Last summer, I had the most incredible opportunity to study abroad during the month of July in a small Italian town called Tuscania. Tuscania is situated between Rome and Florence and is a convenient 30-minute bus ride to the Mediterranean Sea. The town has a population of about 8,500 people and more than 90% of the population only speaks Italian. Needless to say, with no Italian language experience, I got very good at pointing and charades by the end of my trip!
I say that it was the most incredible opportunity for me because, as a student who has changed majors multiple times and has been involved in several year-long commitments to student organizations, studying abroad never seemed possible for me. To my advantage, Lorenzo de’ Medici offers summer school abroad during the months of June and July. If you are wanting to study abroad in a more affordable way, or your class schedule is packed like mine, I would highly encourage looking into this school.
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint what I loved most about Italy because there was so much to take in. I loved everything about Italy – the picturesque rolling hills of the Lazio region, the narrow and winding cobblestone streets in Tuscania, and the flowering balconies that seemed to be attached to nearly every apartment in town. I am kind of cringing while writing this because, while pictures are never as beautiful as the real thing, words do absolutely no justice in describing the amazing views I was lucky enough to see every day.
I took a class called Body Language and Communication, which is similar to Concordia’s Nonverbal Communication course. There were only two students in my class, including me, so that really gave me a new appreciation for the small student-to-faculty ratio that we talk so much about at Concordia. The course provided an in-depth understanding of how we can read and understand body language in others, and this was learned through analyzing body language patterns in ourselves. My classmate and I connected so much with our professor, Gloria, that our last day of class ended in happy tears and a trip to the best gelato spot in town. Gloria was one of the kindest and most empathetic people I’ve ever met and, as cheesy as it sounds, she taught me so much more than I could ever learn from a textbook. If any of my professors are reading this, I also did learn a lot from that textbook.
Speaking of textbooks, I realized near the end of my stay that I had spent as much money on gelato as I had spent on one course textbook. Let me explain. I took to running around the town of Tuscania before dinner most nights because I wanted to get to know the town on foot. I love running, so it was a good way for me to incorporate one of my hobbies into my study abroad experience. However, after every run, I took a “mandatory” trip to one of my favorite gelato shops in town and enjoyed my go-to flavor, pistachio, before heading home. By the end of the trip, the staff at the shop knew me by my order (and probably by my poor attempts at speaking Italian). I also got gelato on many of our school-sponsored outings and while walking around town with my roommates. Hopefully, you can now see how I came to order a textbook’s worth of gelato while in Italy.
With that being said, I’d say that the best way to feel a sense of belonging in a new place is to do what you love. For me, it was running and cooking, and those were two things I did a lot of in Italy. Well, and eating gelato, but I would not consider that one of my passions. If there is one piece of advice I could give to people wanting to study abroad, it would be to incorporate your passions into your study abroad experience. It helped me immediately feel more at home and it made me feel like my individual passions had a place in Italy as well.