Graduating high school and going off to college in the middle of a pandemic is scary enough for most students, but Ben Thomas has a particularly adventurous spirit. Not only did he navigate going to school in a different state – he moved to Minnesota from Illinois to attend the University of St. Thomas – but he also took things a step further, deciding to study abroad during his sophomore year.
Thomas spent his fall semester in Rome, Italy, entering a whole new country with different protocols, language and culture. Beyond that, there was all the stress of COVID-19, including having to get a negative test before being able to come home. The experience brought him closer to the classmates who traveled with him abroad. He shared some of his experiences with ThreeSixty.
What influenced you to study abroad?
When I visited the school (University of St. Thomas), I talked to a chemistry professor for an hour about his own study abroad experience. He just kept on talking about it and raving about it, and it just sounded really interesting.
Would you encourage someone else to study abroad?
Yeah, for sure. It’s really nice. One of the coolest things that happened was when we traveled to a small region in Italy called Molise. We met this 93-year-old man – I think his name was Enrico – and he was the former governor of the whole region. He was so nice. He showed us around, and we would joke around. He had told me that I looked like his nephew because I supposedly looked a bit Italian. He currently has my phone number and he called me when I got back to make sure I was safe.
What are some qualities that you have retained and what have you gained throughout your study abroad?
I feel like I’m slightly more comfortable in social situations because you are forced to go up to people and try and speak a different language, ask for directions and random things like that. I think that was really cool. Outside of that, I am going to be doing research with my chemistry professor (who taught in Rome) this summer here at the St. Paul campus.
What made you want to get into chemistry?
I had a really good high school chemistry professor. So coming in, I knew I wanted to try it out and see if that was something I liked. But I came in undecided. And then I did well in that (first chemistry course at St. Thomas) and I did really well in my chemistry class over in Rome, and I liked it a lot.
A note about the author: Amina Jama, a student at Columbia Heights High School, is a participant in the ThreeSixty Journalism program. A version of this article was first published by ThreeSixty Journalism, a nonprofit of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas that uses the principles of strong writing and reporting to help diverse Minnesota youth tell the stories of their lives and communities.