Why Did I Decide to Study Abroad?

Gemma Colsanti Headshot
Gemma Colasanti
June 16, 2024
little me with an Italian flag

As my program start date approaches, I have been reflecting on the types of Italian culture I’ve experienced as well as the cultural experiences I have yet to learn about. As an Italian-American, I’ve grown up on a lot of half-baked cultural practices. It’s true—I don’t go a week without having some type of pasta for dinner; stuffed shells are a staple for every holiday; and my stuffed peppers are stuffed with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, not the usual rice and ground beef. While Italian-American culture is a culture in itself, I haven’t been able to be fully immersed in traditional Italian culture.

As a child, my dad taught me the days of the week in Italian and how to count to ten. He tried to teach me up to twenty, but the switch from “undici, dodici, tredici” to “diciassette, diciotto” and “diciannove” was too difficult or my young mind to process, and honestly, I didn’t care that much. My father tried to teach me about Italian culture as much as he could. He read Strega Nonna books to me and wrote songs about Italian foods and sang them in a slight Italian accent. One went “Gemmalina Margarita likes her margarita pizza, Gemmalina Margarita likes formaggio,” but even he couldn’t teach me as much as he wanted, because his parents never tried to learn it themselves.

The first generation born in the United States, my grandparents never learned Italian to assimilate, and even I cringe when they pronounce some Italian word in somehow an even more nasally Syracuse, NY, accent than they already have. According to my dad, my Super Nonni (great-grandma) had the malocchio, or the Italian evil eye. She passed it down to my Nonni (grandma), who refused it! If she wasn’t so against this magic, she would have passed it down to Zia (my aunt—who was quite upset when she found out Nonni gave it up), who would have passed it down to me. I could have been a strega myself!

I got to middle school and could finally take a language, but only French and Spanish were offered. Zia was a French teacher at another school in my district, so of course I chose French as to not make her torment me for the rest of my life. Although, I still couldn’t escape her when she would jump me with a “Comment ça va?” at every holiday and birthday party. Most of the time I would just giggle and try to run away (I hated speaking in French, if you couldn’t tell).

Still, I took French for the rest of high school, and I even took college level language classes and became the president of French Honor Society. I did not plan to continue with languages when I got to college, but as first semester registration rolled around, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me would be lost without learning a language. I knew I wanted to take a break from French, and I saw that Elementary Italian I had seats left, so I thought that that was the perfect opportunity. I enjoyed it, and found myself registering for Elementary Italian II when it was time for spring semester registration, and so on it went. With all these Italian courses adding up, I thought “why not make these courses actually count toward my degree?” So after chatting with my dad, I added the Italian Studies minor.

I have always wanted to travel, and my parents encouraged me to study abroad. I knew I wanted to study somewhere in Europe, and after vacationing all around Italy the summer after my freshman year of high school, I knew I needed to go back. We visited family in Rome and Costellamonte, and while my basic French helped me understand a lot of what they said, I couldn’t speak to them. After adding the Italian minor I knew I wanted to go back to Italy with the ability to speak to my family there. 

When my dad was in college, he studied abroad in Florence, and really wanted me to study there too, but I like smaller cities. After searching my college’s study abroad database I came across Siena: Tradition & Cuisine in Tuscany. I instantly fell in love with its Medieval architecture and quaint appearance. And though my dad had his heart set on Florence, he was happy with Siena’s proximity to the city. I will finally be able to immerse myself in the Italian culture I have yet to learn about!

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Gemma Colsanti Headshot

Gemma Colasanti

Hi! My name is Gemma and I study writing, Italian, and live event management at Ithaca College. When I'm not at dance class, you can find me reading, crafting, thrifting, and snuggling with my cats, Lyra and Tiny. 

Destination:
Term:
2024 Summer 1
Home University:
Ithaca College
Major:
Creative Writing
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