For my STEP project, I lived and studied in the small town of Castiglione del Lago in Italy for six weeks. During the program, I took classes on Roman and Etruscan History while simultaneously working on an excavation of a Roman villa near Lake Chiusi. Our field work and classes were also complimented with field trips to museums and a weekend trip to Rome.
Going into this experience I didn’t really know what to expect. My goals were to gain confidence in myself and academic abilities, further my interests in archaeology, and foster connections with the people in my program and Italy. Beyond these goals, studying abroad caused me to grow in many areas of my life and has changed my view of the world. This experience has given me a greater understanding of myself and how in the past I have prevented myself from going into uncomfortable situations out of fear. Ever since I started college I was unsure of what I wanted to do and switched around my major a good amount. Because I was always starting out with a new major, I would always stop myself from applying to jobs or internships because I was worried I wasn’t qualified enough. I had the same fears about doing field work and feeling further behind than everyone else. But when I got there I soon realized that my classmates were from all different majors and levels of experience. This was all a story I had been telling myself just to avoid my fear of failure.
Another assumption I had going into this program was that it would help me narrow down my interests and clarify my career path. But, I have come back with new interests in areas that I never expected. While this is not what I had expected the outcome of this trip to be, it has opened up possible career paths I hadn’t considered before. I now have many new ideas about how to integrate all of these new areas I am passionate about into my future and career. This has changed my preconception that my career needs to be focused on one field or subject.
The process of breaking down my fears happened gradually throughout my trip. When I first left for Italy, I honestly felt very nervous and scared, which are two feelings I never usually have or admit to having. I’ve always been very adventurous and independent, but travelling for the first time to a foreign country by myself made me super uneasy. Just being able to make it through both of my flights and navigate through multiple airports was such a huge step in being able to know that I can take on things I have not done before. And throughout my trip I continued to gain more confidence as I was often put in situations where I was uncomfortable and seen as an ‘outsider.’ Things as simple as going to the grocery store or doing laundry were at first anxiety provoking, but soon as I got more comfortable in the town I was living in I began to make connections with the people living there. In addition to being anxious about simply living in another country, I was nervous that I was going to be behind my classmates with experience in field work and that I would not be able to handle how challenging the program was. Excavating a Roman villa while simultaneously taking classes, was probably one of the most challenging experience I’ve had in my life, it showed me how much I can accomplish when I am determined to succeed.
This trip also introduced me to fields I never thought I’d be interested in. I have always been interested in Roman history but had not explored the mixture of Roman-Greco culture. Through class readings and frequent museum trips I soon learned how intertwined the two cultures of these classical civilizations were. I took a particular interest in how Greek mythology manifested in Roman art, this was largely a result of going to the Palazzo Massimo museum. During this visit, I was astounded by the large collection of mosaics and statues that included a myriad of Greek motifs. I decided to make this museum trip the subject of my blog post that was required for this class, and delved into researching this topic even further. Even after my trip I have continued learning about Greek mythology by beginning to several books such as the Odyssey, and one on Classical Greek Mythology. I also found a new interest in museum exhibits and how they come to together. During the course we not only got to see a variety of different museums designs we also designed our own panels for a future exhibition for our site at the museum in Castiglione Del Lago.
During much of my time in Italy, I was often reflecting on the cultural differences I saw between Italy and the U.S. Living in a town where most people spoke very little English, opened my eyes to the way immigrants, living in a foreign country feel every day. Except the big difference I noticed was that most people were very willing to deal with our broken Italian. In the U.S most people are expected to speak flawless English or otherwise most people get frustrated. At the core of this, I think this stems from the belief that our certain behaviors in our culture should be in everyone’s culture. This was also apparent in the way I saw many American tourists behave themselves while I was touring throughout the country. Many would frequently complain about how slow the service was or other behaviors that did not fit their standard was. It was honestly very upsetting to see other American’s lack of awareness and respect for others cultural differences. I think this self-awareness and respect of others needs to be more engrained in our culture.
This transformation has already been significant in how I live my life. As I am rising senior, I have to start thinking about post-college plans and what I want to do for a career. This experience has given me the confidence to think big about my future plans. I am very eager to learn more from doing, and therefore have started to apply for several internships in the fall. These vary widely from a museum internship to a marketing internship for a health company. Both are fields I am passionate about, and no longer see these fields as mutually exclusive. Either internship will surely give me useful skills for the future. I also want to make inclusion and diversity a proponent in career. From what I saw during my program, we still have a long way to making our culture an understanding and cultural aware. Overall, this program has been a great experience. It has transformed the way I see myself and the world, and opened up many new possibilities for my future.