CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Nicolette Carlos

May 4, 2015 9:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Nicolette studied about in Florence with CAPA International Education during Fall semster 2014. Below, she talks about the culture shock when she first arrived and how she adjusted, what she learned about herself, her career goals and the world around her while she was in Italy and some of the places (gelato or live music, anyone?) she carved out as her own in this global city.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
NICOLETTE CARLOS: I studied abroad with CAPA in the beautiful city of Florence, Italy during Fall semester 2014. I am a second year student at Riverside City College and I plan to transfer to a four year university as a Biology major. I really enjoy practicing yoga, reading, writing in my journal, listening to live music, hiking and having Netflix marathons. I’m also passionate about having conversations about art with anyone!
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad?
NC: I have always loved the feeling of traveling to a new and exciting destination. I thought it would be an amazing growing experience to live on my own in a foreign country, breaking out of my comfort zone, living in a new culture through my own experiences, and learning how to travel independently for once!
CW: Do you feel like your experience abroad has in any way helped to shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
NC: This experience definitely helped rejuvenate my motivation towards my career goals! It has helped me realize that through globalization, there are so many career paths I can take. It has also given me the aspiration to hopefully come back and work in Italy or even specifically back in Florence if I can.
CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to Florence? How long did it take you adjust to life there and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
NC: Honestly, I was terrified, but at the same time completely excited for what the next three months had in store. I just couldn’t believe I was actually going to be living in Italy on my own, and learning how to live life like a local Florentine. I’d have to say it took me the first two weeks to get adjusted. The culture shock was pretty much in full effect, but the CAPA staff really helps in getting you settled in and familiarizing you with the city. My initial challenge was navigating through the streets. At first, just figuring out how to get from my apartment to CAPA proved to be a struggle since I’ve never used a map in my life! But eventually I got the hang of the streets, and of course with time you figure out the best routes to take to navigate through the city.
CW: Where were the places you've carved out as “Your Florence” – the places you found outside of the tourist sites that were most meaningful for you?
NC: I’d have to say these are my top places that became “My Florence”:

La Milkeria on Borgo degli Albizi – This cute café is located near CAPA and became my go-to spot either for a break between classes for a quick espresso pick me up, or just spending my afternoons writing in my journal or reading, along with sipping a hot latte.

Backstage on Via Fiesolana – I found this place during my last month in Florence but I wish I would have discovered it sooner. This became one of my favorite places to go for nightlife in Florence. There were always live music performances and it was a cool place to interact with locals who also like listening and jamming to live music.

Piazza Santa Croce – By day, this piazza is flooded with tourists but by night, you’ll find some of the most interesting people in Florence. It’s a really special spot in the city for me because I’ve spent numerous nights wandering the old cobblestone streets in this piazza, and I’ve met some of the most memorable people there that I’ll never forget.

Il Gelato Gourmet di Marco Ottaviano on Via Matteo Palmieri – Almost on every corner you’ll find a gelato shop, but I believe when you’re in Florence you have to discover one shop that makes you come back over and over again. For me, this shop was it. For anyone who knows me, (especially my Florence roommate) gelato is my “happy place”, give me uno cono piccolo, per favore, and I’ll be the happiest person on earth! My friends and I went here so frequently that the owner knew us every time we walked in. I suggest trying the peanut and chocolate!
CW: What surprised you about Florence? What did you discover that went beyond your expectations or stereotypes that exist of the city?
Something that surprised me was the fact that Florence is such a small city, yet there are endless possibilities of things to do or discover as you walk along those old cobblestone streets. When you first arrive, it’s definitely natural to feel overwhelmed by the city and feel like it will be hard to navigate around as I did when I first arrived. Florence quickly became a comfortable and familiar city. I began to feel as if I had always lived in Florence even though it was barely my first month there.

I discovered that even the touristy areas of the city are as important to the locals as they are to visitors. I was under the assumption that walking by the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, or the Santa Croce church everyday would become something that was taken for granted. But what I observed as I people-watched while eating a cone of gelato on any normal day in Florence, was the fact that tourists (who may only be visiting the city for a few days) and locals alike all have the same reaction to the city’s gems. It’s as if everyone who lays their eyes on these famous sites around the city can’t help but be in awe and have the same appreciation of what they see whether it’s a visitor seeing something for the first time a local who has lived in Florence all of their life. It’s the beauty of Florence.
CW: What was your favorite class abroad? How did the city inspire the way you learned in the classroom and how did what you learned in the classroom inspire how you saw the city around you?
NC: During my semester abroad, I took a health science class which covered various topics on the human body and what we do on a daily basis that affects our health. One of the things you discover while living in a culture that you’re not used to is there are definitely vast differences in the way of life from one country to the next.

