Gabrielle discovered the "true" Italy through language, food, family, and school.
Home University: University of Rhode Island
Host University: UCSC Milan
Why did you choose to study abroad in Italy?
Italy had always been a place in my heart, in the sense that my heritage is Italian and all I ever wanted, more than anything and since I was very young, was to go to Italy. In fact, in high school I had the idea of studying for all four years of college in Italy and completing my degree there, but instead I chose to remain in the U.S. and study abroad for at least a semester. That semester abroad in Italy was a definite from the beginning, all there was to plan was when, where, and how.
However, another 'definite' of my desire to study in Italy was my resistance against coming to Rome or Florence, reason being that my personal encounters with others who had studied in these places didn't jive with what I desired out of my own experience. Often times students, especially Americans, come to study and learn the language yet return speaking less Italian than when they left. The semester abroad as a sort of extended-European-vacation wasn't the kind of experience I was seeking- I was after Italy, above all Italian as a language, and in deepening my understanding of my own origins. Two other places were offered by the University of Rhode Island as affiliate programs- one in Sicily and the other in Milan- and the Milan program offered through GlobaLinks Learning Abroad at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore was highly recommended to me by my professor of Italian at URI. From there, the rest is, by now, history!
You have some amazing pictures of food - tell me about the food in Italy.
Foodie is a term that does well to describe what I tend towards in any situation, and as the child of Italian Americans in the restaurant business I genuinely have the 'food' gene in my blood. To explain my photos I have to explain that tendency, since my innate desire in those situations is, instantly, to take a picture of the food. And most, but not all, of the photos are of my own cooking. A common misunderstanding about Italy is the exaggeration as a country full of amazing food. Sadly, in certain ways this is just not the case, especially in restaurants, since the effects of commercialism and globalization have definitely tainted the food tradition and ritual for which Italy is so celebrated. Therefore I was keen on savoring the joy of eating that was more to be found at home. In this way they kind of document my own learning and growth. It's not at all a food photography designed to 'promote' or 'beautify', but really just serve as memories captured in beautiful photos. I don't own a professional camera or pretend to be yet another 'amateur photography fanatic'- all my photos were taken with my iPhone.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about studying abroad in Italy?
This is a question I am now often confronted with, and one that I think about significantly. The only advice I can offer has to do with what I desired personally, and how I dreamed of the experience to be. Like I said, my intentions were to try as hard as I could to "perfect" my Italian (luckily, I discovered early no such perfection exists), and to realize the dreams of discovering more about my origins; who knows maybe even, one day, becoming an Italian- American dual citizen. Back in November I was fortunate enough to visit the towns where my grandmother and great-grandparents were born and married- and miraculously I was able to obtain the documents that will, hopefully, grant me dual citizenship. I was lucky to land an internship- that I had to check after-the-fact to make sure it was possible for me to complete at Cattolica- for a short period of a few months in Milan at an agency that organizes trade shows in the fashion and textile industries, both in Italy and abroad in places like Shanghai and the Middle East.
All of these opportunities were made possible for me, though, because of my knowledge of Italian. To me, the most meaningful piece of advice I can give to others, who maybe aren't even in the same position as me, is about the language: the more foundation you have in the language before studying abroad, above all in a place that speaks a foreign language other than English, the better. As much as I praise the decision to embark on a study abroad experience no matter what or where it is, my year-long experience abroad has forced me to confront the truth that you need some kind of language preparation before going abroad. I have met countless students who all wished they had learned some more Italian before they came to study. It is also relevant in everyday life, and in the image the students can project, for example of sticking to speaking English with a few Italian words thrown in, that, in a certain way, disrespects the country and the people of that country that are hosting them. The ascent of English to "the" global language also plays a big role, and can give Americans or British or Australians, who were lucky enough to be born in countries where it is their mother language, a false sense of power or advantage- at least in a social sense. The fact of the matter is that, in Italy, Italian is (and should be) just as important as English- and the same for German in Germany, Korean in Korea, Turkish in Turkey, or Thai in Thailand, etc. In any case, if nothing else it will only better the experience if you have some foundation of the language before you leave.