Brittney studied abroad in Perugia, Italy and is currently a junior at Colby College.
Where do you go to school?
When and where did you study abroad?
Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy – Fall 2012
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The best part about studying abroad is the opportunity to change or recreate or redefine your identify. You’re allowed the opportunity to live in a new place, meet new people, and experience a new culture with new language and new food. You’re essentially in charge of choosing which new experiences you want to grow from, and which you’d rather not let affect you. Thus, you’re in control of how much you want the experience to affect the person you are and the person you hope to become. For me, I didn’t have many expectations regarding personal growth while abroad. I certainly hoped to absorb all aspects of my experience, but I wasn’t certain how they would change who I am. I walked away from a semester abroad much less sheltered. As a northern New Englander, I was raised to be somewhat conservative with people I did not know. While studying abroad I learned a balance of being safe, but also allowing my guard to come down and allowing myself to openly interact with people in cultures I did not fully understand. “Different” in my eyes was once associated with “shady” and “untrustworthy,” but now after experiencing so much “different” and so much that was outside of my comfort zone, I am able to welcome “different” much more willingly into my life.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
As kids growing up, we are raised to do things a certain way, (for me it was the “American” way) and we rarely question our own cultural habits because there is no need. Studying abroad and living on your own in a foreign country led me to question why I lead the lifestyle I do. In Perugia, small everyday lifestyle choices where much different: we were only allowed six hours of heat a day to conserve oil, trash bags were a quarter the size of American trash bags and separated by color for recycling, there were no dryers in our apartments and all our clothes air dried (even in the winter!) At first, these differences were admittedly nuisances, but slowly I grew accustomed to them and began to see how wasteful and inefficient my lifestyle choices at home often were. This is just one example to the way that studying abroad broadened my perspective on how I chose to lead my life. Everything that was once habitual and normal I began to question, thus in one semester I felt like I had defined who I was much more concretely, and out of choice rather than habit.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
In Italy, it took me nearly the entire semester to become accustomed to the staring. In their culture, as opposed to the way I was raised, it is not considered rude to stare. For weeks I was wondering if I had food on my face, or if I really looked that much like an alien to them! I had initially assumed I would blend right in with my brown wavy hair, skinny jeans and leather boots, but somehow it seemed to me that they knew I wasn’t in my “neck of the woods.” Mid-semester, when I was finally becoming accustomed to my surroundings, I began to realize that they weren’t just staring at me, they were staring at everyone and everything. It was often simply the way they processed everything around them, and it was important that I learned to not take offense. Although this is an example of one small, cultural, mannerism, it had a huge effect on my confidence. Once I overcame the difference and accepted that I was not rude, I was much more at ease!
How did studying abroad change your life?
Well, the food was certainly the good stuff! But in addition to the unbeatable cuisine, I began to become familiar with speaking their beautiful language, and understanding their vibrant mannerisms with tone changes, hand motions, and close face-to-face contact. I began to speak and act like an Italian. I learned how to embrace their passion for food, wine and leisure (sounds tough right?), and understand that how the Italians prioritize their life is much different than how Americans prioritize theirs. Family, food, and pleasure outrank working, which is evident in their afternoon pause, or “siesta,” when they go home from work to spend time with their family and friends relaxing. They also take part in a pre-dinner “passagiata,” or walk, with friends and family on an almost daily basis. By becoming familiar with the culture in this way, I expect that I will be more prepared if I must ever work with Italians, Spaniards, or any other culture because I have exposed myself to people who prioritize their life differently and carry out their day in a different way than I might as an American.
What are your future plans?
I am currently a Junior at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. This summer, I will be living in Newport, Rhode Island, working for an event planning and detailing company for my fourth summer. I also work part time as kitchen staff at the Newport Yacht Club. I will hopefully be interning in a marketing position for Wild Things outdoor gear. In August, I will be leading a group of incoming freshmen into the wilderness of Maine on a backpacking orientation trip for Colby College. It will be my first time as an orientation leader and I cannot wait to show incoming freshmen just how much they have to look forward to during their four years at Colby!
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
First of all DO IT! Studying abroad will be the ride of your life. Don’t hesitate for a moment while traveling. Take in everything possible. Go on an adventure everyday. It’s the only time in your life you can go anywhere, do anything, and become anyone you want. It’s truly one of the most liberating opportunities you will ever be offered. As I read on the John Lennon wall in Prague during my last week abroad: “Travel is the only thing that makes you richer.” As cliche as it sounds, it’s true!