Interview: CAPA Florence Study Abroad Alumna Moriah Mendicino

Sep 8, 2014 8:48:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Moriah spent Spring semester 2014 studying abroad in Florence with CAPA International Education. She stayed with a host family while she was in Italy and tells us stories below about bonding over home cooked food in their kitchen. She also shares a memorable interaction she continued to have with a local each day as they built a connection, her experience with speaking Italian as a second language and the community she became a part of during her time at CAPA.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
MORIAH MENDICINO: Hi! I’m Moriah Mendicino, I’m pursuing dual degrees in News and Editorial Journalism/Public Relations and Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder and I studied abroad with CAPA in Florence, Italy.

I love being with my friends and family. I have a very close family. I would say my biggest interests are the Denver Broncos, the Colorado Buffs, Harry Potter, Beyoncé and I’m obsessed with One Direction. My hobbies mostly include reading, school, crafts, and watching sports.

CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to Florence? And what about the plane ride home?
MM: On my way to Florence I was nervous and excited to be there. I couldn’t wait to meet the people in my program, my teachers and especially my host family! I was really just hoping my bags didn’t get lost. On my way home, I felt like a different person. I wasn’t worried about my bags at all anymore and while I was sad to leave Europe after so many amazing experiences I was also so excited to see my family.

CW: Tell us the story of an interaction you had with a local that was memorable and why.
MM: Every day, I would pass this little change station on my way into the center of the city. The man who ran it had a little case of bottled water and sodas. Even though there were cafes and grocery stores on our street, I made a point to always buy my drink from him if I was going to buy one. As the semester went on, he started to talk to me a little more each time and by the end he would call out to me every day. Sometimes he’d even make me keep my money and he’d give me water for free. I loved this because I knew he was starting to like me more and more and we grew a little friendship.

CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Florence", the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
MM: The biggest place for me was Orto Botanico. I walked past it every day and it was just so beautiful and still even though it’s right inside the city. I love the trees and, later in the season, the flowers inside the garden. Overall, it just had the most peaceful atmosphere.

CW: To what extent did you know Italian before you studied abroad in Florence? Did you find the language aspect of your experience to be a challenge? How did you cope with the barrier it may have presented?
MM: I had studied Italian since high school off and on but my skills were really very elementary before going to Florence. When I was there, the language posed a great challenge but only because I let it! I tried to speak and to learn as much as possible inside and outside of the classroom. Whenever I didn’t want to work on the language though, it was no problem because so many people speak English. I knew students that didn’t know more than five Italian words and they were totally fine. The best thing you can do is politely try to communicate however you can - even by signaling!

CW: Did you feel safe and welcome while you were in Florence? Did you know anyone else on the program before you arrived? Was there a sense of community around CAPA?
MM: I did feel safe and welcome in Florence for the most part. It is important to remember that most of the locals have lived in Florence their whole lives. They see these groups of students come in three times a year, and often the students can be very rude and disrespectful to the people and their culture. As long as you make an effort to try to communicate as best you can and to read the social cues and “do and the Romans do”, the locals will warm up to you way more quickly and you will feel welcomed by them.

I had a few friends from CU who were on a CAPA program too and immediately when we arrived, we were able to expand our friend group through the CAPA community. By the end of the program, we had a solid friend group of 20 or more students from all different universities through CAPA!

CW: Describe an area of the city that surprised you and tell us what it was about it that you didn’t expect. How did this change your perceptions of the city as a whole?
MM: Something that surprised me was the center of the city. In the winter, it was so serene and had a very small city feel. As the semester went on though, the numbers multiplied and by the end the city center was so packed with tourists you could barely pass. It really showed me how much tourists come in and dominate the city, especially during the summer months.

CW: Tell us a bit about your host family in Florence. Would you recommend other students to stay with a local family? What did you learn from them about local like that you that you may not have discovered if you chose alternative accommodation?
MM: My host family was a beautiful and amazing family. I lived with a dad, a mom, two daughters and a grandma! We didn’t have any pets, but I always used to joke with my host dad that I was going to get my host sisters a puppy before I came back to the States. I would absolutely recommend living with a host family to anyone who is on the fence. My host family in Florence didn’t speak English, so it helped me so much to work on my language skills. One of my good friends who didn’t know any Italian also lived with a family though, and she had an amazing experience too! She was able to speak English with her family, so it wasn’t a problem at all. Living with an Italian family taught me so much about about the life and culture in Florence. More than anything else, I loved the home cooked meals and our time shared around the dinner table!

CW: Italy is known for its food. Where were the three best place you’ve enjoyed a meal? What was memorable about them?
MM: In Italy it’s a bit of a joke that if you ask any Italian where the best place to eat is they’ll tell you it’s their mom’s kitchen. It’s true though! My favorite meals were ones that I ate around my host family’s dinner table, talking and laughing together. After that, you can’t go wrong with La Giostra for an amazing authentic meal. And you’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again - GUSTA PIZZA. You just can’t beat it. Don’t forget to write a note on your ticket and slip in under the glass on your table!

CW: What changes did you see in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
MM: The biggest change I saw in myself was a transition from being scared or nervous to do new things, especially alone, to being totally confident in my abilities. My experience abroad taught me that once you start to figure things out on your own, you get way more confident in your ability to do so. You also learn that people will be willing to help you if you know how to ask.

Thanks Moriah!

Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Florence, Italy