“People view studying abroad in many different ways. I like to look at it as a trip full of tiny details and events that all come together to create one incredible experience,” says Rileigh Eaton, junior, majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in Social Work.
Rileigh was given the opportunity of a life time when the Lord specifically worked everything out that enabled her to live in Italy and travel the world for 12 weeks. She had always dreamed of studying abroad, but the actuality of that happening seemed nonexistent. For her, it was more than the experience; it was to expose herself beyond her little Alabama bubble that she has lived in and place herself outside of her comfort zone.
Italy was truly life changing for Rileigh. She not only learned a lot about new cultures but about herself as well. She immediately realized that when leaving your comfort zone the things you think you know about yourself are definitely tested. On her trip she said, “I was tested on things such as worldly knowledge, patience, adaptability, and many more, but it is also where you can improve on the things you find yourself lacking.” She learned that getting lost can sometimes be a good thing. She said, “When navigating foreign streets with no clue where you are and you take a wrong turn, the best memories are created.”
The Lord also moved in her life through her 12-week experience. There was one weekend when she was visiting Barcelona, and her purse was stolen, along with many valuable possessions. Little did she know that is where the Lord would move through her. “He humbled me and hit me hard with the realization that things are temporary. Things can be replaced. Things are fleeting. Things do not define who you are. Life isn’t about things; it is about much more. It’s about people: the people who will walk around the city searching for a police department with you, the people who will cry when they have to leave you behind in a country, and the people who will give up all their resources to make sure you are safe. It’s about being grateful for the things you do have and not what you don’t. The situation was definitely not ideal as I was stranded in Barcelona and running around like a maniac trying to get back to Italy, but through the chaos, God showed up and reminded me of so many things I needed to hear,” says Rileigh.
There are not words or single sentence to sum up her experience. For Rileigh, studying abroad is getting locked in the airport bathroom minutes after arriving in Rome due to the fact that the knobs and locks are completely different in Italy. It is ordering a latte just to receive a glass of steamed milk, no coffee, and a few laughs.
It is crying in a lunch spot in Ariccia because she accidentally ordered pasta that she can’t eat because she is gluten intolerant. It is having a sweet, sweet family sitting behind her and her friends at lunch translating to the waiter what happened, paying our bill, and showering them with love. It is 22,000 steps taken a day while touring multiple sites. It is running into the same family who helped them at lunch again in a small town in Castle Gandolfo.
It is eating a bowl of Paella as big as the table entirely in Barcelona. It is dancing around La Sagrada Familia. It is watching in awe a true Spanish Flamenco. It is running in the pouring rain while laughing hysterically to get to dinner on time. It is getting your entire bag stolen at Starbucks. It is saying “my bag is gone” until everyone finally understood. It is laughing in the police station because there is nothing you can do about it. It is crying when two of your friends leave you in the airport in Barcelona because no airline will let you fly. It is the friend who chooses to get stranded with you in Barcelona and helps you figure everything out.
Her advice is, “If you feel called to study abroad, do it! Take a leap of faith and go explore the world. There are so many places to explore, so many people to meet, and so many things to learn,” says Rileigh.