Year and semester studied at Umbra: Summer 2011 (June- mid July)
Undergraduate institution: Providence College
Undergraduate major and minor: Psychology/ Italian
Graduate Studies (year, institution, degree): 2012-2014, Providence College- Master of Education (MEd) in Counseling and Counselor Education
What have you been up to since attending Umbra?
Since attending Umbra, I finished my final year of undergrad in Psychology and my Italian minor. After my summer at Umbra, I had already decided that I wanted to do another experience in Italy so I thought about coming back after I graduated in 2012. However, I was offered a great opportunity as a Graduate Assistant at my university and a chance to complete my master’s for free, so I decided to wait another two years. Although I didn’t go back as planned, I did travel to Italy as often as possible during that time (2-3 times a year) to visit the friends I had made during my studies at Umbra. I also made sure to do everything possible to keep up with my Italian since I couldn’t take Italian classes during my master’s program.
How has studying abroad impacted your life (both personally and professionally)?
Studying abroad at Umbra and learning Italian has had an extraordinary impact on my life, both personally and professionally. I think in order to understand this type of impact, it’s important to understand one’s motives for going abroad. I originally chose to study abroad during a summer semester because I was so happy at my college that I couldn’t think about missing a whole semester there, however I also really wanted to improve my Italian skills, which I had decided to study basically just for fun. I had visited Italy with my family when I was younger and I loved it, plus my great grandparents had emigrated from Italy to NY, but nobody in my family spoke Italian. I wasn’t very organized the summer before I had originally intended to study abroad and I was looking for a program where I could focus on my Italian, which is rare for most Americans who study abroad. Luckily, I found the Arcadia info session at my college that covered information regarding the Italian language and culture focused program, and that was exactly what I wanted. I’m pretty sure I filled out the application the next day.
Studying abroad has made me a more confident, daring, and motivated person. By nature, I’m a pretty shy person and my first week in Perugia was a little rough (and keep in mind that I only had 6 weeks before the program ended!). Something that was difficult for me at the beginning was finding the right group of study abroad students that had similar interests to mine, such as truly immersing and engaging in Italian culture, and not just doing an ‘American style’ semester abroad. However, this situation also gave me the chance to develop parts of my personality that had been ‘hidden’, let’s say, up until this point. I decided to be more outgoing instead of latching on to one group of people upon arrival (as most people in my group did) and I made an effort to get to know everyone and jump from group to group. This may sound trivial for some, but as a person who was always stuck to my small, intimate group of friends this was a real challenge for me that I was proud to overcome. In six weeks, I wasn’t expecting to make lifetime friends, but I did manage to make amazing connections with a unique group of people who all had their own reasons for coming to Perugia.
Learning another language through my study abroad experience has made me a more daring person. Before going to Perugia, this was the most important motivation for me, in addition to traveling, which I already loved and did as often as possible. Learning Italian, in my opinion, would allow me to open and experience a new world in Italy that I hadn’t seen before as a ‘tourist’. Thanks to Umbra, not only did I get to do exactly that, but from the communication perspective, it allowed me to, again, develop another side of my personality that I didn’t usually expose in English. In Italian, I was more honest and open about my feelings, more straightforward and direct about my thoughts and opinions, and more confident in general because I was able to break out of the ‘American political correctness and etiquette’ standards that we usually live by. These attitudes eventually transferred over to my ‘English side’ and when I went back to America, I was more able to stand up for myself, fight for what I wanted, and be more honest about my needs and desires.
Learning a second language fluently was a long-term goal of mine. After six weeks in Perugia, I was able to speak with a certain level of fluency that I could never have imagined doing before. Being able to reach this goal had a huge impact on my motivation; it was the first time that I could say I had a goal that I was truly proud of reaching. This experience was really encouraging and made me realize that there was so much more to accomplish and that big goals aren’t impossible.
Professionally, my confidence, audacity, and motivation have had a huge impact. My confidence has allowed me to take on leadership positions in all the jobs I’ve had and to voice my opinions, thoughts, and ideas on how things are going in a workplace or what needs to change. Motivation has allowed me to take on two to three jobs, while finishing my degrees to pay for trips to Italy that would continue to help improve my Italian, and my audacity allowed me to make the decision to leave my family, friends, and home to move to Italy and have a scary, exciting, and unknown experience in a country that has given me all three of these things. Learning Italian has allowed me to land the amazing job I have today, which has given me an unimaginable opportunity to grow and develop skills in areas I never would have imagined working in before. My Italian skills and my experience at Umbra continue to open doors to new opportunities and allow me to be an open-minded and motivated professional.
What are you doing now?
Currently I’m living in Torino where I’ve been since September of 2014 and I’m working for a company called Fluentify. Fluentify is an Italian tech startup based on improving the language learning experience by focusing on practical, real-life language skills. On Fluentify, English learners can select native English speaking tutors from around the world to do 30-minute one-on-one video call English lessons. Originally I started working as an English tutor (my way of giving back for my language experience!) and eventually I was taken on as a member of the company’s Education Department to help develop the company’s methodology and create detailed courses in the areas of career (English for job seekers and business professionals), education (English for students who need to pass an English certificate exam) and travel (English for general traveling and personal reasons). My experience at Umbra was, and continues to be, a big influence on the way I design these courses. One of the things that I enjoyed most about learning Italian at Umbra, and one of the reasons I was able to become fluent, was the focus put on communication-based learning. This meant not just learning and memorizing verb conjugations, but learning the ‘non-academic’ Italian that would truly allow me to communicate with Italians both in informal and professional situations. Another crucial factor was the stress put on tandem learning. I’ll never forget the first tandem I went to in Perugia and how awkward it was (well, how awkward I felt), but also how useful it was and how it gave me the courage (and brilliant idea) to make Italian friends in order to improve my Italian. I’m constantly thinking about these experiences when I’m designing courses, developing useful content, and working with my English students (I even sometimes reference some really old worksheets and my syllabus from Umbra for ideas!).
Since starting as a member of the Fluentify team I have had the opportunity to develop professionally in areas I never would have thought thanks to the fast-paced and ever changing startup mentality. I now work as the Tutor Community Manager as well and collaborate with the Marketing Department to develop English social media content targeted for Italian audiences. My Italian fluency has been crucial in my success in this job because all of my (11) colleagues are Italian and we work in Italian in the office every day. My ability to communicate with them and then translate their thoughts, ideas, campaigns, etc. into English to communicate both with the tutors and the English learning community is extremely important for our work flow and the growth of the company.
Are you still in touch with friends you made in Perugia?
I’m still in touch with some of my friends, both American and Italian, from Perugia. With most of them, we chat every once in a while via Facebook and a bunch of them have visited me in NY since we left Perugia.
Also, I met my boyfriend the summer I studied in Perugia and we’ve been together since then… he was studying there when we met and then moved to Torino for work (which is why I ended up in Torino)… so he’s also one of the friends I met and my biggest reason for moving to Italy. In the end, my study abroad experience has impacted my life more than I can write here.
What is one piece of advice you would give to prospective students thinking of studying abroad?
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE NATIVES. This is my number one piece of advice because not only can you improve your second language skills (if you’re studying one), but it really gives you the chance to see the world from somebody else’s eyes who lives in a different part of the world. This experience gives you a whole new outlook on life that has an impact on the way you approach everything you do from your personal interactions to your professional choices. This has allowed me to appreciate my own culture and home for many things, but also question lots of things that I took for granted before. It’s important to be open-minded (and with Italians, to not take things personally because they are often much more direct and honest than we are used to).