Study Abroad – Milan, Italy

Noelle Zies

Study Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project I participated in a study abroad program hosted by the Department of Design entitled, “Exploring the History and Future of Design in Milan, Italy.” This program was a 3 credit hour course focusing on the design culture in Milan and touching on architecture, product design, fashion trends and visual design in relation to the city.

Over the course of this program, I was able to learn a lot about the relationship of design to other cultures and spaces. I learned how other people in diverse cultures interact with design and how valuable it is to them. My greatest takeaway is that I learned not only how to be independent, both as a designer and as a person, but that I am completely capable of being independent. This allowed me to see every location I visited in a new way and it gave me the confidence to explore.

When I first got to Milan, I felt like one number of a pack, sticking with the group and following the leader. It was imperative that I keep up, pay attention to what was happening and watch every move of the instructor to make sure that I wouldn’t get lost. There were a couple of instances when members of the group did get separated and I remember feeling completely terrified, “What if that were me? I would never be able to find my way back.” I was in a new country, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city and unable to speak the language. I felt like my life depended on staying by the instructor’s side and following his lead.

Originally, it seemed like a month wasn’t enough time to learn my way around the city, let alone the metro system. But much to my surprise, I had it down after the first week. Staying with the group that first week really helped because we created a routine and I was able to remember all of the landmarks along the way to each of our excursions. The first time I led the group through the underground I felt so proud of myself for being able to do it. By the third week I felt like a local. I knew where the coffee shops were, how to read the metro maps, where the ATM’s were and I was shopping at the market up the street every couple of days. Even though it wasn’t home, it felt familiar and it gave me the confidence to explore more of the city.

With my newfound confidence I didn’t mind leaving to go explore on my own. I would wander into shops or stop to sit in a park without worrying that I was alone. It was such a proud and freeing feeling to know that I was halfway across the world, in a foreign country, strolling around on my own and soaking in all the city had to offer. I think part of what drew me towards gaining this independence was the need for alone time. Being on a study abroad trip with a small group of girls was a great way to get to know each other and make new friends. But It also made it very hard to spend quality time appreciating all of the breathtaking sights surrounding us because there was always a destination we were trying to make it to as fast as possible.

This change was very important for me to go through. My entire life, I’ve been under the impression that I needed to get permission or approval before trying something new. I had to rationalize with myself whether I should take the leap, put myself out there and explore the unknown. I felt like I needed someone there to hold my hand before I could take a risk. At 21 years old, it’s very important to be able to do things on my own.

Overall, this change was most helpful for personal growth. However, I’ll definitely be able to use these new feelings of independence and confidence to better my design work. Instead of needing approval from my professors or someone to hold my hand throughout the creative process, I can take risks on my own and trust myself to find the right path.

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