Gaining Service Experience While Studying Abroad in Italy
Madelin, Spring 2023, Florence
May 15, 2023

This past semester, I was grateful to have had the opportunity to volunteer at Il Villaggio Dei Popoli which is a non-profit cooperative that has been operating in the field of fair trade, ethical finance, and critical consumption since 1990. Some of my responsibilities included helping in their English marketing efforts, expanding their tourism store selections, tending to any needs in the shop, as well as to educating my fellow classmates and locals in the Florence community. Over the past few months, I was able to gain several life skills that I am able to apply in both my daily life as well as in the classroom. For example, I was able to build strong connections with some of our regular customers where I was able to practice my Italian as well as the American students that would visit our store where I could explain the important backgrounds of each of our products. It was truly amazing to learn about the impact and importance of fair trade in my Ethics and Justice in Food Systems class, then being able to go to work to see these efforts being brought to life.

Mercer Bleh and I on our first day of work at Il Villaggio Dei Popoli. We were both nervous yet so excited to embark on this new adventure during our semester in Florence.

Whether I was researching AltroMercato partners such as I Was A Sari, the Tomato Revolution, Philippine sugar, or jewelry made from old war mines in Cambodia, I was constantly learning more about these unique products from impoverished countries that promoted fair trade within their organizations. It was evident to me how vital fair-trade establishments are all over the world not only because they prioritize protecting workers’ rights, but also because their employees gain important life skills, training courses, English classes, medical and financial support. Organizations like AltroMercato and Il Villaggio Dei Popoli wear their values on their sleeves as they advocate for the wellness of both people and our planet. I have become so passionate about explaining to others why fair trade is so important because it guarantees that workers receive good wages, safe working conditions, unconditional support, and flexible hours.

My family came to visit back in April and I had the pleasure of taking them to our shop. It was such a special moment to be able to introduce my parents to the place where I had been working for the semester. I was able to introduce them to different fair trade products and explain why this shop plays such a vital role in our Florence community.

Not only have I gained life-long friends through this program, but I have also developed skills that I will carry on long after my semester in Florence, Italy comes to an end. This internship has taught me several skills such as time management, public speaking, leadership, communication, problem solving, and so much more. I am incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to embark on such an amazing adventure and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is looking to give back to their new community while studying abroad!

Mercer Bleh and I on our last day at Il Villaggio Dei Popoli. It was a bittersweet moment because we had gotten so close with our co-workers and some of our shop regulars. We knew that after completing our internship here, we were able to play a small part in giving back to our community here in Florence.


Written by: Madelin McClean, Spring 2023 Florence Student, from University of South Carolina

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