As Alexa Schaum stepped off her plane, it was clear she was no longer in South Carolina.
Russel House, usually a short walk, was oceans away. The calm, beautiful scenery of the Historic Horseshoe was replaced with busy, city streets.
Schaum was nearly in Milan, Italy, the city that would be her classroom as she studied abroad for a semester. Her trip abroad is one of more than 2,000 study abroad options available to students at USC.
Study abroad programs have provided USC students with unique opportunities to pursue their education in the last few years.
Schaum, a fourth-year marketing and management entrepreneurship student, studied abroad during fall 2021.
“When I was 17, I went to Rome with International Student Leadership Conference and fell in love with Italy,” Schaum said. "I really wanted to go back to Italy. Milan being another fashion capital definitely helped."
There are many reasons why students choose to study abroad in addition to learning more about the industry they hope to enter. Some choose to study away to improve their foreign language skills, while others seek to experience new cultures.
Felicia McGill, a fourth-year Spanish and math student said she was surprised by the deep and lasting connections she made while studying in Puerto Rico with the National Student Exchange.
During her stay, she said she attended a church next to her dorm and instantly felt welcomed by the congregation and an elderly couple who took her and her friends out to lunch.
"I made a lot of friends. It was very surprising to me that I made friends," McGill said. "To make friends at church with elderly people. That was really special."
McGill said she keeps the announcements from the church tucked in her Bible as a memory.
Studying abroad also allows many students to immerse themselves in a new culture and see life through a different lens.
This happened with Kiera Jefferson, a fourth-year mass communications student. She studied abroad for the fall 2021 semester in Barcelona, Spain.
Jefferson stayed with a host family and said that living with locals allowed her to fully experience the Spanish culture. She improved her Spanish, participated in different Spanish holidays and was exposed to new foods such as duck liver and rabbit.
"Traveling made me not think everything is so gross all the time and not scared to try new things," Jefferson said.
Although students enjoy studying abroad, such experiences can still have ups and downs, especially during a global pandemic.
McGill's original plan was to study in Puerto Rico for a full semester. However, she had to leave when the pandemic began in March 2020.
The pandemic also added some stress to Shaum’s trip, she said. Her flight home for winter break was canceled as countries started to restrict travel due to COVID-19, and she had to book another flight that cost $800 more than her original flight.
Despite these challenges, students still said they enjoyed their overall experience. Vincent Buccini, a fourth-year international business, marketing and management student, looks back on his abroad experience fondly.
“I just think that studying abroad very much changed my life, which is corny — I know that's something everybody says — but it really did,” Buccini said.