Why We Do it Wednesday- Hannah Grahek

API employees work tirelessly in the U.S. and abroad to serve our participants and ensure they have the best international experience possible. At API, we all share stories of personal transformation by international experience- we remember our first days abroad, our first meals, and our first international flights. We have these stories of transformation in common with our API alumni who study, work, intern, and teach abroad all over the world. In our new series, “Why We Do It Wednesday,” we’ll share a brief glimpse into why API employees love to work at API- through the eyes of our alumni.

This week we profile Hannah Grahek from the University of Iowa who participated in the Florence study abroad program during her Spring ’16 semester.


“I chose to study abroad for a myriad of reasons, but a one stands stronger than the rest. I studied abroad because I wanted to experience living life immersed in another culture. Growing up in the United States can create an ethnocentric bubble, where we think the life we live here is better and other cultures are doing it wrong.

This was something I never agreed with, but wanted to see first hand how other cultures live their lives and the ways the culture differs from the one I’ve always been surrounded by. I also wanted to grow as a person, in ways I simply couldn’t without an experience like this.

Studying abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime, no questions asked. It will be an experience like no other. When I describe my experience to others, I like to use the theory of the wave of culture shock to do so. When I first arrived, I was in the honeymoon phase.

I was in love with it all. The sites, the food, the language, every part of Florence exuberated beauty to me. It was magical. The first couple weeks we did nothing but explore around the city, from the Duomo to Piazza Michelangelo, we would stroll down the cobblestone streets taking it all in.

Once classes started and we were all settled into our apartment, we got into a routine. Then the culture shock hit…I was filled with anxiety and was starting to feel like something was wrong with me. Everyone says this is supposed to be the time of your life, why wasn’t I feeling it? After finally opening up about how I was feeling to others, I understood that I was not alone. Almost everyone I was talking to was feeling the same. This made me feel much better. After I got through this phase it was smooth sailing.

I really started to feel like Florence was my home, just as the final months approached. I had reached the final stage of comfort. Time really does fly when you are abroad. It is really mind altering to stand in the Roman Forum and grasp how many years ago humans had stood where I was. When I walked into the Sistine Chapel, my breath leaped from my chest and a tear rolled down my cheek. You just can’t explain the beauty of it all.

Traveling abroad makes you understand your place in the world a little better. We all come from different cultures and live different lives but we all have one great thing in common, we share this planet. It is our home. All of us. While our cultures may be different, not one is greater than the other. What matters is that we can all peacefully coexist.

After studying abroad I realized that there is so much of the world to see. So many beautiful souls to encounter and to learn from. All the people I met abroad have impacted my life in some way. Going abroad wasn’t easy, but the most impacting events in one’s life rarely are.”


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