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Community is my Greatest Reward

May 20, 2018

The day before I left Milano, I sat down with Elyse Resnick, the professor of the service learning class to learn more about the Fulbright program. Not only did I enjoy listening to her experiences and stories, but I genuinely feel like I made a friend.

We sat down at a local café, and I decided to ask more about her Fulbright grant and learn more about what her experience of moving to a different country has been like. I was fascinated by her story about being a former study abroad advisor and how she helped students like myself plan their semesters away from home. Her Fulbright research focused on why it’s important for museums to create special programming for teens and young adults to pique their curiosity about history and cultural heritage. She decided that Milano would be best for her project because she was most connected to universities in the city from her experience sending students here. I was impressed by her ability to speak clearly about her research and passions involving her career, and I want to leave you with a few ideas to help make your abroad experience as impactful as possible.

She explained that just as teens and young adults need to be actively engaged in order to make the most of their museum visits, study abroad students also need structured opportunities to make connections with their host city if they want their semester to be more than just studying, traveling, and going out. Having some sort of community engagement activity allows students to truly immerse themselves in the local culture because you create relationships with people outside of your program, and you get to do things that most visitors would never experience.

If you are coming to Milano, I highly encourage you to take advantage of the Service Learning course facilitated by Elyse. If I have one regret about the semester, it’s not taking this course. I was able to see how it impacted my friends’ lives, and after talking to her about it, it really made it clear to me how IMPORTANT it is to get involved in the local community. When planning your schedule, don’t let the time commitment scare you; you will absolutely have time for this. While I felt guilty about not doing service, I realized that I did immerse myself in the community in my own way. In previous posts I talked about joining the jazz choir and how I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to do so. I was sad to say goodbye to those singers who helped me feel like I belonged in Milano during my semester. I was able to share beautiful music with all of them, and I’m happy that I got involved in an activity outside of IES Abroad. It was challenging at times to be the only one heading to the opposite end of town once a week, but it was so gratifying now that I look back at the experience. It was something completely unique to me, and I made many lifelong colleagues and friends that I know I will meet again in the future.

I want to reiterate my point and stress the importance of learning more about the place you will decide to call home for a semester by getting involved in the community. There is more to a study abroad experience than traveling every weekend and going out. Whether it’s joining a class like Service Learning that will give you the chance to give back or seeking out other kinds of opportunities that will allow you to swap stories with locals and help lessen the cultural divide you may feel, it’s up to you to step up and take the initiative.

This is one of my last posts and as I reflect on the semester I wish there was more time. The last week was a tough one because everyone (including myself) was starting to get sentimental and sad about having to part ways. When you get to your abroad destination, you will make immediate friends and there will be people who will stick with you during the semester, and that’s great. Challenge yourself to meet others, and get to know your professors. Elyse kept telling me about a student who I would’ve gotten along with, and I regret that we never crossed paths. It’s important to put yourself out there and meet as many people as you can. These people will become part of your network and leave you with memories that will stick with you your whole life.

It’s corny and cliché to say but studying abroad really has changed my life, and it will change yours if you let it. For now, I feel sad that it’s over, but I will be back soon. This blog has been such an amazing tool to reflect on the semester, and it is something I will always have to remember the past few months. As a student of color, I hope that getting to have this experience will help students from my home community to realize that they can do this in the future. I never could’ve imagined that my life would’ve led to me studying in Milano and it will always be so special to me. I was recently visiting Napoli and was checking into my hostel, and the owner asked me what I was doing in Italy. I told him I had studied in Milano. He scoffed and proceeded to tell me why Milano was “not good”, but I felt the need to stick up for MY home. We went back and forth and agreed that both cities were great in their own ways. This is a city like no other, and I’m so lucky I got to call it home for 4 months, and it will always be my home. Finché non ci rivedremo, arrivederci, Milano.

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