“Why would you want to live here in Italy, when all of us are dying to live in the U.S.?!” When my new friend, Davide, asked me this question, I didn’t really have an answer for him. I gave a non-committal answer and told him that I just wanted to experience the Italian culture first-hand. But the question has been bothering me ever since that conversation. Why did I choose to study abroad in Italy for 8 month? Yes, I am working as an au pair, but I could have gotten a similar job back home. Sure, I’ll pick up the language but also could have done that in the U.S. as well. So why am I here?
I decided to move to Italy and work as an au pair this past November. Therefore, I only had two months to make all of the arrangements, try to get a visa (a total waste of time on my part), change my classes, and pack. I arrived in Tradate, Italy – a small town 40 minutes outside of Milan – on January 11. I came here to be an au pair – a nanny – so I am not taking any classes here at the university, just online classes through Concordia. But again, none of this explains why I chose to study abroad.
The best part of studying abroad, in my opinion, is the fact that you can experience a completely different culture – language, food, and way of living. However, this can also be a disadvantage because you have nothing that is familiar: new people, new home, new language, new food, new schedule, work, and a full-time load of classes. It all adds up to a large case of sensory overload. But it is manageable; I have just been trying to digest one thing at a time. The best way to adjust is to immediately adjust to the style of living. For example, I absolutely HATE coffee in the states, but I now drink cappuccinos almost every day (a major staple in any true Italian’s diet).
One thing I love about being an au pair rather than a student is that I get to stay with a family, so I am getting a true experience of Italian living – away from the tourists and the big city. However, living in a small town guarantees that most of the residents don’t speak English. Just to ask about the weather, I had to wave my hands like a crazy person and point outside for five minutes before a look of realization crossed over my host nonna’s (grandma’s) face and I finally thought she understood me. Then she responded, “Si, è mattina! (Yes, it’s morning!).” As you can tell, the hardest adjustment for studying abroad is the language barrier, so learning the language is a must when studying abroad.
But aside from these obvious reasons for studying abroad (experiencing the culture, learning the language, and eating some of the best food in the world!), studying abroad has many long-term effects that many people don’t consider. The greatest benefit of studying abroad is the affect that it has one you as an individual. By thrusting into this experience, one quickly learns to be very self-reliant and independent. A student in a foreign country also learns to appreciate not only the culture they are experiencing, but also their own in a new light. I have already found myself to be much more reflective about aspects of American culture that I never even thought about before (like how amazing it is to have a summer barbeque of hot dogs and hamburgers or having access to Pandora!). In addition, studying abroad includes increases in the value of one’s education as well as increases one’s candidacy while searching for jobs.
I was very excited to come because I knew that this experience would never come again, but now that I am actually here, I am appreciating my decision even more. Though I have only been here for a short time, I can already see myself changing little-by-little. As I mentioned, being here makes me appreciate Minnesota even more – there is nothing like seeing a fresh snowfall while curling up with a glass of hot chocolate! Studying abroad – or even just living abroad – is something that I would recommend to anyone, but as college students it is the perfect opportunity because we have the time and financial aid money to do so. In a few words, I think that the biggest reason that I chose to study abroad was just to be able to say, “Yes, I lived in Italy for 8 months.” ###
By Amanda Och
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