We caught up with SAI Ambassador Danielle, who answered some questions about her time in her bella Italia.
What was your favorite class abroad and why?
Growing up in an Italian American household I learned a lot about my family’s Italian heritage and traditions. When I finally made it to Italy, I wanted to learn more about what it truly means to be Italian. I therefore took a course titled Cultural Introduction to the Italian Family. Throughout the course, I learned the various roles of family members, how the family has evolved over time in response to cultural shifts, and the contrasts between the traditions Italian American hold onto and what those traditions are in Italy at present. One of my favorite lessons was when we talked about holiday tradition. We talked about the different cakes for each holiday (i.e. cassata for Easter), the types of meals eaten, and who attends different holidays. A lot of what we talked about regarding holidays I realized are still prevalent in the Italian American population. Such as the tradition of a Christmas eve dinner featuring the Feast of the Seven Holy Fish, which my family still partakes in. As an additional part of the class I was paired with a family living in Florence and got to experience Italian family life in the real-world setting, not just within a classroom. This enabled me to experience my first real Italian Easter, take part in birthday celebrations, and experience day to day interactions between the family. Even though I am back in the United States, I still remain in touch with my Italian family and am so grateful for their acceptance of me into their family.
What is your favorite memory from studying abroad?
During spring break, I had two options, travel with my friends around Europe or spend the week with my parents exploring Italy and introducing them to the world I fell in love with. Most people would probably go with their friends, but I knew how important seeing Italy was to my father and this was the perfect opportunity for me to share it with him. So, my favorite memory of studying abroad was the sheer look of joy and wonder on my father’s face every time he looked around in a new place. The first time he saw the colosseum, the Trevi fountain, the Duomo, the Tower of Pisa, was priceless and reaffirmed my decision to share my life in Florence with him. Perhaps the most exciting for me was when we went to Naples because while my dad’s father’s family is from Sicily, his mother’s is from Potenza which is in the Naples area. To be in a place that our ancestors might have walked the streets was amazing. We even got to have a tour of underground Naples including an old theater and underground tunnels that had multiple purposes across the years. To see the pride on my parents faces at how fast I was picking up the language and how much I was succeeding as I studied abroad isn’t just my favorite abroad memory, but one of my favorite memories of all time.
Do you have any tips for learning the language while students are abroad?
If you really want to learn the language while abroad there are a few things you can do to help yourself learn it faster. 1. Take a class in the language. Studying the language in a classroom setting provides the background needed for a firm grasp of future concepts and vocabulary. It may seem repetitive, but it is a sure way to lay the ground work. 2. Speak the language whenever there is an opportunity. If you just learned how to order in a restaurant or café then do so whilst visiting food venues. Apply the knowledge you pick up even if you aren’t confident in your pronunciation of that you have the right word. The Italians are great people and love to help those who want to learn and are willing to try their language. 3. Join the Communication club or Family Club through FUA. Both clubs provide you with sources you can listen to and speak with fluent Italian speakers willing to provide insight. 4. Try to do a home stay. While this forces you to learn the language faster, this option isn’t for everyone. Do what you are comfortable with and make the most of your abroad experience, but my advice, the language is a large part of your chosen nation so take the time to try it out, it will enhance your experience.
Words of Wisdom
The idea of leaving behind friends, family, your language, and your country to travel and learn abroad in another nation can be terrifying, and yet to study abroad in spite of that fear can improve your self-confidence and prove to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Take a leap of faith. You won’t regret it.
Danielle was an SAI Florence spring 2018 student from Muhlenberg College.