Organic Chemistry in Italy Study Abroad

First, I want to apologize for the lateness of this post. It has been well over two weeks since my summer study abroad program has ended, but this has been the first time that I have had the chance to sit down in front of a laptop for more than 20 minutes. Second, please forgive me for the bluntness, lack of eloquence and thought, and occasional grammar violations contained in the recent previous posts. They were all constrained to very strict criteria and word limits, limits that for the first time in my life I had to struggle to stay within. Now that the program is over and my grades no longer depend on the content and quantity of my posts, I’m now allowed to freely write whatever I want.

Learning Organic Chemistry I in a month in Italy has been one of the most academically challenging opportunity that I have faced and thankfully succeeded at. Even when I was in high school, I already started to hear horror stories about Organic Chemistry from older friends. I heard that ochem was the class that students would get their lowest grade in or how that was the class that made pre-med students change their minds about going to medical school. Even when I was applying for this program, I still had upperclassmen telling me that it was a bad idea to try to learn ochem. After hearing that, I wanted to prove them wrong. The first week was easy; it was mainly a review of general chemistry with some new information thrown in at the end. Each week, it got harder and harder. By the last week, there were so many different types of mechanisms being thrown at us, I would sometimes find myself combining elements of two different mechanisms in attempts to solve a synthesis problem. Every Thursday night, the night before the test, everyone would be sitting in their preferred studying spot. Mine was the second seat from the end of the right side of the right table in the library. I am so grateful that two friends and I started the unofficial Tuesday and Thursday Night Library study group. Whenever one of us had a topic that was still a little bit fuzzy or needed help solving a problem, someone would always be able to help. As the night went on and turned into the early hours of the morning, there would always be a few voiced comments about  “this is hell” or “is it too late to drop the course”. In that moment, it might have felt like all those things, but looking back upon it, I have absolutely no regrets about doing this program and highly suggest other hardworking students to consider it. Learning ochem in a month, covering one week’s worth of material in a day, has taught me how to intensely and efficiently study in a short period of time, shown me just how far my academic boundaries can be pushed, but most of all, it has reaffirmed my belief that hard work and determination will help one succeed. I definitely wasn’t the smartest student in class and organic chemistry didn’t come the easiest to me compared some of the other students, but I put in the time and effort to truly understand all the concepts that were taught and I ended up as one of the top students in the class.

Besides Organic Chemistry (yes, there were other components to the program), I have gained a greater appreciation of the arts through awe-inspiring paintings like the Birth of Venus, majestic sculptures like the David, and ingenious architecture like the fortress of Arezzo. Through the culinary class, I’ve gained more insight on how much science is involved in cooking and every day life. I’ve always assumed it the only science in cooking would be about new bond formation and chemical reactions. The culinary class has taught me that there so much more than that such as pairing the right flavor chemicals together and there is always a scientific reason behind each cooking method. For example, I always assumed that the reason why we add salt into the water when cooking pasta is to lower the boiling temperature. While that is true, another reason is that the salt and starch in the pasta water actually helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Since we live in a such a consumerist society, we often forget about the arduous process behind making common products such as cheese and pasta. Being able to go to these factories and seeing these items be made has reminded me that there is a very laborious process and many people’s lives depend on the sale of these products.

Overall, this program has opened my eyes to so many different aspects of academics and culture. While there is a culture difference, the culture shock wasn’t as large as I expected. Some of the major differences are having to pay for water and bread at a restaurant, not having dryers and air conditioning in typical Italian homes, and crazy Italian driving. This summer has been one of the best summers I have ever had, and if anyone is even thinking about doing this program, do it. Plus, you get to learn a little Italian. Ciao!