Current Villanova Abroad Students Share Experiences

Juniors Anna O’Keefe and Kendall Hayes meet in Positano, Italy.

Most Villanova students are currently making the most of their fall semesters in the typical way:  admiring the fall foliage, hanging out with friends at the Oreo and spending nights at Kelly’s Taproom. But for one group of 27 students, this fall semester is unlike any other. 

The University currently has students studying abroad in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic and Denmark. Villanova is currently not offering its own programs this fall, but it has fortunately been able to identify semester partner programs for its students to attend.

The Villanovan has reached out to these students to hear about their experiences abroad so far.

The United Kingdom has the largest number of Villanova study abroad students at the moment, with students in London, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St. Andrews.

Three students from the Villanova Honors Program’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics Cohort are studying at the INSTEP program at Cambridge University. This program has a total of just 13 students, with the other students coming from institutions like Tulane University, Wake Forest University and Trinity College.

The Villanovan went over to Cambridge to get the inside scoop on how our students are faring at the ancient university.

Students in the INSTEP program are not integrated with the regular Cambridge student body, but instead take classes with each other. One of the students in the program is junior Mathematics major Noah Swan.

“For the classes, three of my five classes have three people or fewer in them,” Swan said. “It’s a much more intimate experience with classes that magnifies participation in class over a lecture style. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but it’s something I really enjoy.”

About an hour south of London, junior Kendall Hayes is participating in the London Internship Program at Boston University’s London location. 

“I definitely experienced a sense of culture shock coming to London that I wasn’t expecting,” Hayes said. “Things just work differently in Europe. I can’t really explain it. Something as simple as terminology or the way the grocery stores work really threw me for a loop. But I am so happy to be here, and each day I am acclimating to my new environment.”

England’s COVID-19 rules are currently looser than ever, making for a relatively normal study abroad experience.

“There are very limited COVID restrictions in London,” Hayes said. “I am not allowed to have visitors in my residence, but no one wears masks in London. Vaccine cards are never checked at most places. The U.K. also just dropped the mandatory PCR testing for country re-entry.”

While the U.K. has dealt its fair share of culture shock to Villanova students, the non-English speaking countries have required much more of an adjustment.

Junior Finance major Sean Bradshaw is studying Business and Economics in the IES Abroad program in Madrid. 

“I’d say the biggest difference is the language,” Bradshaw said. “I have to speak in Spanish most of the time to people I don’t know are American.”

Another transition for Bradshaw this semester has been the need to take public transport to classes, a nuisance that Villanova students typically don’t deal with on our relatively small, enclosed campus.

“I do miss about Villanova that I live close to my classes,”Bradshaw said. “My commute to school is about an hour with public transport over here.”

Of course, drawbacks like this are worth it when you have the opportunity to travel all over the famously-beautiful Spanish countryside.  

“So far I’ve travelled to Segovia, Ávila, Granada, Buitrago del Lozoya and Barcelona inside Spain, and I’m going to Morocco next week,” Bradshaw said. “So far every place I’ve gone has been beautiful. Granada was especially nice because of the Arabic influence in the buildings and markets. I got to go to Alhambra, which is one of the most famous religious sites in Spain.”

Unlike in Madrid, some regions have higher percentages of English-speakers. One of these regions is Copenhagen, Denmark, where junior Biology major Jade Singh is studying through the DIS study abroad program.

“I don’t speak Danish, but that hasn’t been an issue since everyone here seems to speak English really well,” Singh said.

While abroad, she is studying polar biology, as well as fascinating elective courses in fashion and the anthropology of food. Just like England, Denmark seems to be particularly lax with COVID-19 rules.

“A major difference between [Denmark] and the U.S. is that there are no more COVID guidelines, since an overwhelming majority of the population is vaccinated,” Singh said. “Other than that, life here is definitely slower-paced, and people tend to keep to themselves more.”

Further south in the continent, Villanova students are studying in the one and only bel paese: Italy. Through IES Abroad, students are studying both in Rome, Italy’s iconic capital, and Milan, Italy’s financial hub.

Junior Sophia Pedro, a Communication and Economics Major, is enrolled in the WFI Internship program, partnered with IES Abroad in Rome. 

The WFI program has been a favorite of students in Villanova’s Communication Department since it was first offered in 2004. This program, which combines classes and an internship experience, has previously included internship placements at Catholic News Service, the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. Of the five Villanova students in the WFI program this fall, three Villanova students are interning with the Vatican, while the other two (including Pedro) are interning with the United Nations. Pedro is taking three classes while abroad through IES, and will get the remainder of her credits this semester in Public Relations from her internship.

“There is so much to miss about Villanova when you are away from it, and in many ways I do miss the familiarity of campus and all of my friends there,” Pedro said. “However, being abroad for the last month has already taught me so much about myself and strengthened me a lot as a person. If I wasn’t abroad this semester I would have been a Volunteer Coordinator for Special Olympics, writing for the News section of the Villanovan, and also giving tours to prospective students and families. While I miss all of these activities immensely, I am finding new ways to occupy my time here, one of which has been travel.

So far, Pedro has stayed in Italy, visiting Siena, Sperlonga and Pompeii. However, she plans to travel around Europe in the coming months.

“At the end of October, I am going to Barcelona, in November to Lisbon and London and in December to Berlin,” Pedro said.

Italy’s COVID-19 restrictions seem to be slightly more stringent than those of England and Denmark.

“Italy is pretty open but still maintaining the mask mandate,” Pedro said. “They do make it a point to check CDC vaccine cards and European green passes when visiting indoor museums, restaurants, bars, art galleries etc. Other than that, the semester has felt relatively normal and I have been finding ways to spend time outside frequently.”

Meanwhile, junior Bryan DiPasca is currently part of IES Abroad’s Milan Business Studies Program. He spoke to @goabroadnova, the official Instagram page of the University’s Office of Education Abroad, about his experiences in Milan. 

"When I initially arrived in Milan, it was a bit overwhelming to be exposed to a new place and culture so quickly,” DiPasca said on @goabroadnova. “However, the staff at IES Milan has been wonderful in helping students become adjusted to life in Italy. After 4 weeks here already, I already feel so much more comfortable when it comes to speaking and ordering food in Italian, taking public transportation to and from class and overall integrating into the community here. I've been able to meet other students from across the world. Everyone involved with the program has been so nice with helping students feel at home in a foreign country, and they have also been great with planning fun trips and experiences for students, including a day trip to Lago Maggiore, and the opportunity to see ‘The Last Supper’ in person. Overall, the experience has been more than I could ask for, and I'm so excited for the rest of the semester.”

The Instagram page @goabroadnova plans to continue to provide updates about Villanova students abroad this fall. 

The current experiences of our fellow Wildcats in Europe this fall should allay the concerns of prospective Spring 2022 study abroad students. Europe is back in business. The era of closed businesses and limited travel is behind us. Perhaps, by the new year, all restrictions will be over, and Asia and Latin America will too be open for study abroad. Until then, there is much to be optimistic about.