Anyone who has experienced it will tell you the same thing: if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity and means to study abroad, do it. For many people, studying abroad is the highlight of their college experience. It is the perfect opportunity to learn about and appreciate other cultures and make memories that are both unforgettable and un-regrettable. For Salina Voegtly, that is exactly what her summer in Italy consisted of.
Salina is a third-year student at James Madison College. She is majoring in International Relations with minors in European Studies and Italian. Being half Italian herself, Salina grew up with a strong attraction to her heritage. She fell in love with the culture, cuisine, and language, which led to her decision to study it in college. She recalls overhearing her father speak Italian during business meetings and being filled with a sense of curiosity and fascination.
As a student of international relations, Salina enjoys discussing political theory, traveling, and learning about a variety of cultures. Her ultimate career goal is to work for the state department, hopefully one day as Secretary of State. Although Italian is not one of the more widely spoken languages, having a second language of any kind will allow Salina to directly connect with Italian speakers amongst a variety of cultures. Forging such connections will strengthen her diplomatic skills and allow her to engage with a broader sphere of people. Furthermore, Salina has also noticed that she can even somewhat communicate with Spanish and Portuguese speakers with her Italian skills, due to their similarities as Romance languages.
For five weeks over the summer, Salina traveled to Italy on a language and cultural immersion trip with the Romance and Classical Studies department. Participants of the program stayed in Ferrara, a small city just outside of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. During the week, they took a variety of classes about topics relating to Italian culture and language at an international school. On weekends, they whirled away to the glittering old cities, such as Rome and Milan. The trains were cheap, and the company was good, so Salina and her new friends took those opportunities to travel together and get to know one another.
The Italian school had a small graduating class, which gave Salina the chance to know and appreciate everyone. She especially loves the friendly, welcoming nature of Italians and how pleasant it is to simply enjoy each other’s company. It was an eye-opening experience to overcome the language barriers to understand each other’s lives, travels, and studies. She met people from the north, the south, across Europe, and even a girl who was born and raised in Michigan before moving to Italy. She remarked how strange, yet inspiring, Italian going-out fashion is. She was surprised to see the other girls in silk button downs, creased slacks, and high heels, as if they were on their way to an interview instead of a nightclub.
In addition to learning about other individuals, Salina learned a great deal about herself on this trip. She re-affirmed her love for travel, her willingness to seize any opportunity, and her ability to live in the moment. She documented as much as she could, but also set aside the time to absorb the atmosphere and reflect upon everything she had learned. With her language and diplomatic skills, she knows that Italy could be a place where she could “not just survive, but actually thrive.”
With experience, Salina has been able to build her confidence to communicate in her second language. Asking for help, talking to new people, and persevering despite any mistakes are crucial parts of the language learning process. She even suggests writing out a few key phrases when traveling to a country whose language you are still learning. Being polite and making an effort to speak the language shows a great respect for the locals and their culture, says Salina. Tourists, especially Americans, already have a certain reputation abroad. It is vital to show respect and defy the stereotypes.
This trip was certainly the first of many adventures Salina will have as an appreciator of world cultures, a student of language, and a representative of her country. With each new adventure, she will develop her skills and deepen her knowledge of the world, and make connections wherever she goes.
By El Taverna
This story is part of CeLTA’s Languages Blog, whose mission is to tell stories that showcase the transforming power of language learning. These pieces give voice to the students’ own experiences and are not necessarily reflective of CeLTA’s, the College of Arts and Letters’, or MSU’s opinion.