CAPA Study Abroad Alum Interview: Steven Bramel
Meet Steven, a double major in Italian and Global Management at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who studied abroad with CAPA Florence during fall semester 2015. While in Italy, He challenged himself with an internship which allowed him to improve his language skills and navigate a completely different work culture. Below, he talks more about this experience, what he learned from his travels abroad and the parts of Firenze he visited frequently.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
STEVEN BRAMEL: Ciao! My name is Steven and I studied abroad in Florence, Italy last semester. I'm double majoring in Italian and Global Management at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A few of my interests include baseball (go Brewers!), baking (because of my love for sweets), lifting, and electric cars.
CW: What were your first impressions of Florence? How did these change over the course of the semester?
SB: I had the pleasure of coming to Florence last year during a solo backpacking trip through Italy. I was taken aback by the fact that nearly every single building has orange terra cotta shingles. When I flew into Florence, all I saw was a sea of orange below. The second impression I had was that Italians drive like maniacs. The scooters weaved in between cars and it seemed like the cars were almost hitting pedestrians in the crosswalks. As the semester continued on, I became acclimated to the Italian driving style. However, I'm still not going to adopt it as my driving style. I'll continue to drive like my grandma – slow and steady wins the race, right? Another impression that I had was the size of Florence. It's quite small compared to bigger Italian cities such as Milan or Rome. As a result of this, it's quite difficult to get lost. Even if I did get lost, all I had to do was look for Brunelleschi's giant orange dome and navigate accordingly.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Florence" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
SB: I loved frequenting the pasticcerie, or pastry shops, near my university outside of the city center. They had some of the best sweets that I've ever had. My favorite was a flaky pastry with a chocolate and pear filling. They were special because they were in the “working” district of Florence, away from all the hustle and bustle of the historical city center. I was immersed a bit more in the Italian culture and forced to speak Italian as many of the shopkeepers didn't speak very good English.
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments.
SB: I interned with FLOD and The Florentine, who both shared the same office. FLOD is a social communications company and The Florentine is an English speaking newspaper in Florence. I was responsible for increasing the social media presence for clients, including the cities of Florence and Prato. I also completed research and assisted in writing articles and worked on the backend of The Florentine website with WordPress.CW: Give an example of a valuable contribution you made to your internship site and how it has impacted the operation of the workplace.
SB: I increased worker productivity and morale by bringing in sweets and making sea salt caramels for the office. Just kidding. A little. I'd say it was the behind-the-scenes research and smaller things that I did, including work on the backend for The Florentine and proofreading translated texts.
CW: Was your internship in Italian or English? How did language impact your experience?
SB: My internship was both in Italian and English. FLOD was made up of native Italians, whilst The Florentine was made up of bilingual native English speakers. Language did have a bit of an impact on my experience. I'd taken four semesters of Italian at UWM, so I'd say I was at an intermediate level at the start of the semester. Many Italian jokes that the guys in the office told flew right over my head, and conducting research in Italian proved to be a challenge sometimes. But no one ever said that learning a new language or working at an internship in a foreign country would come without its challenges. Every joke you miss and every sentence you can't understand is a new learning opportunity.
CW: Talk us through a day in your life as an intern in Florence.
SB: I started every weekday with my Italian class at the University of Florence at 8:45am, which I had until 11:30am. After that, I had classes at CAPA. Once I was done with my class at CAPA for the day, I'd walk past the beautiful Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) towards my internship site near the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. I typically finished around 6pm. My Learning Through Internships class at CAPA was on Monday afternoons and it felt like I was having private tutor lessons because I was the only student in this class. Having that small of a class was hugely beneficial to my development as a young professional.CW: What skills did you take away from your internship that will help you in your future career?
SB: I now know exactly what it's like to work in a completely different work culture. It was an incredible experience and now I'll be able to bring to the table different ideas and methods that I probably wouldn't have learned interning in the United States. I also now know the importance of having professionally managed social media and am able to better recognize how to increase a company's social media presence.
CW: Did you travel outside of your host city? What new challenges did you encounter while outside of your host city and how did you overcome them?
SB: In Italy I traveled to: Milan, Rome, Pisa, Siena, San Gimagnano, Lucca, Venice and Sicily.
In Europe I traveled to: Paris, Istanbul, Budapest, Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz.
A new challenge that I found outside of Italy was navigating with public transportation. And honestly, Google Maps saved my butt on multiple occasions as the bus and metro schedules are already uploaded into Google Maps. But once you've conquered the ins and outs of a foreign country's transportation system, you'll feel completely independent and save a lot of money. For example, using the metro system from the airport to downtown Istanbul was €2 each way. A taxi, assuming I found one with a semi-honest driver, would've been around €10 each way. And if you're on any kind of budget, forget about taking a taxi in Paris!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?
SB: I've become a lot more independent, whether it be through solo traveling or using the local methods of public transportation. I've also become more aware of the struggles of immigrants. Italy is an attractive destination for many immigrants due to its proximity to Africa. I saw immigrants every day, particularly around tourist attractions, selling cheap souvenirs just to make a living. In the United States, at least in the Midwest, we're nearly completely sheltered from this. This is probably why there are so many people who are indifferent to those trying to find a better life for their family in the United States, but we need to stop using fear tactics when talking about the topic of immigration and really educate ourselves.