When I first expressed interest to go abroad halfway through my freshman year, I found the number of program options to be quite overwhelming. There were so many factors to consider, whether it was simply choosing a country and a length of time or making sure that I could fulfill degree requirements and handle the cost, it took much careful research and planning to find the right fit. I came to choose Italy for two reasons, the first being my family’s Italian origins. I had always wanted to visit the land my great grandparents came from. The second reason was that it just made academic sense. By my sophomore year I was on track to complete UCI’s introductory Italian language course series (1A-1C). I figured that I could finally use what I was learning in real life. I settled on a year long full immersion program thanks to many visits to the Study Abroad Center on campus. In frequenting the center, I discovered that a common regret among past participants was not staying for a full year. Many told me directly that it took them quite a bit a time to get settled in and used to the host culture, and by the time they became comfortable, they had to come back. Not wanting this for myself, I decided to take the plunge and go for an entire year. At this point, now that two of my criteria were established, I was able to search for specific programs. After comparing multiple program options, I decided on a UC EAP program through the University of Bologna. Because this program had a strict two-year language prerequisite, the only way I could actually go was to participate in an additional summer intensive language program. After realizing I had chose just about the most expensive program option I could have, I knew that I would have to seek external financial assistance to cover the cost. The drastic difference in price to that of UCI is what brought me to apply for the Duttenhaver Scholarship as well as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Fortunately I received both awards, which meant that neither my parents nor I had to bear a sizable financial burden.
I arrived in Siena, Italy on June 15, 2010, the location of the program’s intensive language courses. I remained there, in a UC established language and cultural study center, until late August in preparation for classes at the University of Bologna. I studied advanced Italian language and grammar courses, as well as a university preparation course, which prepped us for the Italian University system. I was able to use part of the scholarship’s funds to live in a home stay with an Italian family. I firmly believe that this experience grew my sense of self-confidence, as it required me to use the language skills I was learning in class to communicate. Simply living amongst the family in their own home forced me out of my comfort zone as I was not used to the way in which they lived. Furthermore, living with an Italian host family afforded me additional luxuries, such as eating traditional food, and experiencing cultural traditions as they did. I like to think that I got a behind the scenes tour of Siena. As the summer language program drew to a close, I had to prepare for the University of Bologna and life on my own.
When I arrived in Bologna, I quickly realized that life was not going to be as easy as it once was. I was officially on my own in another country. I had to search for my own housing, shop for myself, and take care of all my other responsibilities on a daily basis. From this I can honestly say that my level of independence skyrocketed. I saw myself thriving on this new freedom and the ability to make my own choices. I became completely self-sufficient and self-confident. In my social and personal life things were going well. I met hundreds of people while traveling and at the university. I felt that I was learning something from each encounter. More importantly, I felt that meeting so many people really opened my eyes to the kind of person I was. In Bologna I found myself. Academically, things were even better. In attending a University with such a large international base, I was given the opportunity to meet students from around the globe. I was allowed to interact with Europeans on a daily basis and really examine, question, learn their perspectives, values, morals, and traditions. I was learning from international faculty- renowned leaders in their fields. I took courses in European history, Social Anthropology, Criminology, one that dealt with the Italian Political system, and even a course that compared America’s prosperity to that of Europe in the 20th century. With every class I took, I gained unique insight to the world beyond America’s borders. I began to critically examine America itself- the land in which I lived- much as an outsider would. I began to truly think critically and ask the question why. For the first time, I felt like I was actually learning something that I could take with me for the rest of my life. I thrived on this sentiment. I should take this moment to say that the University afforded me much personal time with which I elected to travel around Europe. In this regard, was able to explore other countries much as I was exploring Italy. I was experiencing the cultural, linguistic, and religious melting-pot that is Europe. What I admired most about traveling is that regardless of the direction I went, no two things were the same. I would find myself right back out of my comfort zone- whether it was the language, the customs, or the fashion. The opportunity for adventure was never-ending. I feel that this experience added greatly to broadening my international perspectives as well, and I could not have done most of it without the help of the scholarship’s funds. When it was all said and done, I visited over 20 different cities in 9 different countries while I was abroad. The Duttenhaver Scholarship helped me do it.
Through the use of the scholarship’s funds, I was able to step outside of the classroom and delve in to the particularities of the Italian culture. Being immersed in the culture allowed me everyday experiences that worked to broaden my horizons and enhance my global perspectives. In my time abroad I have gained an increased tolerance of the differences among people, cultures, and politics. I feel that this is absolutely an academic as well as personal step forward for me as spending a full academic year abroad has not only afforded me tremendous personal and academic growth, but also opportunity back at home. I feel it is relevant to mention that in keeping with this belief, I am now a member of UCI’s Study Abroad Center Staff. It is my role to motivate, encourage, and help fellow UCI students take the plunge themselves. I look forward to going into work everyday in the hopes that I motivate just one individual to change his or her life as I have changed mine. Studying abroad is undoubtedly one of the greatest opportunities available to students today, and who better to advocate its cause than a past participant? I am only beginning to realize the implications of my decision to go abroad, and it is my goal to share my experiences with others and give them the tools to make such a decision for themselves. I believe every undergraduate at UCI should go abroad.
A picture of me in Siena, Italy:
A picture of me in Bologna’s central square: