Vol. 9, April 2020

For the next few months, our newsletter will feature various study abroad alumni reflecting on their study abroad experience. This month, we have chosen Hannah Owens to share her story. Hannah serves as the Director of Digital Media in the Harding University Marketing & Communications office. She studied abroad at HUF during the fall of 2010. 

Look to the sky

Months before I departed for my semester abroad, I was experiencing a lot of transition in life. When I was feeling overwhelmed, I started doing something to calm my nerves: step outside and stare straight above. Doing so gave me feelings of opportunity and hope. Soon, I would be there, flying to places I never thought I’d be able to go.

The one regret I’d always heard from Harding alumni is that they wish they would have studied abroad. Right before my junior year ended, I decided I never wanted to have that regret. I added my name to a list of students attending Harding in Florence in April 2010, and I began preparing for the first semester of my senior year to happen on another continent just five months later. It seemed like a hard arrangement to work out — an obstacle to navigate. I looked to the sky.

“Seniors don’t go abroad, right? Isn’t there some sort of rule that you have to be a sophomore or even a junior to go?” I thought. While it works that way for many students, it doesn’t have to occur in a certain period of college for everyone. My advisor worked with me to make sure I could have this experience — faculty know the importance and unique opportunities of studying abroad. They look to the sky, too.

I’d had many friends who went abroad, so I knew the stories. I knew people came back from these semesters with new perspectives and shifted world views. I didn’t know what being in Italy would look or feel like, but I eagerly anticipated whatever transformation I knew I would experience. Opportunity and hope filled me, and it filled the sky.

I had flown on a plane once as a kid before leaving for Florence at age 20. I don’t remember much from that experience, so flying in 2010 was like flying for the first time. When our plane took off, all I could think about was how often I had stared up here in the air at planes passing by over the last few months and wondered what it would feel like to be on my way. Our arrival in Italy was smooth, our journey to Harding’s 16th-century villa was beautiful, and then I found myself getting to know 23 other students who had been looking to the sky and were finally under one roof for the semester.

I visited the most incredible places I’ve ever seen and learned so much about the history and art of Florence. I made some of the most meaningful relationships with people that continue to this day — I even married one! I signed up for my last semester of classes in Spain. I bonded with a local artist from Pistoia about our mutual love for the Foo Fighters. My roommates kept me informed of what I was missing in chapel. I saw an opera wearing fancy clothes. When I was missing home one morning or wondering what my friends were doing that night, I looked to the sky, and it looked just like the sky at home.

It’s been 10 years this September since that extraordinary semester, and I think of my time there often with an overwhelming sense of relief that I went. I have similar feelings when daydreams about returning to Florence fill my mind. I still think about that experience with hope and opportunity, and now gratitude. I still look to the sky.

Photo Explanations

  • Hannah with the artist who shared her love of the Foo Fighters
  • The view from Hannah's window in the Villa
  • Hannah's first walk up the hill to the Villa
  • The airplane wing, Hannah's first photo of the semester
  • Hannah at HUF with her future husband

    Calling all Harding University study abroad alumni, we want to hear and share your stories! We believe that studying abroad is a powerful experience that can profoundly affect your life. Did studying abroad expand your worldview, influence your career, help you develop new hobbies/interests/skills, or meet new people (friends, mentors, spouse, etc.)? Did you have a truly unique experience while studying abroad, like meeting a celebrity in the Louvre? Whether you went to HUF in the fall of 1980 or HULA in the spring of 2013, we want to hear and share these stories!

    Please email your story and photos to international@harding.edu. Include your name and Instagram handle (if you have one), and indicate the program, semester and year you attended. Because this will be on social media, please keep your stories to a paragraph or two, if possible. 

    Please share this with your friends, family and study abroad group!

    International Programs in the Bison

    International Programs, specifically HUF, has been featured in a few Bison articles recently. Be sure to check those out to see what life in Italy has been like during these past few months.

    Summer 2020 Programs Cancelled

    Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the cancellation of all summer 2020 International Programs was announced on Monday, March 23. We remain hopeful for the fall study abroad programs and will continue to update our fall students as additional information becomes available.

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    Harding University International Programs

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