Florentine, or Italian way of living in general is certainly different from our way of life in the United States. Back home, I’m used to being in a hurry to do something, getting a quick Starbucks coffee while running late to class, having lunch or dinner but not really enjoying my meal, or being from California, driving everywhere is the “normal” way of life.

In contrast, my life in Italy had a much slower pace, giving importance to savoring every moment, whether it was simply enjoying a cappuccino before class, or actually engaging in conversation at dinner with friends instead of being on our phones.

What I enjoyed most was walking everywhere. In my health science class, we learned that the choices you make can definitely affect your health and well being, and comparing the way I lived my life in the States to how I lived during my semester in Florence definitely made me realize I wanted to change some habits I had back home.
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?
NC: I knew little to nothing when it came to the Italian language to be honest. But, I’m sure like many other students preparing to study abroad in Italy, I tried to learn some basic everyday phrases that I hoped could get me by my first few weeks there. Knowing words or phrases like “grazie, per favore, buongiorno, arrivederci, parla inglese?, dove e…” and knowing how to count from 1 to 10 helped throughout my semester.

For the most par,t locals in the city speak English but as many travel blogs and sites will tell you, it doesn’t hurt to try to speak in the local language if you know some words and phrases. The language barrier was not much of a problem for me during my time in Florence. It was actually fun to engage with locals, and try to understand what they were saying.

The only time I found the language barrier to be difficult, was when I got sick with a cold and sore throat, and didn’t bring any medicine from home. I had to buy some from the pharmacy and the pharmacist didn’t understand what I was saying. Also, I struggled trying to translate what the words on the box of medicine said. But try asking a CAPA staff member to translate something and they’ll be more than happy to help you.
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?
NC: I immediately felt very safe once I arrived in Florence! You will mostly be walking everywhere you go in the city and for the most part, as a female student, I felt safe walking around by myself at any given time of the day. However, of course just like you would back home, you have to be cautious where you are walking because you can never be too sure. Locals around the city in general are really lovely and friendly people and definitely make you feel part of their beautiful city.

I didn’t really know anyone who was a part of my program prior to arriving in Florence, but that’s the amazing thing about this experience; it pushes you outside of your comfort zone to meet and get to know new people.

There is definitely a sense of community around CAPA Florence. I got used to seeing the staff every day before class and saying “buongiorno”. They really make it easy to become comfortable with them, comfortable enough you can even crack jokes and have silly insiders with them.
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?
NC: I have gained a new profound appreciation for life in general since I began my program abroad. I have gained a new personal confidence within myself, learning to live outside my comfort zones and what I’m used to. This experience has profoundly changed and helped shape the person I am and the person I continue to strive to be. It has taught me so much about myself and everything around me. I’ve learned there is so much more to this world than what I have ever known and it’s given me a new passion to discover it. On this trip, I have discovered new limits that have pushed me, broken me, and raised me up to be the best I can be. I truly believe this trip helped me find myself and figure out who I want to be. It has also introduced me to so many amazing people who have inspired me to do even more in life, and to always have a passion and zest for it.
CW: What is something you’d like to tell a student thinking about studying abroad in Florence?
NC: DO IT! If you have doubts, and second guesses about whether or not you should study abroad here, just take that chance and do it! You will not regret your decision. I know it’s a study abroad cliché to say it’s a life changing experience, but 99.99% of the time it certainly is. Who you are boarding the plane going to Florence, and who you are returning home, are two completely different people.

Just savor every moment you have here, surround yourself with people who make your experience the best it can be, learn that it’s okay to spend time with yourself, and don’t be afraid to try new things. I went into this experience moving into an apartment with people I knew nothing about, but I left Florence knowing some of the greatest people I will ever meet. It’s a nerve-racking idea to live in a foreign country, away from your home, family and friends, but if you’re lucky, you’ll gain a new home, family and friends in an entirely different continent, just like I did. 

Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy your host city. It’s normal to want to travel outside of Florence and see other cities and countries within those few months. But don’t forget that you are living in one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world, and there is always something to see and discover. You’ll fall in love with Florence. It’s a magical city that will capture your heart and leave you in awe. When you return to the States, you’ll feel like you’ve left your heart and soul in Florence. I know I did.

Thanks Nicolette!
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Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews, Florence, Italy