Can You Study Abroad and Be a Full-time U.S. Student? Meet the Schar School Senior Who Is Doing Just That.

Cato Abbot in a red soccer jersey stands in front of an apartment building in Rome.
Cato Abbot in Rome: ‘Being abroad and taking courses that are based in a non-U.S.-centric point of view has been a benefit to the idea of holistic education, not to mention the fact that it has been fascinating.’

Cato Abbot is a senior studying government and international politics at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. But unlike other Mason students, he is actually studying in Rome—yes, Italy—at Luiss Guido Carli University. We caught up with the Nashville native between classes to learn what it’s like studying for a degree abroad.

Schar School: Why Rome?
Cato Abbot: I have always thoroughly enjoyed traveling, and so I have been involved with the Global Education Office for much of my time at Mason. I chose Rome due to multiple factors: As a freshman at Mason, I joined the inaugural class of the Global Gateway program, which was an opportunity for freshmen to study abroad in the second semester of their first year in college. Through this program, I studied at Mason Korea in Seoul, South Korea, in the spring of my first year. Thanks to this amazing opportunity, I had already studied in Asia and wanted to experience a different part of the world.

SS: What’s it like being a student in Rome?
CA: Rome, and more broadly Italy as well, has been fantastic so far! Being in Rome and going from the apartment to your class means taking the bus past the Pyramid of Cestius, riding the metro next to the Roman Colosseum, and passing underneath the Aurelian Walls at least twice.

Simply walking to the local market or to the metro is filled with so much more history and significance than anywhere in the U.S. simply because Rome is so much older. There are so many ancient Roman ruins all over the place that they just start blending into everything else. The Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Roman Pantheon are all breathtaking. The Imperial Fora built by Caesar, Augusts, and Trajan, while in ruin, is also incredible.

And all of the museums and local events happening every weekend are a treat. You don’t run out of things to do on the weekend. I only wish I have more time here to travel and visit more of Italy and the rest of Europe! But I will be back, no doubt about it.

SS: Do you ever miss anything from home?
CA: I feel that I am fairly good at adjusting to new situations and putting myself out of my comfort zone. I know culture shock can severely affect some people, and certainly, when I went to South Korea with my fellow Global Gateway cohort, I suspect there were some who had a difficult time adjusting at first. I loved it from the minute the plane touched down to lift off at the end. And it has very much been the same experience here in Rome. Of course, everyone misses home occasionally and nothing can always be perfect, but studying abroad for me has been a consistently highly positive experience.

SS: How has the Schar School shaped your experience?
CA: Concentrating in international relations as part of my major at the Schar School has been a big positive to studying abroad. I have been studying the governments and politics of countries around the world and their interactions with each other at the Schar School, which has been very useful over here in Rome. It goes both ways in that studying abroad has also benefited my major as well.

Being abroad and taking courses that are based in a non-U.S.-centric point of view has been a benefit to the idea of holistic education, not to mention the fact that it has been fascinating. The Schar School has been a major help in introducing me to global ideas and concepts that continue to be useful abroad. It was an interest in global issues and international relations that drew me to the Schar School in the first place.

SS: How do you take in person classes in Rome?
CA: Mason has an exchange program with Luiss, so I am taking courses offered by Luiss that were previously approved over the summer as having Mason equivalent courses. Then the credits transfer over at the end of the semester.

SS: Would you recommend the study abroad experience for others?
CA: It is absolutely worth it! At the risk of sounding like a walking advertisement for the Global Education Office, I think that everyone should study abroad…For us GVIP majors, studying abroad gives invaluable experience in what is an extremely globalized world where nations are completely intertwined with one another.

In my experience, the Global Education Office does a fantastic job at helping anyone who wants to study abroad, regardless of major, background, or financial status. I often hear money as a reason for not going abroad, but I have found studying abroad to be at least comparable to Fairfax, if not overall even less costly. Moreover, the Global Education Office has plenty of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid to help with studying abroad.

SS: How can this experience help you and others in their future?
CA: I cannot stress enough that having experience with cultures and people who are not like you, who do not speak the same language as you and who may view the world in a completely different way than you do gives you such a massive advantage when entering the workforce in the field of international politics and government.

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to study abroad twice in my undergraduate career, and I suspect that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I may have studied abroad three times. I can’t get enough of it! Sure, there is a list of challenges that will have to be dealt with, such as language barriers, but it is all without a doubt worth it.