We'll soon be hearing a lot more from Dee Liang who is excited to begin writing a column about life after study abroad called Musings of a Study Abroad Alumna for CAPA World in a few weeks. Stay tuned! In the meantime, we've asked her a few questions to find out about her time studying abroad with CAPA and what she's been up to since she recently graduated from CU Boulder. Below, she tells us how her study abroad experience in Florence helped shape her career goals, the transferrable skills that she was able to take away from Italy and a story of grocery shopping on a Sunday with the help of a few kind local Italians.
Photo: Climbing the Duomo
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DEE LIANG: Through the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), I studied abroad with CAPA in Florence during Summer 2013. I studied Communication and Chinese along with Digital Media! During my undergrad, I spent my days dancing for the Buffs on the CU Dance Team for four years and when I’m not schooling, dancing, or working, I’m researching a cool coffee place I haven’t tried yet or looking up either places to add to my To-Travel List or recipes to try.
CW: Why did you choose CAPA? What was interesting about the CAPA program?
DL: I had two main criteria when choosing a study abroad program: Italy and during the summer. CAPA not only met that criteria, but the fact that Florence was the host city made my decision a piece of cake.
CW: How has your career developed since you returned to the States? What are you up to now that you've graduated?
DL: Being abroad has brought me so much motivation to work -mostly to be able to save up and travel again. I will soon be writing a column here on the CAPA World Blog (whoo!), have a social media internship, do some digital communications work with a groovy business consulting start-up in Boulder and I also dance on two professional teams! To make all these things happen, coffee is consistent in my routine and so I am a barista as well.
CW: Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
DL: When I was abroad, I wanted to capture EVERY moment to show my family and friends back home and of course, to look back on. This made me focus on detail a lot and I embraced the importance of persuasion, detail, and communication. I became interested in creating content and ultimately, pursued my Digital Media certification from CU. The language barrier was huge while abroad, so precision in dialogue and pronunciation in dialogue actually fed into my Communication degree; shout out to micro-discourse and rhetoric! Now, these are the catalysts to what I want to be doing professionally and it definitely shapes how I think and work.
CW: When you are in an interview, how do you talk about your study abroad experience?
DL: A classic interview question that comes up is "How do you deal with a problem that arises at work?" or "Describe a challenge and how you managed to overcome it." With my experience abroad, I have many stories.
And then of course, working at a coffee shop breeds many opportunities to geek out about “European coffee” or using the phrase, “When I was in Italy, a cappuccino…” or even mediating stubborn coffee snobs that come in claiming they know what a real macchiato is. It’s awesome.
CW: Beyond the wanderlust, what transferrable skills did you take away from your time abroad that will help you in your future career?
DL: Open-mindedness. With being open-minded comes adaptability, and these are skills that I see in myself more than ever. Especially now in the job market, these are essential in learning, networking, and essentially, everything in a career. If my work schedule is not what I expected, I know how to adjust; if there is something that went wrong at work, I can handle it. In a globalized economy, this helps me be able to engage with any audience and have intercultural understanding. With my professional interest having to do with social media and PR, this is extremely helpful. Being open-minded allows me to work through problems rather than around them, and work with just about anybody.
CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
DL: In Italy, Sundays are for resting and businesses are usually closed, including grocery stores. Our first weekend in Florence, my roommates and I were not aware of this. We had no groceries and the restaurants by our place were all closed. Thankfully, our landlords stopped by to check on our internet connection when they found that we had no food, and they knew of one specific grocery store in town that opened for several hours. They quickly drove us in their cars to this grocery store, and even pointed out the best gelato place in the neighborhood. We listened to some Italian jams on the radio. Even with the language barrier, we managed to communicate through some charades, facial expressions and old-fashioned guessing. It was such a sweet gesture of them and a pure, simple human connection; it was the best welcome gift to start off studying abroad.
CW: Give us an example of an activity you pursued outside of CAPA activities that gave you a better understanding of the material you learned in one or more of your classes.
DL: In Italian class, my instructor gave cultural references in every class and explained how Italians would act in situations or the customs of Italians, which somehow beautifully cycled back to the language lecture—she’s great! Through a wine tasting with a local sandwich shop owner who also owned his own wine cellar, an understanding of the Italian attitude toward food came in fruition. After the three courses and elaborate detail on which cheeses paired with which wines, we were given a mini lesson on observing the body of the wines, the etiquette around food and how the feelings surrounding a meal extend to values of family, passion and love. There are distinct words in the Italian language for dinners in different contexts, snacks, and other meals, which goes to show the respect Italians have for the time for eating and what they consume.
CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to Florence? And what about the plane ride home?
DL: I was flying to Prague before arriving in Florence, but I for sure had some travel jitters. My family dropped me off at the airport and I recall my little sister crying. Call me lame, but I think at that moment, if I could have chosen to not go to Florence and stay to hang out with my sister, I would have opted out (I am a homebody, for sure). I was nervous, anxious, excited, scared; it was like “cold feet”, but for studying abroad. On the way back, it was like a scene from the movies: I was departing from Athens, with the sun rising. It was one of the most magical moments in my life. My ten weeks abroad starting reeling through my mind like a movie, playing back moments I will never forget. I remember trying to wrap my head around what the heck happened in those ten weeks, how much I have changed, and feeling extremely lucky.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
DL: With myself, I have grown to be more at ease, been yearning for adventure, and have become very observant. It is hard to explain, but since I've been abroad, I see how the world is so massive, yet so small at the same time. I’ve always been a geek and loved school, but after studying abroad, a new passion for learning has rekindled. Meeting new people has broadened my perspective and I have this newfound respect for making connections and learning as much as I can.