Meet Oscar Mejia Barahona

Program and Location:

Spring, Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute; Florence, Italy

Major/Minor:

Nutrition Science

Why did you choose to study abroad?

It honestly felt like a whim because I never thought I would study abroad. I am a first generation American and college student, so my main worries were family, money, and my major when it came to studying abroad. Despite that, after talking to the Study Abroad Office they gave me some relief in trying to figure out what I could do to help fund my trip as well as get credit for my classes. I also wanted to go to Italy so I could immerse myself in a country that didn’t primarily speak English, just to put myself in a different environment.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I was highly adaptable despite my troubles that came along while studying abroad. My phone would only work in Wi-Fi because my phone just refused to work with any SIM card, so I had to make myself acquainted with the city of Florence by memory. Especially when I had to travel outside of Italy and I had to make backup plans in case I get lost because at one point I had to solo travel to Belgium with a barely working phone.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

My cooking class was probably my favorite because I had it early in the morning so that was honestly my breakfast and for the most part my food would turn out well.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

Feeling homesick, FOMO, or just uncomfortable is going to happen so embrace that feeling and don’t ignore it. I would make sure to have time to myself whether if that was staying in my apartment or just taking a walk around the city and reflect about myself and what’s happening around me.

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

I took a cooking class and wine class when I was in Italy. So my classroom was literally the kitchen and I was able to learn traditional Italian cuisines from different parts of Italy. For my wine class we had a few field trips. We went to a osteria, which is a wine shop, and tried the wines in the cellar below.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

Surprisingly my identity helped me, kinda sorta. When I was Italy I would be walking by myself and Italians would walk up to me and start talking to me in full blown Italian. It got to the point that I learned how to say, “I only speak English and Spanish,” in Italian because from what they told me, I look like a typical Sicilian. I did feel alone sometimes since I couldn’t find people who were similar to me at first, but I didn’t let that deter me at the end of the day.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

It’s okay to feel like a black sheep because we are representing our identity wherever we go and we are making our friends and family proud that we are traveling outside of the US. If you make the effort you will find people similar to your identity. I actually met a Latino who had the same name as me.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

I had a friend who was studying abroad with me who was Latina so whenever I had to deal with personal challenges in Italy I could find comfort that she could relate in that as well.

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat.