Studying abroad, students create homes away from home


Photo courtesy of Jacqui Sieber.

Various murals are located near junior communications major Jacqui Sieber’s apartment in Camden Town, London.

By Claudia Huggins, For The Pitt News

Camden Town, London is the former home of Amy Winehouse. Later, Harry Styles drew attention to the town with his visits there for dinner with friends.

And now it’s home to Pitt junior communications major Jacqui Sieber, who’s studying in the city for the fall semester. Living in an apartment with three other girls, Sieber said they’ve managed to add some personal touches to their living space.

“We haven’t exactly formally decorated our apartment, but sometimes we’ll set out little toys we get from Happy Meals,” Sieber said. “But when I visited Edinburgh, which was super fun, I brought back some band posters to hang up.”

When choosing to study abroad, housing options are often one of the main points of discussion. According to Brice Lynn, deputy director of operations at the Study Abroad office, the type of housing students select often depends on the academic goals of the chosen program.

“Home-stay is the first one that came to my mind because that’s what I did as a study abroad student,” Lynn said. “You’re living with a local family who’s been selected by the provider or the university so that you’re getting that day-to-day life of the country or city where you’re studying.”

For example, a home-stay program might be more beneficial for students interested in a more in-depth experience with the foreign language and cultural engagement. According to Lynn, home-stays sometimes aren’t as popular with students if they aren’t fluent in the country’s language. Apartment stays and residence-hall living, depending on the program, are more popular among students because of the convenience and cost.

“The reality is that there’s no type of housing that is the best or the worst. It just kind of depends on what students are looking for during their study abroad experience,” Lynn said.

Pitt junior MeiMei Santucci, a communications major with an Italian minor, transferred to Pitt this year. She studied abroad from January to April 2019 in Rome while she was a student at La Roche University.

“We stayed in a house that was similar to a bed and breakfast, but a little more hotel-like. We always had to get our keys from the front desk and leave them there, too,” Santucci said.

According to Santucci, after having to say goodbye to her home for a few months, the plane ride over was nothing but mixed emotions about her upcoming experience. But she was able to bring touches of home to her home in Italy.

“My best friend made me these posters with pictures of us and our other friends for me to take, too,” Santucci said. “It was really heartwarming to have those with me because I kept them by my bed so that if I was homesick or sad, I could just look at them and feel better.”

According to Lynn, about 80% of the students that study abroad at Pitt tend to choose a Panther Program, which are programs developed and run by Pitt where the housing process is run through Pitt’s study abroad office. Aside from Panther Programs, there are also Pitt-recognized programs, which are third-party organizations approved by Pitt that students can use to study abroad.

International Studies Abroad is one of the Pitt-recognized providers students can use to study abroad, which means it’s going to be choosing the housing options it thinks is best for the student’s academic goals while studying abroad. Another example would be CAPA Study Abroad, which Sieber used to study abroad in London.

Through CAPA, Sieber found out her housing about a month before her departure. She said Camden Town is “pretty authentic” since many locals hang out around there.

When choosing housing for students, Lynn said that above all, the safety of the student is the main concern.

“There are so many different factors that go into choosing housing. Obviously, we always want to make sure that students are housed in locations that are safe. Health and safety is our primary concern for students, so it takes precedence over anything else,” Lynn said. “From there it kind of just depends on what the program demands and what makes the most sense.”

For example, when students study abroad with Pitt in London, they are housed in apartments “to live like a Londoner.” A 30- to 40-minute commute and shopping at local stores for groceries is all part of the London experience when studying abroad, according to Lynn.

When students show interest in studying abroad, the advisers at the study abroad office do everything in their power to take the stress out of the equation, Lynn said.

“We want students to trust that when they do a program that’s on our website, that housing is included and it’s going to be relatively seamless for them,” Lynn said.