What was it like attending HUF?
Every day at HUF felt like a dream. I would wake up each morning, look out the window at the Tuscan hills, and ask myself, “Is this real life? Am I really living here? Is this actually my life right now?” Nothing feels real and time flies, so soak up every second!
What was it like living in Italy?
The Italians treat everyone like they are family! All of the shop owners, waiters, coffee shop baristas, and locals on the street are welcoming and treated us like their own. Italians are so appreciative of the art, beauty, and history of their country, and wanted to teach us everything about it. I loved that Robbie was our director because he showed us everything through a local’s lens. Not only did we visit big cities like Rome, but we also visited small Tuscan towns like Casentino and Campagna.
Life moves slower in Italy. Italian locals aren’t in a rush. Taking the time each day to walk slower, eat slower, have longer conversations at meals, and spend more time being still allows you to fully experience life. This slower pace of life is something I brought back home with me. I try to not be in a rush all the time, and I try to spend more time looking at the world around me. These still, quiet moments are where I found God so often on my trip and in life since going abroad.
What did you learn? How did you grow?
Each country and culture is beautiful in its own way. As we traveled to different cities and experienced the different culture of each one, I learned to see what makes each place so unique and beautiful. No place is better than the other, but each is perfect in its own way!
Robbie taught us to “aggressively seek beauty in every day.” And our Italian teacher, Elisabetta, told me, “If you go a single day without finding joy and happiness, then you did not live that day correctly.” I yearned to find God’s light and beauty in the small details of every day — not only in the views from the Duomo or the sunsets over the ocean in Sicily, but also in heart-felt conversations, and all of the little things. The people I traveled with, the HUF staff, the strangers I met on trains and in hostels, and people that passed me on the streets showed me God’s beauty. He is working in every place and in every person on this earth. I learned that His beauty is not only in far-off places, but right in front of me in every moment. Beauty is not just found in Florence, Italy. It is found everywhere in God’s creation. HUF taught me that I constantly need to search for where God’s light pours through. Opportunities to find God’s love are not exclusive to a villa in Italy. God’s love is available for anyone, anywhere in the world. He is aggressively seeking connection with you, so aggressively seek Him every day. I’ve traveled all around Europe, and I can confidently say that He is just as active in Europe as He is at home in the United States.
How were you challenged?
For the first time in my life, I was on my own and couldn’t rely on my parents. Robbie treated us like adults, and we had to make every decision for ourselves. I struggled with homesickness. I am very close to my family, and my sister is my best friend, so not being able to talk to them all the time was so hard. I had to learn to do things on my own, even when I didn’t know where to turn.
What is one standout memory from HUF?
My parents came to visit me on one of our free weekends, and we went to Cinque Terre. I was used to backpacking and living in not-so-American conditions by this point, so it didn’t surprise me that our AirBnB didn’t have air conditioning and was on the 5th floor of a building. The town didn’t have cars, so we had to walk everywhere, up and down steep and narrow stone streets. I’ll never forget looking back and seeing my parents dragging their giant suitcases down a flight of stairs as they held their hats so they didn’t fly off in the wind! They looked so out of place, but they loved getting out of their comfort zones. I also loved bringing them to Florence and showing them around my home-away-from-home. I took them to my favorite museums, cafes, and pizza places. It was so special to share with them the place that had changed my life forever.
What do you wish people knew about HUF?
Robbie and Mona love you like you are one of their own children. Build a relationship with them! They have so much experience, love, and wisdom that they want to share with you, you just must be open and willing to learn from them.
HUF is so hard. It challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and experience life in a whole different way. It helps you learn who you are and what your priorities are. Just like your normal life at home, not every day is perfect. There will be days when you are sick and tired. Not every day is picture perfect, so don’t expect every day to be sunshine and rainbows.
What would you say to others thinking about attending the HUF program?
When you get back from studying abroad, you will have a newfound sense of self. You have a much broader worldview that you cannot find when staying home for your entire life. The friendships and relationships that you build at HUF are so strong because you have experienced something together that no one else understands. You build a family that will stay with you forever!
How do you see the world differently after studying abroad?
At HUF, I loved finding the beauty in hidden things. I knew that I would see spectacular sights, but it was the small details that made the experience so much more beautiful. Everyone posts hundreds of pictures, but those pictures are the most insignificant part of your abroad experience. Pictures are the highlights that we choose to share with the world. Pictures cannot capture the fine details, emotions, and vulnerability that I saw and felt. If you look at pictures of me on top of the Duomo, you cannot feel the pure happiness and freedom that I was feeling in that moment. When you see my pictures in the Villa, you cannot hear the heartfelt conversations with the people I grew closest to, or the beautiful testimonies that many shared. You’ll never hear the laughs on trains or feel the exhaustion on free travel. These photos only capture a snapshot of the moment, the mountain-top experiences. The details of my abroad experience are only mine. While abroad, I learned to not only live for the mountain-top experiences, but for all the valleys and journeys in between.
Rachel Williams attended the summer 2019 Harding in Florence (HUF) program.