My dad always asks, “I thought you went to Italy to get an education. When do you attend class if you are always traveling?” And I always respond, “Dad I do go to class. Monday through Thursday and then I travel during the weekends.” I have made the most out of my experience. Once I am in Italy it is a lot cheaper to travel within the European countries. But enough with the travel blogs, it’s time to discuss the main reason why I came to Italy—learning a new language and the benefits!
Many people ask the reason why I chose Italian and I answer, “perchè no!” This translates into English as why not! (FYI, anyone studying in Florence visit an amazing gelatoria called “Perche No.” Don’t miss it!) Studying abroad isn’t as hard as it is perceived. Anyone can do it if they have the determination to try.
I started taking Italian classes at College of Marin with my cousin and aunt. I owe them many thanks, without their encouragement I would never be where I’m today (as I write this I am on the balcony of a beautiful Italian apartment with the view of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II… not to rub it in). I took two semesters at College of Marin. I had the best Italian professor in the world. Studying a foreign language never appealed to me. My Spanish teacher at Chapman University crushed any interests I ever had. I was hesitant to register for Italian because of my prior foreign language experience. The risk I took was well worth it. I understood the importance of having an excellent teacher and how much she encouraged me keep trying even when I became frustrated with myself. Not to mention, I also had a helpful tutor who I went to religiously. I’ve learned it’s all about seeking resources when a challenge presents itself. During my second semester my mother, who teaches at City College of San Francisco, informed me there was an Italian study abroad program. Before she finished her sentence, I knew I would go. The next day I called Jill Heffron, the study abroad program coordinator, and discussed the details of the semester. I knew I could not pass up the opportunity. Within 48 hours of learning about the program I made my deposit. Some people don’t seize the opportunity like I did and there’s nothing wrong with taking time to think about it, I just had the urgent desire.
One of the major concerns I had was financial aid. The advice I give to my friends who are considering an abroad program is don’t let money hold you back!!! There are many scholarships available if you really want to have the study abroad experience. A student has to advocate for oneself and apply because many scholarships go unused. I was lucky enough to learn about the California College for International Education scholarships. The application for their scholarship wasn’t too complicated. I had to fill out an application of questions, write an essay, get transcripts, and have someone write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. The hardest part was the anticipation of hearing back from CCIE. When the day came, I couldn’t have been more please. Thanks for the CCIE POCCSA Student Scholarship I was able to put their scholarship money to part of my tuition.
I’ve never understood why students don’t apply to scholarships when they complain about how expensive tuition is. Usually their reasoning is, it takes too long to apply, I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t think I would get it, and other pointless excuses. My rebuttal, the applications aren’t difficult to do, make time to apply if you really want to go, and don’t quit before trying, have confidence in yourself!
It’s all about perspective. Prior to Italy I knew I would have to cut my spending in half while at home. That meant not eating out or buying new clothes. I reasoned with myself the money I saved while at home would be money I could use in Italy. Why eat at my favorite restaurants in San Francisco when I could try a new one in Italy. To discourage my urges to shop I avoided the malls and shopping centers at all costs, and when I did go, I left my credit card at home.
Saying goodbye to my family wasn’t too hard because of Skype. I’ve never been homesick while in Italy… well once and it was when the Giants won the World Series. With Skype I can call my family whenever I want, mind you the time differences though. I won’t’ lie, I have called my mother at three in the morning to ask her questions, and lucky for me I have a very understanding mom who has given me great support while over here. Skype should be on every student’s computer; it’s the instant cure for homesickness.
My specific program through CCSF was broken into two stages. The first stage was spent in Rome then after a ten day mid break. I explored Greece for ten days. Upon returning we had a day to pack up and move to Florence. People ask me which half I liked better and it’s hard to answer. Each city offers different experiences. But if I had to choose, I enjoyed my stay in Florence more than Rome. Reason being is I’m from a small town rather than a city. Rome was big and fast and always something going on. Florence was slower paced and more intimate.
On the academic side, I loved Florence because of my Italian teacher. I only wish everyone back home could experience a class with Antoninette. She was a true actress. She knew how to utilize her facial expressions and hand gestures to teach us. It was like watching a movie. Always when the bell rang ending class, I had the craving to learn more.
The teachers who taught at Scuola of Leonardo da Vinci are all native Italian speakers who don’t speak English. If they did speak English, they hid it very well from us, or spoke very little. Rarely did they use English only when the class became perplexed with understanding a concept. This teaching style forces the student to really engage. At home the Italian professor was an English speaker. I consider myself lucky because when I came to Italy, I had a foundation to work on. By the time I was in Italy, I had enough knowledge to help my advancement of learning Italian. Monday through Thursday we spent three hours in class. The first half was spent on grammar and the second was concentrated on conversation. Conversation was my favorite because it was challenging for me. Antoninette was very encouraging of me when speaking even when I continually made mistakes (sometimes the same mistakes over and over again). On Thursdays after class we had an hour break and then we took our weekly exam.
The benefit of learning Italian in Italy is the constant buzz of the Italian language all around you. My lessons in class did not end once the bell rang. When I went out to eat or when I went to the market, I applied what I learned in order to communicate with the locals. Speaking is only part of learning Italian, but to hear it on the streets or in a café furthered my cultural exposure. The more exposure a person has to the language, the better retention and learning. At home I couldn’t get this experience.
It wasn’t until this semester did I realize studying abroad should be a graduation requirement. Not because of the language requirements at all colleges, but to experience how another culture lives. I like to think I wasn’t entirely sheltered before this semester, but now my eyes are wide open. I have the thirst of exploring more countries and their cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re still in college or not, the programs are also for people who have graduated. I’m 24 and this was my first time overseas. I finally understand why all my friends told me studying abroad would be life changing. This is my gesture of paying it forward. I greatly hope my blog encourages anyone to take the jump and leap into another countries’ world and study abroad!