CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Danielle Lukas

May 25, 2015 9:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

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Meet Danielle who studied abroad in Florence with CAPA International Education during Fall semester 2014. Below, Danielle talks about what she learned from volunteering while abroad, how it helped her create a community and the ways in which she was able to integrate into Florentine culture from chats with a local at a bakery to tasting the famous lampredotto.
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CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DANIELLE LUKAS: I’m Danielle Lukas. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy during the Fall 2014 semester. I am from New Jersey attend The College of New Jersey. I am a developmental psychology major, and plan to attend graduate school to receive my Master’s in Social Work. At school, I am a part of a children’s research lab, participate in a dance company and am involved in Greek life.
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CW: Describe your background for us. Had you traveled before? What made you want to study abroad? Did you know any Italian before you left for Florence?
DL: Before studying abroad, I had not been out of the country much. I had traveled along the east coast of the United States, and I had been on vacation to places like the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Mexico. But, I had never been to Europe.

When the opportunity arose for me to study abroad in Florence, I applied in a heartbeat. I had a great desire to not only see Europe, but to also more specifically to see the country where my ancestors had lived - Italy.

Being brought up in an Italian family, many people are surprised to find out that I did not know how to speak any Italian before I left, but upon arriving in Florence and hearing the language, it became very easy to pick up on the commonly used terms.
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CW: While you were abroad, you had an opportunity to volunteer. What did this involve and what did you love about it?
DL: While abroad, CAPA provided me with the opportunity to volunteer in an Italian elementary school. I would go there once per week, during which time I would assist the English teacher in a third-grade classroom. Growing up, I had taken Spanish as a second language requirement from elementary through high school. It was amazing to see a group of elementary-aged students learning a language that was so innate to me.

It was also interesting to see how the Italian school system is different from those in the States. Some of the moments that I loved most from volunteering were helping teach the students about Halloween and trick-or-treating, telling them about simple things like my favorite colors and animals, and seeing them get excited when I walked into the room each week. It was so rewarding to see how eager all of the students were to learn.
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CW: What was your most fulfilling moment while volunteering? And while abroad in general?
DL: I definitely felt connected to the Florentine community while I was abroad. My volunteer experience helped to give me an inside look at how Italian children learn and how they are raised. Along with that, living in my apartment, right near the city center truly immersed me into the Italian community. This gave me the ability to do as many of the Florentines do, and really get to know the local shop owners, bakers, and restaurant owners on my street. 

CW: Did you feel connected to the community in Florence? Did your volunteer experience play a role? What else contributed to helping you create a community abroad?
DL: Not only was I able to feel like I was a part of the Florentine community, but the CAPA community in itself was absolutely wonderful. While abroad, I met students from all over the US, whether it be South Carolina, Indiana or Colorado. It was really cool that regardless of where we were from, we all became such good friends and really developed our own little CAPA family.
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CW: Did you travel outside of Florence? Where did you go? What are the challenges you faced and advice you can offer other students?
DL: While abroad, I did travel outside of Florence. I participated in the CAPA programs that visited Sienna and San Gimignano. I also went to Pisa, Venice, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast. One of my favorite trips within Italy was when I got to meet up with my parents in Rome!

I also ventured outside of Italy, traveling to Croatia, Germany, France, England, Amsterdam, Spain, and Austria with friends that I had made through CAPA. Because Florence has a few student travel agencies, it was very easy to plan weekend trips to different countries.

The biggest tip I could give student travelers is that when you are taking a train, make sure to get your ticket validated! But, also travel as much as you can because it truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore Europe.
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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?
DL: I loved exploring Florence and finding little places off the beaten tourist track. One of my favorite places was Caffe Letterario, a prison turned café, and the perfect place for a cappuccino and studying. My other favorite café was L’Arte del Sogno, decorated with a variety of chairs and mugs. I also loved the pizza from Gusta Pizza and Pizza Man; you can never go wrong with pizza in Florence. My favorite places to get a panino were definitely Pino’s and Pane Toscano. Most importantly, my favorite gelaterias were La Carraia and Il Gelato Gourmet. These places were definitely part of what made up My Florence, because not only did they have delicious food, but the owners were some of the nicest people I met on my trip, making it really difficult to say goodbye. 
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CW: Talk about your favorite local foods and where you most loved to eat them. What did you try that you never tried back home? Did you find a favorite place to shop for groceries?
DL: Speaking of food, I did try foods that I would never have tried at home. I did most of my grocery shopping at the Conad supermarket that was right down the street from my apartment, but I also liked to venture into the Sant’ Ambrogio Market and see the different thngs that they had there. My favorite thing to buy at the market was fresh pasta and raviolis that I would make for dinner. The variety of pasta was amazing. I found myself making pumpkin and lemon raviolis that were absolutely delicious.

Perhaps the most bizarre thing that I tried while abroad was the traditional Florentine lampredotto. Lampredotto comes from one of the cow stomachs. In Florence. there are lampredotto stands everywhere, similar to the dirty water dog stands in New York City. I usually would not try something like this, but it felt like a right of passage if I were really going to fit into Florentine society. Overall, the lampredotto was not bad, but I would never choose to eat that over gelato or pasta.
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CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
DL: Before going abroad, I was very nervous about the interactions with locals that I would have, but the Florentines were very nice and welcoming, especially the shop owners on the street of my flat. One of the most memorable individuals that I encountered was one of the bakers at the bakery, “Forno,” just a few doors down from my flat. I would go into this bakery around two times a week, whether it be to get cookies, biscotti or bread. Each time I went in, the baker would excitedly listen as I tried my best to tell her what I wanted in Italian. She would always throw in an extra cookie or two, or something different that she thought I might like. Before leaving, she would always say, “grazie a mille, ciao ciao.” She was one of the most memorable people that I interacted with because she was incredibly welcoming and always had a huge smile on her face when I walked in. Even if I was just buying cookies and bread, she made me feel welcome in Florence. 
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CW: What has your study abroad experience taught you about yourself and the world around you? Has it in any way impacted the way you are thinking about your future career goals?
DL: My study abroad experience has made me learn so much about myself and the world around me. It made me become a much more independent person. It also taught me that the world is much bigger than I give it credit for. I experienced so many different cultures while abroad, and it made me really appreciate the diversity that our world has. As a result of my study abroad experience, I would not be opposed to living outside of the United States at some point in my life. 
Thanks Danielle!
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Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Florence, Italy