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Studying abroad fosters self-awareness, appreciation of culture

Looking+down+at+the+cove+in+RIomaggiore%2C+Italy.+
Collegian | File photo
Looking down at the cove in RIomaggiore, Italy.

Many students consider the possibility of studying abroad, but not many actually take the leap to do so for a variety of reasons. Students who studied abroad in Italy during the fall of 2022 said they gained valuable cultural knowledge and life-changing self-awareness. 

For instance, while studying abroad somewhere so different from one’s home country can be intimidating, students said living in Italy increased their trust in themselves. 

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“I came back to America feeling a lot more confident in myself to travel again in the future,” said Emma Fortman, a fourth-year student at Colorado State University,

More specifically, studying abroad causes both physical and mental shifts in terms of how in tune students are with themselves. 

“I’m more independent now and more self-aware of how my actions impact others, and I feel like I’m also more self-aware with myself,” said Kailani Cantu, an agricultural business student at CSU. “I feel like I grew a lot mentally, which was really exciting to get into that position to be comfortable with myself.”

One of the most noticeable societal differences between Italy and the United States is the architecture of the buildings as well as the distance between them. 

“The main thing was the transportation; you could pretty much walk anywhere you really needed to go in Italy,” said Blake Pritchard, a CSU student. “Not a lot of that here, and … the streets are hundreds of thousands of years old. We don’t really have that here. It was very different.

Another thing students said they noticed abroad was differences in the service industry. While customer service employees in the United States are trained to always be approachable and cheerful, Italian customer service employees are much more straightforward.

“(In America), you’re kind of expected to be like, ‘Hi, how are you? What can I get you?'” Pritchard said. “Over there, it’s kind of like the service industry is just people serving people; it’s not like the customers are valued as much.” 

Cultural differences in terms of food options in Italy are also something that stood out to to students when compared with the varying kinds of food available in the United States.

“The culture in Italy is very specific to Italians,” Cantu said. “In America, I feel like the culture is a little bit of everything. Even restaurants — if we wanted to go out, it was so hard to find a good restaurant that wasn’t Italian food.” 

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Another noticeable variation between the cultures is the lack of LGBTQIA+ inclusive words within the Italian language.

“The culture over in Italy is also a little less progressive socially,” Pritchard said. “I noticed their language is kind of gender-based, so one of our nonbinary students had a hard time in the culture.”

Despite studying internationally in Italy for a semester, students admitted their experiences abroad did not particularly influence their opinion of international students at CSU. 

“I wouldn’t say my perception has changed very much,” Cantu said. “I feel like I’ve always looked at them the same — just like an average student who also has amazing ideas that they can contribute to a discussion. I don’t think of them as any different than any other student at CSU.” 

For those who struggle financially but still wish to study abroad, depending on the duration of the study abroad trip and with the help of scholarships, it can sometimes be more affordable than paying on-campus tuition. 

“Do it — even if you’re just looking into it,” Cantu said. “See if it fits your budget. It’s also sometimes cheaper to go study abroad than even in-state tuition.”

For those who may be hesitant to take the leap to study in another country, Fortman said to just do it. 

“I would tell other students to go for it,” Fortman said. “There are always ways to get scholarships, and it’s a really great chance to study and travel.”

Reach McKenna Van Voris at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @mckenna_vv.

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