From her list of 25 tips of what to expect in Italy, to celebrating International Women’s Day and participating in the Stramilano, her first half-marathon, we're pleased to announce that Abigail Grinberg is our 2016-17 Blogger of the Year! Read on to learn more about Abby's experience blogging abroad.
IES Abroad: Tell us a bit about yourself and your study abroad blog.
Abigail Grinberg (AG): My name is Abigail, but I'll also respond to Abby. I was born and raised in the Midwest, but have spent time living in Boston, Israel, NYC, and Milan since graduating high school. I'll always be proud to come from "the middle of nowhere" nonetheless. If I'm not doing creative things like writing, painting, or taking photos, I love running, eating gelato, reading, and doing anything that involves being outside. My study abroad blog was my way to keep the right hemisphere of my brain working since as an Economics and International Global Studies major, I normally work more with numbers than I do words. Having a blog was a reminder to keep doing what I love and I hope I was able to convey that through my posts during the year. I tried to come from a different perspective and write about topics that I hadn't seen heavily discussed. Going abroad can be scary, so it was always a good feeling to hear from someone that one of my posts impacted their decision.
IES Abroad: What was your favorite post to write and why?
AG: I think my favorite post to write was on the refugee situation in Italy and specifically Milan. I did some field research by going to the welfare department for immigration services in Milan and interviewed a woman that works with migrants and refugees every day. It was a great opportunity for me to better educate myself on the situation because it's one thing to learn about it from the news and completely different to actually hear personal experiences. The woman I interviewed was very friendly and even let me come into the office to sit on a couple meetings with refugees to witness how things are done. It made me very appreciative to say the least.
IES Abroad: How did serving as a blogger impact your experience studying abroad in Milan?
AG: It was a good way to internalize and reflect on everything I was doing and experiencing. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of studying abroad so writing was a good outlet to note down my feelings and remember significant moments. I also would write posts with the intention of looking back on them in 20 years from now and being able to relive the experience, almost like a digital time capsule if you will.
IES Abroad: What blogging tips or tricks do you have for future study abroad bloggers?
AG: Don't be afraid to ask around for ideas on what to write about. Whenever I was facing a case of writer's block, I would ask my fellow classmates on my program and even my friends back home for topic ideas. They notice things that you might not and it's always good to get different perspectives. I would also try to stay on top of whatever festivities or events were happening around Milan since there was never a shortage of exciting opportunities. It's also much more fun to write about something after you've experienced it first-hand.
IES Abroad: What do you consider to be the top reasons to study abroad in Milan?
AG: It's hard to narrow down the reasons, but I'll give it a try. I'm obviously biased because I loved Milan, but I think you can love anywhere you go if you go into it with an open mind. For Milan specifically though, it was a great place to be if you're into fashion, design, and applying creativity to the business world. Milan is unlike any other city in Italy, but still has the authentic Italian charm. It's also not the top tourist destination of Italy, making it a perfect place to study abroad if you're trying to interact with locals and really immerse yourself in the culture.
IES Abroad: One thing that made your blog so impactful was the fact that we got to follow your adventure for an entire year. How did you decide that you would study abroad in Milan for a full year? How do you think that changed your study abroad experience compared to a semester-long experience?
AG: Honestly, it was a decision made on a whim. Of course I planned many months ahead so I wouldn't be behind once I came back to Brandeis, but I sort of woke up one day and thought, "Hey, why not go for a full year instead?" All my friends who had gone abroad were always saying how they wished they had more time in their respective location. I also didn't think I would be able to do everything I wanted to in just a semester (even a year wasn't enough). I knew I would miss my family and life back home, but I crave challenges and wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable situation.
I'm very happy with my decision to stay for a year because my second semester abroad was when I truly felt like I was living in Milan, and not just temporarily studying there. It was cool to be able to have a whole semester in a place I knew really well instead of finally getting adjusted and then having to go back home. It also definitely helped to improve my Italian skills.
IES Abroad: A few times in your blog you mentioned choosing program options that challenged your language skills—including your post on living in the Collegio di Milano and your post on language tips appropriately titled How do you say…?. Looking back on your experience, what would you say about your Italian language proficiency? What were some of the most helpful strategies to learning a language abroad? Anything you would do differently if given the chance?
AG: I would say that as I answer these questions my Italian is not too shabby. I'm very comfortable with comprehension and don't have too much trouble with understanding 80% of what is being said in a conversation. If I would have had one more year in Italy, I could probably consider myself fluent. The hard part is keeping up with it once you're not surrounded by it every day, so luckily I will be taking a course taught in Italian at my university this semester. While abroad I think the most helpful strategy to learning a language is to just practice speaking. I wish I would have done even more of that looking back. Speaking can be very intimidating, especially because you become very aware of your accent and any errors that you make. However, locals care more about you trying than anything else and it gets easier with every conversation.
IES Abroad: While you were studying abroad, your blog was a way to communicate with readers. As a new IES Abroad Ambassador, you’ll be able to share the impact of study abroad with people in a different way. What are you most excited to share about your experience?
AG: I'd love to get students to go abroad who might have never considered it or were very hesitant in the beginning. It's such an incredible opportunity that shouldn't be passed up. Whether it's a summer program for a month or an academic year, I think it's so important to live in another country and experience other ways of life. The world has so much to offer and you don't really realize it until you leave what's familiar to you.
I'm excited to share my experiences from while abroad, of course, but also my experience after returning and how I am applying my new perspectives and ways of thinking to my everyday life at home. It's no exaggeration to say that studying abroad will impact your life forever and in the best ways possible.
IES Abroad: How has studying abroad redefined you and your world?
AG: I wouldn't say that it necessarily redefined me, but more it helped me to grow and become more confident in my own skin. I think that studying abroad can help to make you a better version of yourself because you're exposed to so much when you travel, good and bad, and you really have to understand your own values and learn to keep an open and neutral mind. It has redefined my world for sure, though, because while there are still so many places I want to go to, I also feel like my world has become a lot smaller. When you start running into people you know in the most random places, that's when you realize that you've done a lot of traveling. My network has expanded so much and I love knowing that I have friends located all over the world. It's a comforting feeling.
IES Abroad: What are your plans for the future?
AG: I wish I had a better answer for this, but I do know that creative work will somehow be involved. I want to continue with writing and photography and see where it takes me (classic dream job = working for National Geographic). I plan to move abroad again after I graduate so in the meantime it's just a matter of figuring out where that might be.
For now, I will be enjoying every moment of my senior year because if there's anything I've learned after my year abroad, it's that time goes by FAST and it's important to stay in tune with the present.
IES Abroad: Anything else you’d like to share?
AG: I'm trying to set foot on every continent. As of today, I have Australia and Antarctica left. Antarctica might be the tricky one so if you know of any expeditions going, please let me know.