Program and Location:
Spring, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore; Milan, Italy
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I am an International Studies Major as well as Communications and I wanted to broaden my communications and interactions with those who are different from myself. I have an interest in fashion and social media marketing and the best way to grow in that field is to not only gain experience in America, but also in countries where that field is plentiful.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned so much about myself while gone in Italy. I had so many opportunities to go outside of my comfort zone and interact with students and cultures that were, for lack of a better word, foreign to anything and everything that I had encountered before. I learned that I was quite shy at times and not confident in myself and in decisions that I had to make that influenced me and the ones around me. I had to begin to do that seeing as I was alone in a new place I had no experience with. I learned my confidence was something that I thought was intact, but it wasn’t and needed to be built up to make me a stronger person and comfortable in the skin I was in. I am a social person and and a kind person and before going abroad I wasn’t always comfortable showing those sides of me to the fullest extent and being my complete and honest self wasn’t always something I was comfortable doing until I went to Italy.
What was one of your favorite parts of your program?
My absolute favorite part of the program was meeting all of the people that I have created lasting and long-life friendships with. The friends I made and people that I surrounded myself with while in Italy were a lot different from those I had at home because those were relationships were comfortable, easy and I just kind of found myself in them due to proximity and such. The people I surrounded myself with in Italy were people that I had to choose to spend time with and make memories with and they were good for my life and not just acquaintances but we made a family while there, which is something that I can say I haven’t felt I have had so strongly with friends. This is because at home we have our families to lean on and go home to if something comes up, but when everyone is from a different place, you have to find home with those around you. I loved the independence that I didn’t know I had craved before as well. I live in Cary when I go home from my Raleigh apartment and life so if I need anything, it is one call and 20 minutes away but I had to learn to lean on others and make meaningful relationships while growing independent in myself.
What advice do you have to future study abroad students?
I would say that while you are abroad and on another continent, you should travel and see what you can see, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the place you choose to study in and make friendships and relationships with those that are in your program. Take advantage of your opportunity to grow close to people who are different from you. Branch out from your safe American friends and groups and try to make connections with those from other countries in your home country for you study abroad city. You have your whole life to come and travel more but you may not ever have the chance to make so many connections and friendships with people in other countries again.
How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
I find myself becoming a part of the fashion and design industry in the future from a social media and marketing standpoint I had a lot of special opportunities while in Milan to grow through this part of my experience as well. I was able to take courses in fashion, Italian, and Italian media history and usage. I always wanted to be a fashion major but the course load at NCSU didn’t fit for my life and schedule so I was able to get some hands-on experience in one of the major fashion capitals of the world. I learned how to use my media experience to cater to the Italian, French and English market in regards to fashion as well as attend fashion week events, fashion museums and meet social media, marketing, and communication professionals in the Milanese culture. I also had the opportunity to meet and visit with the Buyer for Armani a few times, Luxury Fashion Empire with connections I had prior to arriving in Italy. This experience was not only good for gaining such a valuable asset and contact, but I also have been able to see and experience the life and work experience of someone in such an important field in my future job.
Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?
I was surprised by how close I became with students in my program from other countries other than America. My best friends and best memories consisted of times with my English, French, Italian and Dutch students. I had my best days with them and we became such a strong support system for each other. So much, that we have all already planned so many visits to each other coming up and it was very special for me.
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?
My classes abroad weren’t very similar to those of NCSU. I had three classes Monday and Wednesday for 2 hours each and rarely had legitimate homework assignments due every night. The lectures were just that, lectures and we didn’t have worksheets and things like that. There were a lot of group assignments and such, a couple papers, and not all classes had midterm and final test. I took field trips to a news casting, a celebrity talk show, fashion museums and a talk with media one of Italy’s best media professionals.
In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?
I leaned a lot about who I am as not only a person of color, but also as a woman while in Italy. So much that I even wrote a whole blog post about it upon my return to the US which gained attention from not just my followers here, but other people of color in Italy and all over the world. Italy is a place that is filled with 93% Italians, meaning there is virtually no diversity in the country. Cultural customs that occur there and treatment of those different from Italians is strong in a place like that. I was aware that being a woman would put me a step behind because of the cultural divide between women and men in the patriarchal society that is Italy, but I didn’t know that it would be to the level it was. I was also c
onstantly watched because there aren’t many Black people in Italy and definitely not many that are there legally and not under the title of African refugee. This is sad in itself so the view of black people in Italy is not a positive one. I learned to cope and once they realized I was American things changed, but it was my least favorite part of the country by far and a made sure to surround myself with people who didn’t feel that way and who were there for me whenever situations weren’t in my control and I didn’t notice things as much as them.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
I would say to just carry yourself as best you can, try to accommodate to the culture of whatever country you are in. You shouldn’t be someone you are not, but be aware that you are not the majority here and so doing your best to relate to those around you and learning their customs is the best. Be respectful and don’t give them a reason to dislike you, rather show them how people like yourself can be and are so that it changes their negative feelings or thoughts and be an example to change their views.
Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?
My friends that didn’t feel the same way as others helped me immensely and helped to grow my confidence way beyond the level it was previously at. I learned to love myself even if others didn’t and since their weren’t even other Black Americans a part from one other girls, I had to find that group on my own. I also found the racism entirely different from America because many people are ignorant and not racist necessarily since America has a history of strong racism, they don’t in Italy or other places the same way. Knowing that helped me to teach others and become my own support as well which was a learning and growing experience.
Would you do it again?
Yes, I would do it in a heart beat, even the less desirable parts, because it got me here today.