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On the Importance of Education and Giving Back

Sep 4, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Alumni Interview: Eduardo Pablo Ramos

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Meet Eduardo Pablo Ramos, a strategic communication and political science major at Washington State University who studied abroad in Florence in the spring of 2017. Below, he talks about choosing to study in Florence for a love of history, why he chose to volunteer abroad, and how befriending locals changed his time in Italy.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
EDUARDO PABLO RAMOS: Hello! My name is Eduardo Pablo Ramos. I am an incoming junior pursuing a double degree in strategic communication and political science at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I was born and raised in a small North Central Washington town called Wenatchee (pronounced: weh-nah-chee). My parents and family members are all agricultural workers. Growing up, it would have been inconceivable to think that I would spend three months in Florence. My family’s resources have always been scarce, but our determination grand.

I have long been involved in politics and empowering my community. Early on, I committed myself to breaking cycles of poverty and providing equitable opportunity to all of our residents. Throughout my life, I have been blessed with people who have believed in my capabilities.

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CW: Talk about why you decided to study abroad and why specifically your chosen location. What were your expectations? What were your biggest worries? What excited you?
EPR: Although I love my hometown and Pullman, I would have never been able to expand my mind and diversify myself in more ways than just race. Traveling to Florence, and Europe at-large, was a perfect opportunity for me.

In middle school, I became an avid reader. This was when I first read about the Medici. Their massive role in the development of the Renaissance and their rise to power was very interesting to me; even as a young teenager. I always dreamt of walking in their city. I am also a history aficionado. Therefore, Italy was an obvious choice.

Initially, I was a bit concerned about how I would travel alone. I had only ever travelled in the company of my parents and/or siblings. Three days before departure, I also realized that, for the first time in my conscious life, I would not be able to communicate and fully understand. Yet, this intrigued me.

I was generally excited about history and personal growth. However, as an aspiring political scientist, I was most excited about learning from the people; their habits, traditions, and stories.

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CW: What was it like to study in a host city where the native language is not English? Did you learn any Italian? Had you studied the language before you arrived? What challenges or barriers did it present? Were you able to overcome them? Give your tips to other students on learning a new language.
EPR: As I headed to Florence, I reflected on how it would not be my first time learning a new language. It would not be my first time showing up on a scene that I did not comprehend fully. Before entering kindergarten at John Newberry Elementary in Wenatchee, I did not speak English. My family and I had always spoken in Spanish; even today we continue to do so. I had to learn quick. