Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, we have seen a drastic change in higher education everywhere. While students have been able to adapt to new hybrid learning models, they still find themselves seeking a bit of normalcy. One way scholars have done this is through studying abroad. In the last year or so, some of our scholars have been able to travel and discover new parts of the world. We chatted with four scholars to learn about their different experiences overseas.
Our first scholar, Gabby Mingolelli is currently a senior at Smith College, a private liberal arts women’s college on the East Coast. Last semester she studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Originally, Gabby planned to go abroad in the spring semester of her junior year. However, the study abroad program was canceled due to COVID. During her time in Florence, Gabby was able to study a variety of subjects. She told us that the courses she took at the University of Florence were extremely interesting to her because they contained elements of Jewish culture. There was also an Art History course that she thoroughly enjoyed because her class often took trips to Florentine museums. Lastly, Gabby continued to study Italian. She started taking Italian her first semester at Smith with the intention of studying abroad in Florence. Although she had some experience with the language, she found herself very nervous to speak to natives. She told us that when practicing, she would often receive corrections on her accent, and she used them to improve. By the time Gabby left Florence, she was comfortable speaking Italian! Her accent improved, and it became easier for her to speak to her professors, classmates, and local community.
Outside of school Gabby fully immersed herself in her surroundings. One way she did this was through taking on an internship. While in Florence, Gabby was chosen for an Immunology internship with a professor at the city hospital. Once a week, Gabby would commute to her internship by train where she would observe and assist with media preparation to maintain the professor’s cells for experiments. She told us that it wasn’t as much lab work as she expected. However, it was just really interesting to watch how international labs operated. One thing she noted in particular was how different the tools in the lab were. In between balancing school and an internship, Gabby was also able to make time for travel. On the weekends she often took day trips from Florence to Pisa and Siena. For holiday breaks Gabby and her friends would take longer trips visiting places like Budapest and Prague. While Gabby did a lot of traveling during the semester, most of her traveling was done after the program. She took time to visit France, Spain, and Portugal.
Our second scholar, Yi Rong Mei is a junior at Georgetown University studying Human Science. This past fall semester he studied abroad in Stockholm, Sweden. Yi Rong told us that he chose Sweden because he is interested in public health and being in Scandinavia gave him the opportunity to study one of the best healthcare systems the world has to offer up close. Through his program, Yi Rong was able to take a variety of courses that piqued his interest! He took courses on medical ethics, public health in practice, public health and migration, Swedish language and culture, and human trafficking.
While in Stockholm, Yi Rong was also able to do a bit of traveling. He spent some time in Copenhagen, and on his weeklong break, he traveled to Barcelona with friends. During the course of the semester, Yi Rong’s program hosted something called study tours. On these study tours his class would take trips to other places to learn more about their Public Health structures and policies. One of Yi Rong’s most memorable study tours was when he went to London. Through contact tracing, the class was informed that they were exposed to COVID on their flight to London. The rules in the UK are that if you are fully vaccinated then you are free to go without quarantine. However, the vaccinations would only be considered valid if they were administered in the UK. Because no one in the program was from the UK, they were asked to quarantine in London. Yi Rong said that he found it ironic that they traveled there to learn about public health policies and ended up getting stuck there because of the policies. However, he said he learned a valuable lesson in what efficient public health policies look like.
During his time in Stockholm Yi Rong also stayed with a host family which he noted as his favorite part of his study abroad experience. He told us that having a support system in Stockholm was really helpful for him. His host family helped him navigate Stockholm and made him the most delicious home cooked meals! Through his homestay, Yi Rong was able to make lifelong connections abroad.
Our third scholar, Carolina Carmona is currently a senior at Bates College studying Economics. Last spring semester she was able to enroll in King’s College in London. While in London she studied economics and public health. She told us that her favorite class was her International Trade class where she learned about the different trade systems and markets around the world. One thing Carolina really enjoyed about her classes at King’s College was the fact that most of them were taught by female professors. Because econ is typically a male-dominated major, both in student and professor populations Carolina shared that this new environment removed her feelings of Imposter Syndrome and left her feeling inspired.
Unfortunately, during her time in London, the UK’s borders were closed. Carolina was told by program officials that it was too much of a risk to travel outside of the UK. However, she was able to make the most of it by taking advantage of all that London had to offer and traveling throughout the UK. In London, Carolina enjoyed being able to visit all of the tourist attractions in London like Big Ben and the London Eye without the usual massive lines and crowds. Towards the end of her stay, she went on a four-day vacation to Brighton, an ocean front town in the UK. There she enjoyed the beach, the pier, and the distinct architecture, specifically noting the Royal Pavilion.
While Carolina didn’t get to do much traveling during her study abroad, she has been given the opportunity to return to London in May. Through hard work and planning, Carolina was able to save some of her elective credits for the end of her senior year which allowed her to enroll in a three-week course at the end of the semester. This time around instead of studying Economics, Carolina will be taking a course on Shakespeare. She shared that she feels very fortunate to go back to London, reconnect with friends there, and travel to places like Paris, Amsterdam, and Spain. Most of all, Carolina told us that she is excited to enjoy herself before beginning her full-time job. Last summer through the Wentcher Foundation’s Internship Initiative, Carolina was able to find and land a summer internship at Aon where she worked on special projects in finance. She will begin her full-time role there as a Financial Planning and Analysis Analyst sometime in June.
Our fourth and final scholar, Arianna Zavala is a junior studying Psychology and Studio Art at Franklin Marshall College. She is currently abroad in Milan taking courses in psychology, marketing, and Italian. Arianna shared that so far she likes her courses, and they all pique her interest. One of her psychology courses focuses on transcultural psychology and the psychology of migration, while the other focuses on mental health care systems between the US and Italy. Arianna’s marketing class is on digital engagement and the arts, and her Italian class is for beginners learning the language. As far as learning Italian goes, Arianna shared that while the language is completely new to her, knowing Spanish helps her quite a bit. She also briefly took French, and although she said it was the harder of the three languages to learn, knowing a bit of French grammar has been helping her with her Italian grammar. Arianna told us that she really enjoys learning Italian, and that she tries to use Italian in her everyday life like ordering food. While she understands quite a bit of Italian now, her goal is to add more words to her vocabulary.
When we spoke to Arianna she had already done some extensive traveling, and had more planned. She told us that she traveled to the northern part of Italy taking a few day trips to Lake Como. This put her in close proximity to Switzerland which then inspired her to actually visit the country. While in Switzerland she visited a city about an hour outside Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city. Arianna’s older sister also came to visit her for some time, and they took a day trip to a small town in Bellagio. She also informed us that the day after our interview that she’d be taking in more of Italy and making a trip to Verona and Venice.
While Arianna has done some traveling, she has also taken quite a bit of time getting to know Milan. Being a fashion capital, Milan provides a lot of fashion inspiration for Arianna. She’s been enjoying taking in Italian fashion trends and observing the locals’ style. In addition to the fashion, Arianna says that she also loves the food there! Arianna shared with us that the food in Milan is a lot more diverse than people would think. She was surprised to see lots of other cultural restaurants, specifically Japanese, Filipino, and Mexican restaurants. Arianna told us that her first time ever trying Filipino food was in Milan and she thought it was incredible! Not only is there diversity in food, Arianna noted that there is also diversity in Milan’s population. She noticed substantial populations of Asian, African, and Hispanic immigrants. Arianna told us that in the rest of her time abroad she’s looking forward to taking in more food and fashion.
All in all, our scholars have had both diverse and enriching experiences abroad! We’re so happy to hear their tales of their new worldly experiences and we wish them the best of luck moving forward!