On a mission to become a travel blogger and photographer, Morgan Murray, a 2015 Whiteville High School graduate, immersed herself in all things Italian this past semester during a 90-day study abroad program through East Carolina University. She visited three European countries on her three-month adventure, but she spent most of her time in Italy while stationed in Certaldo, a suburb of Florence.
Murray was one of 17 students that met in a small one-room facility where she took five courses. Not every class was confined to the classroom, and they incorporated a lot of traveling around Italy. Murray loved being able to see and experience the things she was learning in her art history and literature courses. Her digital photography class cultivated her desire for taking pictures that make other people want to travel.
“Our class did a lot of traveling together and pretty much saw the entire country of Italy, but we had two weeks off for a break,” Murray explained. “During those two weeks, I went to Barcelona, Spain and Berlin, Germany.”
Certaldo is split into two parts: Alto and Basso. Murray’s classroom and apartment were in Alto, but Basso was a two-mile walk down a steep hill. She explained that Certaldo’s lower section, Basso, is where all the big shops and restaurants are located, and it was the only place to buy groceries. Murray said it was worth the trip to Basso for the chance to see the beautiful scenery of the Tuscan landscape.
“If I wanted to buy groceries for my apartment, it was a two mile walk down a steep hill and two mile walk back up the steep hill,” Murray said. “So it made me wish that we could walk everywhere here in Columbus County and not have to use a car.”
Murray said that food was a big highlight of her time in Italy. She ate at local restaurants in Certaldo Alto almost every night and ate five course meals every time. Everything tasted homemade and fresh, and that was her favorite part about the food.
“I got the chance to know the coffee shop owner, Alfred, really well,” Murray said. “But my Italian is so bad because all I could say was ‘ciao’ and ‘buongiorno’ to everyone. Other than that, I had no idea what they were saying to me.”
Murray’s first interest in the study abroad program came from her desire to travel. With it being her first trip to Europe, Murray said she was nervous. She learned that the Italy-intensive program was the same cost as her regular tuition at the ECU campus in Greenville, and she was the first person to submit her deposit and application to joining the program.
“Who doesn’t want to go to Italy? It’s like, one of the hottest travel destinations in the world,” Murray said. “So of course I wanted to go, and I knew a year in advance that I was going.”
While in Italy, Murray observed a poor economy and government and determined that she would not want to live there permanently. She said she has seen and experienced Italy and wants to travel to other countries to see what they have to offer. She wants to have a constant residency in the United States but wants to travel wherever she wants.
“I don’t think I got real world experience in Italy because everything felt like a dream,” Murray said. “Everything was so perfect, and my professors helped me so much. There’s no way the real world is like that in real life.”
Murray’s most important lesson learned from her time in Europe is to not be afraid of traveling. She said to travel even if you have to do it alone. Studying abroad in Italy helped focus her career decision to become a travel blogger and photographer. Right now, she’s in the process of improving her writing and photography skills so that she can enhance her blog and attract new traffic to her website.
Murray’s role model for creating a travel blog is Helene Sula of heleneinbetween.com. Sula is an experienced travel blogger and photographer who lives in Germany, and Murray looks up to her for inspiration and guidance on how to turn travel blogging into a career.
With the internet, Murray said that making money with a travel blog is made easier through advertising, merchandising and corporate reviews for brand products. So far, Murray joked that she’s made 7 cents on her blog. She explained that it is all about gaining traffic, new subscribers and a loyal audience to your website.
Murray is the 21-year-old daughter of Keith and Jolene Murray of Whiteville. She is a senior at East Carolina and is expecting to graduate in May. She is on the constant lookout for internships and opportunities to gain more experience before making travel blogging and photography a full-time career. She is hoping to move to New York City, Chicago or any large city to write about her experiences there.
Murray said that her time in Italy has only whetted her appetite for traveling abroad and has only given her a small taste of what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She has her sights set on London as her next big travel destination, but she wants to reach Australia and Asia at some point in the future.