CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Samantha Giordano
Meet Samantha, a CAPA Florence study abroad alumna from Indiana University. Below, she tells us what it was like to explore the city specifically as a psychology major, how she was able to build a relationship with a local family through the GANZO! program and what she thought of the food in Italy including a new combination of flavors she never would have thought of putting together before.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
SAMANTHA GIORDANO: I am from Chesterton, Indiana and go to school at Indiana University in Bloomington. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy during spring of 2016. I am a psychology major with minors in counseling and educational studies. I love meeting new people and learning all about them. Traveling, sightseeing, hiking, etc. are some of my absolute favorite things to do!
CW: Why did you choose the CAPA program and why Florence specifically?
SG: I chose the CAPA program in Florence for so many different reasons. The course list was incredible and had so many different types of classes to choose from. Similarly, I knew that if I were going to get an education anywhere, it should be somewhere historically renowned. The history and significance Florence has with the Renaissance definitely urged me in spending my study abroad time there.
CW: Talk about academics abroad. How were you able to connect your experience of the city itself and what you were learning in your classes?
SG: I took "Intro to Italian", "Renaissance Art History", "Photojournalism", "Cross-Cultural Psychology", and "Watercolor Painting". My favorite class was definitely "Cross-Cultural Psychology". Of course I’m biased since it’s my field of study, but we learned so much about the Italian way of life in comparison to our own. We learned why things exist the way they do in Italy and the role that has in a person’s experience. The really awesome part about all of the classes offered at CAPA is that they each have a component that involves taking students out into Florence. For example, I was able to see the artworks we learned about in person after being tested about them. Nearly every day, one of our classes was expected to be held out in the city somewhere.
CW: Did you manage to volunteer while abroad or find other ways to connect with locals? What are your tips for other CAPA students who hope to do the same?
SG: Just recently, CAPA in Florence started this program called GANZO! The program is perfect for students who may not have had the chance to live with a host family. Essentially, I was paired with an Italian family (these are usually families with kids) and simply spent time with them on a weekly basis. We went out to eat, they taught me how to make pizza from scratch, and I got to teach them more about my American customs. It was an incredible experience being able to have a family to rely on! Another program CAPA offers is through a local elementary school where CAPA students help teach English to Italian students.
CW: What was the food like in Florence?
SG: The food was ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!! All fresh, never frozen, no preservatives. Since Italy, I have become obsessed with chili pepper infused olive oil and pear ravioli! I tried so many different types of dishes and paired new things together (pomegranate, pasta, cheese!? So good!). I still find myself thinking about all of the insane food there. Since the Italians eat dinner at a later time than we do, they have this part of the day where they serve an “aperativo.” During this time at a restaurant, you buy a drink and eat unlimited appetizers for only €6-7. Pretty incredible.
CW: As a psychology major, what would you recommend as must-see or do experiences for other students in Florence who have similar professional interests?
SG: Since nearly every building in Florence is considered historic, a lot of them have been turned into something completely different than what they were intended to be used for originally. For example, there is an art studio/apartment complex that used to be a prison. During one of the field trips for my "Photojournalism" class, we got to explore an abandoned mental institution. On a more academic level, my favorite place to visit as a psychology student was the Ospedale degli Innocenti degli Innocenti. This museum used to serve as a children’s orphanage and has some insane history behind it.
CW: Tell us about a moment in Florence when you faced a particular challenge and how you were able to turn that into a learning experience.
SG: The biggest challenge I faced in Florence was figuring out how to be as flexible as possible. Often a train would be canceled or the buses stopped running due to a strike, throwing a major wrench into a lot of my plans. The first few times it happened, I would get incredibly frustrated and discouraged to even figure out an alternative plan. However, it taught me how to stay relaxed and be more accepting of change. Not everything is going to run as planned, so keeping an open mind to everything is key to having an awesome time!
CW: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations?
SG: When I graduate, I plan on pursuing a higher degree in graduate school. Specifically, I want to become a School Psychologist. Before studying abroad, my options for schools were primarily within a one state radius of my hometown. Studying abroad helped me expand my school choices to both a national and international level. I have been looking at schools all over the world, and have even begun to humor the idea of working internationally.
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?
SG: The rose garden and Bardini garden were by far the most scenic places in Florence. Living in a big city was incredible, but it felt really nice to spend some time in the gardens overlooking the city. Near my apartment was a bakery that I swear had the city’s best cannoli, and I prided myself for finding the place with one of my friends. The key to making the city “yours” is to interact with the locals and personalize your location as much as you can.
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?
SG: I definitely am more outgoing and willing to try new things! It sounds cliche, but I always struggled with change, so studying abroad helped me tackle that challenge. I grew up in a way that made me feel more prepared for adulthood outside of college. I can travel alone and make decisions that I normally would have been terrified to make. The world has so much for me to explore, and I would never feel confident in exploring it all without the experience of studying abroad!