On a Quest to Understand My Heritage

Jan 18, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Irene Kanthan

Rachel Cholewinski_Florence

Rachel is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Business Administration major at Merrimack College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

In her first post, Rachel shares her reasons for wanting to study abroad and how she is preparing herself before heading to Florence.


It is crazy to think that I am leaving for Florence in less than 8 days and as I am staring at my unpacked suitcase (procrastinating) the nerves and excitement of leaving are slowly setting in. I am not only wondering about how I am going to pack everything in this tiny suitcase, but also reflecting on what has led to me take on this new adventure of studying abroad.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Spring2018_From Rachel Cholewinski -Working with Children in Ecuador.jpegWorking with children at a school in Ecuador.

Studying aboard has always been something that has interested me and I came into college with the motivation to apply. Although I have always had this idea in the back of my mind, I decided on officially studying abroad after I came back from an Immersion Experience in Ecuador my freshmen year. This program was only for 2 weeks, but I grew in more ways than I expected. This trip inspired me to continue to learn about other cultures as well as encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. After this trip I really became passionate about traveling and meeting new people because I found that in these situations I truly learned the most.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Spring2018_From Rachel Cholewinski - With Grandma.jpegA photo of my grandma and me.

Studying abroad in Florence has always been in the back of my mind and after talking to other people who went abroad I felt that it was the best place for me to personally grow and would benefit my major the most. I felt more comfortable with the size of Florence and was really interested in learning more about the culture. My great grandparents were from Sicily, Italy, and my family has deep-rooted Italian traditions that have always fascinated me. For example, every Christmas Eve my family has "The Feast of Seven Fishes" where we all sit down and have a huge meal with different courses including all different types of fishes. Still, to this day, I don't fully understand the history behind this tradition, but it has been something that I wanted to learn more about.

I am also extremely close with my grandma and when I told her I was going to Italy, her face immediately lit up and she started sharing stories about our family history. When in Italy I want to fully immerse myself in this culture and come back having a new profound understanding of my heritage.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Florence_Spring2018_From Rachel Cholewinski - Things for Apartment Abroad.jpegPacking a journal, a picture, small lights, and a blanket to feel more at home.

My biggest worry when traveling abroad is not feeling prepared and just being overwhelmed with not knowing the language or people. This is my first time traveling to Europe so I have no idea what to expect, but I have been doing research. Although avoiding a culture shock is inevitable, I want to be able to navigate through this transition smoothly and enjoy every aspect of this experience. I am also worried about getting homesick and missing my friends from school, but I know that once I am acclimated, I will quickly fall in love.

To help with my initial fear of being away from home I am going to pack a journal, a small picture, a cozy blanket and a small string lights to hang in my apartment. Personally for me just feeling cozy in a new place can go along way and help with feeling more adjusted.

Thanks Rachel!

Rachel's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations, Identity