Amanda Petrozelli spent Spring semester 2012 studying abroad in Florence, Italy, with CAPA International Education where she could practice her Italian and explore her heritage. Read on to find out how her first impressions changed by the end of her trip, why she loved her Italian language class and a funny interaction with a local involving a pasty, a cappuccino and a toothpick.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
AMANDA PETROZELLI: My name is Amanda Petrozelli and I was born and raised in south Florida with two brothers and an older sister. I am a 3rd year Family Youth and Community Sciences Major at the University of Florida.
CW: Where and when did you study abroad with CAPA International Education?
AP: I studied for three months in Florence, Italy, in Spring 2012.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically Florence?
AP: I've always wanted to go to Italy because of my Italian heritage and I knew that I had some relatives near Naples whom I've always wanted to meet. Also, learning Italian for three years in high school and two in college (at that time), I really wanted to put my language learning into practice and try to become fluent! I knew that Florence is supposed to be where they speak the most "correct" form of Italian, so I hoped that it would be a good transition from the classroom to real life.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of Florence and any that changed by the time you went home. What surprised you most about your host country?
AP: Florence was a lot different than I expected it to be, probably mostly because I never watched any of those Rick Steves videos or anything so I was really going in blind! I was surprised by how big of a city it is and all of the tall buildings and very narrow roadways. However, by the end of my trip those were the things that I loved the most. I always thought I would hate living in a city, but after three months my favorite thing was that I could walk everywhere and that there were always people walking around outside.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
AP: Some challenges included my intimidation to speak Italian at first. Also, the winding roads made getting lost very easy (even on the last day in Florence, I got lost going to the train station!) However, getting lost daily were some of my favorite moments, because I always discovered something new. My most rewarding moment would have to be a tie between the day I met my family living in southern Italy and the day I completed my first half-marathon in Florence. Both were absolutely amazing experiences.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
AP: Yes, I really loved that this program gave us the freedom to live in an apartment building where there were other real Italian families living and shop at groceries stores where other Italians shopped. Everything we did, we were surrounded by Italians, doing very Italian things (like talking with their hands!).
My favorite interaction was when my friend and I went to this one cafe looking to spend 1 extra euro that we had on a pastry. We had eaten so many of these delicious pastries throughout our time that we were trying to limit ourselves by only sharing one. So when we went in and asked the guy if he could cut the pastry in half for us to share, he just looked at us like we were crazy! I told him, we only have 1 euro and we only want one. He told us that he would have to slice it 3 ways so that he could have a piece as well. This started a whole series of jokes that we exchanged back in forth and ended up with him giving us a free cappuccino to share along with our split pastry. He even drew a heart in the froth of the cappuccino with a toothpick and it was one of the funniest experiences we had while we were there.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA academics. What were your favorite classes and why? Did you participate in any MyEducation events?
AP: My favorite class was definitely the Italian language class with Edoardo! He was one of the best teachers I have ever had and I really felt like I learned more Italian in three months with him than I had in two years of college! He was funny and always came up with creative games and ways to learn the language. A couple of times we even went out exploring the city and learning new words as we went.
I participated in a few MyEducation experiences, but not as many as I would have liked because they interfered with my class schedule. But the ones I did get to participate in, I found to be very rewarding/fun experiences. I remember attending one lecture on the mafia which was very enlightening and then I also helped to pick up trash in a park near the Arno river. Afterwards, we went out for gelato. I enjoyed both of them very much.
CW: What have you been up to since you returned to the US? Do you feel that your experience with CAPA contributed or will contribute to your success in starting your career?
AP: Since returning to the U.S., I have been working on completing my Junior year of college and I have decided to minor in both Italian Studies and International Humanitarian Development (both partially because of my experience studying abroad). I definitely feel that my experience studying abroad will contribute to my future success in a career, because having first-hand experience in another country just gives you something that you could never get out of a book.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
AP: If you are thinking about studying abroad and can make a way to afford it, go. Like Nike, just do it. Haha, but seriously you will never regret studying abroad and it will definitely change the way you see the world.
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
AP: I really appreciated getting to see how environmentally conscious Europeans are in comparison with Americans. It helped me to see different ways that I could change my habits (like not using a drying machine or driving a smaller more environmentally friendly car, for example), in order to help protect the environment. Things like these, or even walking and biking places more often, are just so normal for Europeans, where we sometimes tend to see them as so inconceivable. I also learned that in situations where I might think I'm really absolutely lost or I've come to the end of my rope, that prayer really does work! So many times, I was lost, or had no hostel to sleep in or I was in the middle of nowhere with a cancelled train ticket and after praying I was able to figure out the situation, and everything turned out fine. I learned that although some situations may seem like really "the end of the world," they're really not...there's always a way out and it will make for a great story later on down the road.