Study abroad – To change the world, know the world
The opportunity to study abroad – in Italy – came my way through the Upward Bound initiative at Kent State University. The programme works with students like me to make us college-ready and increase educational opportunities for first-generation, low-income students.
I had been an Upward Bound student for about five years and I had formed so many connections on campus. So, when I was told about the opportunity for under-served incoming Kent State students to study abroad, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be beneficial to me.
One thing that amazed me is that Italy has such a rich and wonderful culture. While in Florence, I took a ‘Roman achievement’ class, which discussed the Roman Empire’s influence in Europe.
It’s amazing to see that Florence still has some of the same building structures that were constructed during the time of the Roman Empire. Looking anywhere in Florence is like looking at a piece of history or art. Everywhere there are stories of success and triumph.
I took an elementary Italian class, and it was easy to pick up on the language because I was immersed in a culture that speaks it. The Florentine people were very helpful and I felt accepted in their culture.
In Florence I felt free. I was free to be who I was and I had no worries about not being accepted. Every day I passed by a pizzeria. One day I went in and met the woman who ran the place. The next day I went into the pizzeria again and she hugged me and asked if I wanted my ‘usual’.
This woman looked different from me. She was tall, had an olive-toned complexion and beautiful blue eyes, and I am a dark-complexioned girl. She accepted me for who I was. We remained close during my time there, and I visited her almost every day.
People began to refer to her as my Italian mother. I don’t know of many people who would just open their arms to a complete stranger after only one day of meeting them. I might have never known how accepting other cultures can be if I hadn’t studied abroad this past summer.
I became more aware of the differences that exist between the Italian and American culture.
One thing that really helped me grow is the fact that in Florence, the colour of your skin holds no barriers. I found that in Italy, no matter your skin tone, nationality or ethnicity, they don’t label you.
Italians, in my opinion, are accepting people and that has helped to shape my view of the world. I learned that not every society is like American society and not every culture deals with issues of race or skin tone the way we do in America.
Something about experiencing another culture and a different group of people makes you feel somewhat enlightened. To me, the world before traveling to Italy was just the small town of Ravenna, Ohio, where I grew up, and the small city of Kent, Ohio, where I attend college.
A change within
Coming home from Italy, I definitely felt some kind of change in me.
While I was away, I found a part of me that had been buried under a high-school mindset. Since returning from Florence, I’ve been excited and eager to learn more about other cultures and other ways to enlighten my life through empathy and love for people different from me.
Looking back on my experience, I can honestly say I am a better, more enlightened person for having done it. From here on out, I will be able to go out into the world and look at it differently and from a different perspective.
I can look at issues from my Americanised mindset or I can switch to my Italianised mindset.
The world is a big place; full of different kinds of people and cultures. I believe everyone should have a chance to explore other cultures while they are young and at a time when they can take what they learn, process and use it.
My advice for anyone going to study abroad is to have an open mind, with the expectation that this experience will be life changing.
To be able to change the world, you have to know what you’re trying to change. There is no way you can save the world if you don’t know what your cause is.
My advice for parents is to encourage this experience; allow your kids to be great. There is something great about being able to empathise with another culture. There is something amazing about being able to feel proud for having lived in a different country.
I am a proud American citizen and I am a proud adopted Italian. I am no longer the small-town, closed-minded girl that I left as. I am now a well-rounded, open-minded young woman who will continue to grow and mature as time goes on.
From here on out, I will definitely take the idea that I am more than what is on the outside along with me throughout my college years at Kent State and in life.
* Jalessa Caples is a student at Kent State University, USA.