myself (meals not included) throughout the program.
The actual sessions, including where we were going and what we were learning, were beyond my control. The tutors were more than happy to help us if we needed direction or had any issues.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Try something new every day. I didn't want to spend my gap year falling into the same routine I always have. I could have stayed at home for that. I would have missed out on so much had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and made each day a memorable one.
For example, I would have never sung in public before the trip. We took a nighttime gondola ride in Venice, and everyone on my boat was telling stories or making jokes. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I sang.
It was the most amazing feeling, and I remember savoring every moment because I knew I would never have this chance again.
For those on the fence about going abroad, I say (as someone who was also not certain about traveling) that the world has so much to offer you, and you would be doing a great disservice to yourself by not taking advantage of it.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Each day we had a morning session and an afternoon session. The sessions were somewhat like university lecture and discussion classes, where the tutors would explain the significance of the certain artwork, architectural design, or historical context we were studying that particular day.
We normally had quite a long lunch break, as well as leisure time before dinners. The evenings were mostly for us to explore whatever city we were in, and the tutors were very lax about how we spent our free time. We were all adults, and we were treated as such, with trust in our conduct and our capability to navigate ourselves without constant supervision.
We did have some days where we took trips outside of the host city (such as Pisa, Pompeii, Padua, and the islands of Burano and Murano outside of Venice). We also sometimes had free mornings or afternoons, where no sessions were planned and we were given the opportunity to take care of any personal business. Other than those occasional abnormalities, the itinerary was basically routine.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear initially was having to adjust to a completely different lifestyle than what I was used to. I had already been in Europe for over a month, working on archaeological digs in Romania. So, the shock of being away from home had left me long before my time with AHA had begun.
However, I had grown so accustomed to that way of living, I had no idea what to expect once I got to Italy. I had to adapt to a new language, new people, and a new side of Europe I was not familiar with.
I realized once I reached Italy that I couldn't just retreat into timidity because I was uncomfortable. I just took everything in stride and learned that even though I was in uncharted territory, it doesn't mean it would stay that way forever.
What made this experience special for you?
The people. I saw some of the most famous works of art in history, but there is no way I would have learned as much as I did if I had gone alone. There is immense value in seeing through someone else's eyes.
There were times when a fellow student caught a nuance in a painting or a sculpture that I would have never noticed. It is amazing how twenty-odd people can be looking at the exact same thing, and yet each person has a unique perspective to share.