Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Bryza


Rachel is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago. She is currently working as a Graphic Design Intern at ARCO Murray. She is always looking for new and inexpensive ways to travel abroad. She believes in the value of learning through other cultures.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose Athena: Florence because they were so flexible and genuinely friendly. I was always getting calls (that I looked forward to) about how my process was going and if there was any way that they could help. They had wonderful perks, such as two field trips being included in the cost of my tuition so I was able to go to Switzerland and Monaco with people at my University in Florence. I love the people I have worked with through Athena. I admire their love for travel and helping those who want to travel.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Athena assisted me with the forms I would need to receive my visa, made sure I was content with my living situation, sent follow up emails to see how I was doing even during and after my time abroad. For anything I needed help with, they were there. I had to organize my own flights, but there wasn't a whole lot Athena didn't assist with.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish that I didn’t bring so many toiletries; they take up space, and Italy has toiletries too!

Definitely take the time to learn the language. Feeling confident in my Italian really broke the barrier of feeling like an outsider. I began to feel more like a local, and I fully took on the culture.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average week would consist of some sort of activity with the University – pasta making, learning how to make traditional marble paper, chocolate tasting, etc. I went to classes just as I would in the States (no more than two a day). I grocery shopped for myself, and frequently made dinner because grocery stores are a big part of culture too. I also volunteered once a week at an elementary school to eat lunch with the kids while engaging them in English conversation. It was the life.

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 was my anxiety of being away from home. I have always been a Midwest girl. I frequently missed my family and friends but I overcame it by reaching out to people I enjoyed spending time with in my classes and meeting for gelato.

I made it my mission to do something new every single day – trying a new café, taking a different street home, visiting a new museum. It helped in enriching my time there while keeping my mind on what was important. I wanted to make the most of my time in Florence. My views on being such a homebody changed because I realized that my hometown will always be there to come back to. There is so much of the world left to see!

Are there any difficulties you ran into with public transportation?

YES! Be aware of time stamping your tickets. I had several occasions where I had to pay a fine because I had forgotten to do so. Be very aware of the rules of transportation because they are followed without fault. Don't let your money go to fines when it can be going to pasta and gelato!