Siena Italian Studies — Reporting Back

Name: Sarah Robinson

Type of Project: Study Abroad

1.Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

I studied with the Siena Italian Studies program in Siena Italy, attending class 5 days a week and living with a host family. In my free time outside of classwork and studying, I traveled to a total of 7 other countries, experiencing as many different cultures as I could.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I gained a greater understanding of the English language through learning to speak Italian. As we were learning different grammatical rules, our professors would explain concepts in English when necessary, but one of our classmates is from Ecuador and her first language is Spanish. She described her experience very differently than we did, because while she was fluent in English, she was learning a new language through the lens of her second language. It gave me a greater appreciation for learning a second language as facilitated by my native language. 

Furthermore, my experience in teaching english unofficially to my host sister gave insight to how the English language is learned in comparison to how I started learning Italian. I learned just how complex and varied the English language is, with all the grammatical rules being broken half the time. All this, however, is to say that through my experience analyzing the learning processes for learning a new language, I realized a greater empathy for people who live in a society that speaks a language other than their first language. Even after years of practicing, there are things that evade you, or references that don’t make sense, and the native speakers of that language will certainly treat you different than their peers or those who grew up speaking their language.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Living with a host family for three and a half months definitely affected my perspective on language and culture. The family had a lot of similarities to my own, and though they occasionally functioned in a different way than I have observed in the United States, there were far more similarities than differences, despite the use of a completely different language. Teaching my host sister English on occasion changed my perspective o

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n the language learning process— my interactions with her, a woman of roughly my same age, showed me the value of learning another language in a perspective I had not considered— she wanted to learn English so she could move to London to find work, because there are perceived more job opportunities there than the small Italian town in which my host sister lives.

The other students in the program with me also affected my cultural perspective on how non-Americans view Americans. To my surprise, there were a few girls in my program who felt very very strongly about the “superiority” of the US over all other countries, and who took offense whenever our country was the butt of a harmless joke. Their actions and attitudes towards others and towards the culture of life in Siena was appalling, and made me realize that people like that are the reason non-Americans dislike American tourists. It made me re-evaluate my own actions and attitudes, and I tried to be more cognizant of how my actions might affect the citizens of Siena and the other countries and cities to which I traveled. My belief is that I was a guest in the country, in the cities, and I should act as a good guest should; that is I should be gracious towards those who made accommodations for me, but should not expect every door to be held open and the red carpet rolled out before me. I felt I should try to experience the cultures in which I was, by trying new foods and drinks, by not infringing on private spaces for a photo, and by trying to learn what I could about the area.

Finally, my wide travels across the European continent affirmed my belief that in order to be a good citizen of the world, one should travel as widely as they can and experience as many different cultures as possible. There is so much of the world to see, so much history to learn and phenomenal people to encounter. I want to continue to travel and appreciate different parts of the world, from the ancient ruins to the modern installations. I also realized I would love to learn more languages and be able to communicate with people from not just English speaking nations.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

As a student, I know after graduation I will have a job in which I will have to interact with people— all jobs have that to some extent of course. I do not know whether I will need to travel for work, or if I will stay at the same location. I do know, however, that the interpersonal skills and appreciation for culture that I developed while abroad will help me in my day to day interactions with coworkers and bosses, and will help me to build strong relationships in the company for which I will work. If I do travel for my future job, then I already have the necessary skills to keep calm and collected on my journey, and to be able to be a gracious guest of wherever my work will take me.

In my future life, I plan to travel more and experience as much of the world as I can. Now that I have good traveling skills, and the ability to independently solve problems and think on my feet, I feel much more able to do my own traveling, and to encourage others to do the same, to hopefully cultivate the same level of appreciation for other cultures that I have developed in my time abroad.

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