Giuliana Molinaro – My Italian Experience in a Creative Space

Participating in an internship abroad is a very proactive way to make a study abroad experience more fulfilled. It can be difficult in such a new environment to occupy your time in a way that’s useful and insightful while still being fun. In many cases, an internship is all of these things. I spent my fall semester in Rome working at a shop called LeArtigiane. Like anything else, the experience was not perfect and I certainly ran into some frustrations. However, facing these challenges head on helped me grow and feel more accomplished by the end of it.

In terms of challenges, there is one that defined the majority of the difficulty I faced. As you will learn, Italian culture is a high context environment. This means that often times customs and responsibilities are not explicitly stated, rather you have to read the context of your environment to decide how to behave. I struggled with this because I am used to going into work, clocking in on the minute, and getting straight to my assigned tasks. This system is comfortable for me because I rarely encounter long periods of time without knowing on what specifically my attention should be focused. I like knowing what I have in front of me and tackling it. At LeArtigiane, they did not look at the clock when I walked in, I never knew what was in front me for the day, and often times I had nothing at all to tackle. I spent the first half of the semester bored because nobody had time to assign me tasks. I walked around the shop, unable to help customers because I didn’t know the products well or how to speak Italian well. I would never, and did not, sign up for a sales job, so time passed slowly as I awkwardly strolled in circles. One day I couldn’t take it anymore, and so I asked repeatedly: can I do something? Can I do something? Can I clean something? What do you need me to do? I’m happy to clean… They kept saying no, that’s okay – until one woman finally assigned that I clean a towering shelf of bowls. That’s when I realized maybe I need to be more aggressive in creating my own work.

Taking on additional responsibilities on my own helped encourage the women to give me more work, I suppose because it was clear that I wanted to be contributing. The more they gave me, the more comfortable I became with the tasks and the environment. These tasks included translations, updating the website, and taking inventory. Now that I’ve arrived at my last day here, it’s clear how beneficial the experience was for me. I had the opportunity to work in a truly Italian workplace. It was casual and friendly, sometimes even too casual for me. I had to learn to accept coffee when it was offered, and partake in irrelevant conversations even while I was focused. I had to learn that it’s okay to take a moment to be unproductive if I didn’t have anything to do. It’s not like Chicago where I needed to be working every moment. I had to dress in ways I felt were appropriate for the office, and I had to speak in Italian. Overall, I had to adjust. I can only imagine the myriads of ways this skill will assist me in the future.

I highly recommend this internship to anybody who is looking for an Italian experience in a creative space. Being surrounded by interesting art only made made my time there more satisfying. My Italian improved dramatically because the women spoke to me as though I were fluent, but were also patient when I couldn’t understand. The benefits I gained from having immersed myself in this community will last me a lifetime, and I intend to stay in touch with the women at LeArtigiane for years to come.