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My Semester in Perugia

An opinion piece by Natalia Caicedo 

My name is Natalia Caicedo and I’m a student at Clark University. During Fall 2023 I had the amazing opportunity of studying abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy. Although I’m a psychology and management double major at Clark, I decided to step out of my academic area and enrolled in the Food, Sustainability and the Environment (FSE) program. This program is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. Me along with around 23 students from schools all over the U.S. experienced Italy and its food firsthand and looking back it feels like a dream to have been a part of such a unique semester abroad.

Cultural Immersion and Personal Growth
Everything about this semester changed me in the best way possible. It opened my mind to a completely different culture when meeting people from all over Italy, Europe and United states, seeing how all the students at Umbra came from diverse schools very different from my own. I learned that although it can be hard to step out of one’s comfort zone, it is worth it because not only do you meet amazing people that can teach you many things, but it helps you learn how to connect to others. It also teaches you about independence and living autonomously. Personally, I learned how much I enjoy learning from the roots and talking to those who can teach from experience. For example, one of my favorite moments from last semester was talking to the owner of a restaurant who offered us Limoncello and sat down to talk to us after we finished our meal. Although there was a big language barrier, fortunately I’m a fluent Spanish speaker which really helped me communicate with him at a different level. We talked about history, politics, food and much more which are connected to many aspects of the FSE program.

Embracing a New Academic Adventure
I’ve said this multiple times, and I will continue to say it, I completely recommend this program and the Umbra Institute for a semester abroad. It can be a hard adjustment to leave your country and enter a new space, but the experiences lived in this program and in the dreamy city of Perugia cannot be replaced with anything. I am very thankful to have studied abroad and to have travelled so much inside Italy and Europe getting to know so many beautiful and culturally diverse cities and towns. I also keep in touch with the people I met during my time abroad and am grateful to have met people with such different backgrounds than mine.


Beyond the Classroom: Work-Study and Social Media Engagement
Apart from the academics, excursions, and travel I completed while abroad, I also participated in a work-study working alongside the social media and marketing team to come up with new and creative ideas to promote the Umbra Institute. Having had such an amazing and positive experience, I couldn’t wait to share this with other students in hopes that they would take up the opportunity of studying abroad in Perugia as well. Some of the ideas that we came up were to showcase Perugia and its charming sites, do ‘a day in my life’ videos of what students did on a day-to-day basis, show some of the FSE excursions, and my personal favorite, interview professors and staff members of the institute. I say that it’s my favorite project because not only could students get to know more about the program and courses through those teaching about it, but I could connect with them and share a space with them outside of class.


Learning from Passionate Educators
The staff and Umbra are unlike any other because of how passionate they are about everything that they teach and do. Learning from them was very special, especially during the excursions. Professor Clelia Viecelli was one of them and although class with her taught me a lot about the history and culture of food in Italy, hearing from her when talking to the farmers and producers in our Parma and Modena excursion was very insightful, so interviewing her was very special.

Carpe Diem 
In my opinion, there is nothing better than living genuine and real experiences and I can say for sure that the Italian culture is the peak of that for me. I look back at everything I lived and learned, and I feel fortunate to have had such a growing semester. With all the obstacles and difficulties that might’ve come my way, I can say it was worth it and I wouldn’t change anything about it. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me and living something like this is an immense preparation for life after college and at the same time a period of my life that I was able to say yes to everything and live in a “carpe diem” manner. I am always happy to talk about my experience and will always try to convince people that this is a unique experience you cannot miss.


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