Meet Study Abroad Student Khya Morton

Khya Morton is a Political Science major from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Khya studied abroad at JCU in the Spring 2023 semester.

Tell us about your background.
I was born in Riverdale, but I was raised in Union City, Georgia. Both cities are on the outskirts of Atlanta, and they’re full of bustling streets and Southern hospitality. I love my hometown and the greater city of Atlanta, so I never miss a chance to tell people about our famous restaurants, museums, and other attractions to visit.

Khya Morton
Khya Morton

What made you decide to study abroad in Rome at JCU?
I found out about the variety of Notre Dame Study Abroad programs during my sophomore year. At the time, I had already taken three Italian language and culture classes that I thoroughly enjoyed and was eager to learn about Italy on a more immersive level. So, I was naturally drawn to Notre Dame’s Rome Undergraduate Program, and I applied to study abroad at JCU for the Spring 2023 semester.

What do you wish you had known before your study abroad experience?
I don’t think there was necessarily anything I wish I had known before studying abroad. But, reflecting on my experience I wish I had taken more time to explore small, quiet, and intimate towns in Italy. I loved the big cities I traveled to while abroad, but it would have been even more special to experience and make life-long memories in those “hidden-gem” towns as well.

How did you become interested in Italian?
I became interested in Italian on a whim because first-year students in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame had to choose a foreign language to study. I had already taken Spanish for three years in high school, and I knew that I wanted to start fresh with a foreign language that was different — but not too different — from Spanish. So, I just looked at a list of the five most widely spoken Romance languages and chose Italian. It was one of the best decisions my freshman self ever made! 

What did you enjoy most about your courses at JCU?
I thoroughly enjoyed all of my courses at JCU, but the two that I enjoyed the most were International Organizations and Visual World Politics because of their on-site experiences. My learning in the classroom was enriched by field trips to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trastevere Museum, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Europa Experience. I always looked forward to our class trips because I knew there would be an opportunity to witness and draw tangible connections between the content of our lectures and the real world.

How did your semester abroad enrich you? What were some challenges you had to face?
My semester abroad enriched my cultural awareness and willingness to step out of my comfort zone. I’d never traveled outside of the U.S. before studying abroad, so living in Rome for four months and visiting various countries in Europe allowed me to explore different cultures and gain an appreciation for their unique identities, values, and ways of life. Studying abroad also taught me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone to get the most out of my experience. For instance, I spoke Italian at restaurants even when I was nervous about making a mistake, and I tried new foods that I would never have tried back in the States, like wild boar. Looking back, I’m proud of myself and my friends who encouraged me to push past my hesitation because it really made my study abroad experience one that I’ll never forget!

The two main challenges I had to face while studying abroad were being an ocean away from my friends and family and adapting to life in a new city. It was pretty difficult to adapt to Rome at first because I had to learn my way around and get acquainted with cultural norms. But those were fairly easy hurdles to overcome, and I felt completely comfortable living in Rome after about 2-3 weeks. I also would get homesick every once in a while and miss my life back home after catching up with my friends and family. However, I coped with my occasional homesickness by reminding myself that I only had one study abroad experience, so I should live in the ‘now’ and appreciate the opportunity to study and travel to new places.

What is your best study abroad story?
My best study abroad story is when I traveled to Barcelona for Spring Break and visited Park Güell. The park was breathtaking, and it was also where a scene from one of my favorite childhood movies — Cheetah Girls 2 (2006) — was filmed. It might seem a bit silly to say, but it was truly surreal to be in the same place that little Khya wished to visit one day. So, it was great to fulfill one of my childhood dreams while abroad.

How did you manage to reconcile studying with being a tourist in Rome and traveling to other cities in Europe?
Honestly, it was easier to manage than I thought it would be. I think one thing that made a big difference was the fact that JCU doesn’t have classes on Fridays, so we had an extended weekend. When I knew that I’d be traveling for the weekend, I would either knock out my assignments for that Monday before heading out or plan to return to Rome by Sunday evening to finish up my work. Of course, there were unforeseen circumstances like flight cancellations that interfered with classes sometimes, but sending my professors a quick email to let them know what was going on worked well for me.

What advice would you give to students thinking of studying abroad in Rome?
I advise students thinking of studying abroad in Rome to go for it! Rome is such a beautiful city with rich culture. There’s always a new attraction, museum, or restaurant that catches your attention, leaving you with endless possibilities for exploration. Moreover, students concerned about the possible language barrier shouldn’t let this dissuade them from the opportunity to immerse themselves in Italian culture. Many Italians that I met were extremely welcoming and understanding of the language difference and either spoke English or listened attentively as we attempted to communicate in Italian and even politely corrected our grammar.

What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to attend law school and become a civil rights attorney. My dream is to advocate for and protect the rights of those so often disadvantaged and discriminated against in the U.S. while promoting social justice initiatives by participating in non-profit organizations related to justice and equality. I’m currently preparing for the 2023-2024 law school application cycle, so I’m super excited yet anxious to see how my career will unfold.