Studying During Study Abroad

Eliza Mikunda Umbra Institute, Italy


November 16, 2018

It’s hard to remember sometimes, but classes, readings, homework, and essays are still a thing in Italy. After all, it is "study abroad". Part of the balance I talked about in my last post, is finding the right balance between the study part and the abroad part.

It’s not too bad, my classes are actually pretty fun. The subjects are interesting, and all my teachers are great! Like a lot of my fellow students, I am taking my classes pass/fail, so that alleviates some of the pressure. But I still want to do well and not disappoint my professors.

When I was choosing classes for my year abroad, there were a few things I was looking for. First, that the class seemed interesting. Lucky for me, the Umbra Institute put all the syllabi for the classes online, so I had an idea of the course details and the workload. I also had to make sure that my credits would transfer back to UK (University of Kentucky). I had to go through a long bureaucratic process to get all my classes signed off (for both semesters) by each of the department heads. All my classes got approved, so each is going toward my major or one of my minors.

I’m in Italian 101 (which I am not struggling with as much as I expected, knowing how awful I was at Spanish in high school). My teacher is amazing, she cares about every one of her students and even holds her office hours at a café in the piazza, so we can study with her before class! My fellow students and I just completed the Solo Italiano challenge, where we had to speak only Italian for two days. I was apprehensive at first. I wasn't sure if I knew enough Italian to do the challenge. It was difficult, but with the help of my friends (and translating apps), I did better than I thought I would. I was able to hold simple conversations with my friends and teachers in Italian, which was one of my study abroad goals! Yay! In class, we are also able to connect with the community. We go out into Perugia to talk to people and to learn about Italian food, music, and daily life.

I am also taking Intercultural Communication. For the class, we completed a Service Learning Project. We helped put together an event with a local museum book club. The event brought together the poems by Edgar Lee Masters in Spoon River Anthology and the Italian songs by Fabrizio de Andre, inspired by the work of Masters. During the event, we read Masters' poems in English and Italian and spoke with audience members (in Italian) before and after the event. However, my favorite part of the class is when we have group discussions about cultural differences and similarities. There are seven American students in the class, one Italian student, and our Italian professor, who has never been to America. It’s fun when all of us are trying to explain slang or customs, such as the word “yikes” or the customary superstition of holding your breath when driving by a cemetery. It’s also very interesting to hear Italian slang and customs, as well as what they think of the U.S., having never been there (hint: basically, just sports).

Through my Museum Studies Seminar class, I have an internship with two local museums, the Palazzo Sorbello (a house museum) and the Cathedral Museum. There are only four students in the class, which presents the opportunity to have meaningful discussions and work closely with our professor. Coming from a big state school, I am used to having class sizes ranging from 300 to 20. At the Umbra Institute, they range from 15 to 4, which is so different from what I am used to! To be in the class, I had to submit a special application because of the nature of the internship. We have several projects and events we are working towards this semester. At the beginning of the semester, we read “The Italian Scene” an Italian culture and “happenings” bulletin published for an American audience in the late 1950s and the 1960s, by one of the Sorbello family members, Uguccione. We were each assigned a year of the bulletin and had to catalog the most significant articles to be entered into a database for the foundation. Currently, we are starting our work for an exhibition on Rossini and Music in the Sorbello Family. My final project for the class is to create a guided tour of the Cathedral Museum to present to my peers and the public at the end of the semester. The class is a lot of work, but it has given me a lot of valuable experience working on real-life projects individually and in a group.

My favorite class is History of the Roman Empire. The professor is so funny, passionate and knowledgeable. He talks about history like he is telling a story. The characters of history are brought to life as real people with their own motives and dramas. Our class spent this past weekend in Rome on a class field trip. We retraced the path of a Triumphal Parade, visited the ruins of the palaces of the kings, and saw famous sights like the Forum and the Colosseum. We even stood on the site where Julius Caesar was killed. It was great to walk through history and see the things we have been talking about in class, up close and personal. We saw and learned so much in two days, but the best part is that what we did in Rome was both a contribution to our education and super fun.

I love all my classes because they go beyond the classroom. I am connecting with the community and with Italy. I am learning about the history and culture of Italy both in and out of the classroom.