March 22nd, 2016
PERUGIA, Italy — The “Live, Learn, and Do” concept defines SUNY Albany’s Michelle LaBarbara’s study abroad experience in Perugia, Italy this semester. Michelle brought her communications and language studies overseas to study at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia, Perugia’s University for Foreigners, through the Direct Enrollment Program at the Umbra Institute. The Umbra Institute is an American study abroad program that focuses on community engagement as a way to introduce students to intercultural interpretations of international realities.
Despite the language barrier, Michelle has managed to turn Perugia into her home away from home. “I was hesitant to do Direct Enrollment because everything is taught in Italian,” said Michelle as she reflected on her program choice, “but I wanted to come back knowing as much as possible.” While enrolled at the University for Foreigners, Michelle has been given the opportunity to interact not only with Italians, but with students from around the world. One of her favorite memories so far this semester includes a classroom exercise during which students were required to make a presentation about their own country and respond to peer inquiries. “It was interesting for me to see how other countries perceived America,” said Michelle before highlighting that her favorite presentation was made by an Iranian classmate from Tehran who shared that, despite popular belief, she did not have to wear the traditional Hijab and that the youth of the country are evolving the culture away from more conservative practices for which the country is known. “This experience has opened my eyes to so many different things that I wouldn’t know existed if I hadn’t left the country,” reflected Michelle. “I feel like if you are only ever in your own country, no matter where it is, you think you know what the world is like, but when you leave, you realize that there are different mentalities, different job opportunities, different everything”.
During her time in Italy, Michelle has been working to live abroad, rather than study abroad – her days are spent learning Italian language and conversation and, whenever she is not in a classroom, she is getting to know the community through projects like that of Radiophonica, a local, student-run, WebTV and WebRadio broadcaster. During the past few weeks, Michelle has met with representatives from Radiophonica to develop a radio talk show that will be recorded throughout the last half of the semester. The talk show is meant to explore cultural differences and international perspectives through the eyes of international students. “It is a way to connect the different cultures that are here,” commented Michelle before describing that her part of the project will be to share her perspective on different European locations as she travels. “My Danish friend once told me that she would never travel to Barcelona for just a weekend and that made me interested in the different ways that people can view something as simple as travel,” explained Michelle.
“I have met so many Italians and International students. Everyone is just so friendly here” said Michelle as she expressed that her friendships have led her to enjoy many discussions that brought to light cultural differences and opinions over shared home-cooked meals. Through engaging the local community, both inside and outside the classroom, Michelle has managed to immerse herself in both Italian and international culture to expand her understanding of the world around her. She feels that study abroad has taught her to adapt to a new environment and language, and how to prosper through that adaptation.
About the Umbra Institute:
The Umbra Institute is an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with a vast variety of fine arts, psychology, business, and liberal arts courses both at the Umbra Institute and at local Italian Universities, through Umbra’s Direct Enrollment program. For more information about the Umbra Institute, see the website above.