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Black Bear Abroad: Study Abroad Ambassador Gustav Anderson overcame his traveling fears and fell in love with Italy during his time abroad in spring ‘19

Guest Author: Gustav Anderson

The fear of snakes is undoubtedly one of the most common and emotionally biting fears throughout the world. Greater still is the fear of losing someone dear to an unforeseen tragedy. Perhaps an even stronger fear is the crippling existential knowledge that life may really be simply an exercise in pushing a boulder up a mountain over and over again with no purpose. But reader, I would argue that there is one fear far greater than all three I have listed; this is the fear brought about by watching an airport baggage carousel run for what seems an eternity without the slightest sign of your precious suitcase or duffel. 

The sinking dread I felt at this exact moment was my first introduction to life abroad in Italy. Reflecting back now, this kind of terrifying experience in a foreign country was exactly the kind of reality check I needed — it prepared me for all the coming adventures I was to have over the course of the 2020 spring semester. But you, reader, are here for more than simply my musings on European culture. No, first, you want to understand who the strange man is that is writing to you from behind the electronic screen. Let me shed some light on who I am here at our beloved University of Maine.

I am a fourth-year marketing student and new media minor in the Honors College from the small town of Phippsburg, Maine. I am currently working on my senior thesis that focuses on brand equity in the Maine craft beer industry. While academics take up a criminal amount of my time, I still manage to involve myself in campus life in other ways. I am a player on both the Ultimate Frisbee and Water Polo clubs, a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society and now most recently, a Study Abroad Ambassador for the Office of International Programs. In this new role, I hope to help guide, inform and inspire anyone toying with the idea of studying abroad. 

Beginning the planning process to eventually go abroad is a long and intimidating one, but with some advice and guidance, it can be an exciting process. For me, I knew from the very first moment I came to college that I wanted to make my dream of studying abroad a reality. My motivation to go abroad stemmed mainly from the fact that I have distant relatives living in a tiny town just an hour outside of Torino, Italy called Villar Pellice; it is from this town that my great grandmother immigrated to the United States.

During my first year at UMaine, I knew very little about how to even begin planning a semester abroad. I was nervous going abroad would put me behind academically. After both an encouraging meeting with my academic advisor and a meeting with a student advisor in the Office of International Programs, I launched into the long application process. Many meetings, form fillings and calendar pursuits later, I chose USAC’s Torino, Italy program which is a recommended third party program separate from UMaine. After over a year of preparation, on Jan. 8, 2020, I found myself flying across the ocean to a whole new world.

The city of Torino is known to some as being the “Detroit of Italy.” While this is mainly due to the fact that both cities have rich histories in automobile manufacturing, one cannot help but associate negative connotations with the comparison. Just as with Detroit, Torino has experienced economic hardship and pollution problems due to the automobile industry. This being said, Torino is making a remarkable comeback, both culturally and economically, and is undoubtedly one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The city is steeped in history, being home to breathtaking piazzas, intricate architecture, tantalizing restaurants and world class museums. English is rare in Torino as it is not overly saturated with tourists, so this made my experience abroad even more genuine. 

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic ended my time in Italy quite abruptly. Upon my program’s cancellation, I was informed that I needed to move out of my apartment and leave Italy within five days. My last week in Torino was an incredibly emotional one; I said goodbye to close friends in my program who I had only just met, I left my internship at a small family run brewery that I had only worked at for three weeks and saddest of all, I savored the final views of a fantastic city that I was supposed to spend so much more time in. 

I did not want my experience to end, and neither did some of my peers; so we all decided to do something about it. In the colorful and most likely fictionalized words of Jordan Belfort in the 2013 movie “The Wolf of Wallstreet,” “You know what? I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving…,” I, along with a handful of my friends, managed to travel to Malta, Budapest and Brussels before our week-long second wind tour of Europe was cut short due to increasing travel restrictions to the U.S.

My time abroad was phenomenal. Some of my best memories of college were made in Europe and I cannot wait to hopefully go back someday. I want others at UMaine to understand the pure joy and excitement of studying abroad: this is why I chose to become a Study Abroad Ambassador. So please, if you have any questions on how to get your adventure started, reach out to me.

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