For my STEP Signature Project, I fulfilled a dream that I’ve had for many years of my life by completing a semester abroad in Milan, Italy through the Fisher Undergraduate Student Exchange program. Through this program, I had the opportunity to spend 4 months as a full-time student at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi – one of the more renowned universities in Europe.
As a student, I enrolled in four courses; two business classes that transferred directly back to my OSU coursework, one History class, and an Art class – in Italian. In addition to the studious side of my semester, I was accepted to join 180 Degrees Consulting, a Milan-based consulting branch focusing on social enterprises and non-profits. Alongside, I was able to travel extensively throughout Italy and other European countries including Spain, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Austria, and Switzerland.
Although I was originally born in Caracas, Venezuela, my grandparents were fully Italian. Throughout my childhood, my grandfather would speak to me in Italian in hopes that I grasped enough of the language to carry a conversation with him. Despite attempting as best I could, I focused on my first language, Spanish, and developing my English when I moved to the U.S. Since I was young, I set a goal in life to become fluent in Italian, that way I could fulfill my grandpa’s dream of integrating his life and culture into his family; and also add a third language to my toolbox. It was my central motivation in studying abroad and the reason I selected Milan, Italy as my destination. Sadly, my grandfather passed away a few months before my study abroad, and although I was not able to fulfill his dream of speaking in Italian together, this lit a fire in me to study whatever it takes to become fluent. Living like a local in the streets of Milan gave me the most optimal opportunity to dive into the language, culture, and traditions of an authentic Italian citizen.
Throughout the semester I made it my mission to speak Italian as much as I could by practicing it at local cafes every morning, asking for recommendations from locals on the streets, and even taking a full course on The Theories of Renaissance Art in full Italian language. This class, while intriguing and informational, was immensely challenging, as the Professor sped through historical concepts and intricate theories of art, to a class of 90% Art Majors; and four American students hoping to understand the concepts he was explaining. Despite the difficulty of the class, I was able to grasp so much vocabulary and truly enhance my speaking abilities through this class. By the end of the four months, I felt extremely confident saying that I was fluent in Italian. To my grandfather, I hope he is proud of me for the strides I took in learning his language, and for myself, I transformed my dreams into reality, and learned that even the complexity of learning a new language in four months can be accomplished with drive, a lot of hard work, and numerous embarrassing moments of messing up in front of natives.
During my adventures in Milan, I encountered various people who were crucial in helping me complete my goals and enjoy my experience. While many of them were unaware of my aspirations, I met countless Italian students who were willing to tutor me, practice speaking skills with me, and provide resources to accomplish my dream. There is no way that I will be able to fully thank every person that I met on this trip for their immense impact on my life. My language exchange partner, Claudia, my consulting team at 180 Degrees, the owner of the café adjacent to my apartment, Carmen, the doorman of my apartment, Javier, my fitness trainers, Giorgio and Arianna, the cashier at my favorite Dim Sum restaurant, Sara, and the owner of the Gelateria on my street, Marcella, are individuals who have created such a deep impact in my life and truly changed the way I view the world, the way I create relationships, and of course – the language that I speak! Alongside, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting friends from every corner of the globe. I am so grateful that if I ever travel to any continent around the world, I have a friend that I can send a message to, to catch up or show me around. Finally, I could not have completed this trip in the first place if it weren’t for my two study abroad partners from Ohio State. I was so fortunate to meet them on this trip and become such close friends.
Of course, I cannot only mention the best moments of this trip without including the difficult experiences as well. Although we were prepared for the worst going into the program, we still experienced many difficult, uncomfortable, and scary situations. As we traveled almost each weekend, we experienced our fair share of scary transportation moments, we had friends who had their wallets, passports, and phones stolen and even had to pay the price of making bad decisions – no literally, my friend and I had to pay for a $150 taxi because we missed the last bus home. However, all of these experiences built into the transformative lessons that we learned while abroad. They taught us that living outside of our comfort zone for four months requires preparation, communication skills, and a calm and collected attitude when the worst happens.
In the end, this experience was transformative in several ways. Key changes to note include feeling confident listing myself as “trilingual”, successfully completing my classes abroad, traveling to 10 countries and over 18 cities around Europe, completing a week-long solo trip with just one backpack through 5 countries, crossing off “snowboarding through the Swiss Alps” from my bucket list (with the added bonus of the beautiful view of Matterhorn and the ability to snowboard across Switzerland into Italy), met people from around the globe, realized I could live and work abroad successfully, and best of all: learned that success does not create happiness but instead the joy and happiness in your life fosters success – okay maybe that was cheesy, but it’s true, enjoying the little things in life is a virtue. I plan to return to Milan one day, and hope that I can call it home for many years to come.
Grazie mille Milano, mi mancherai !!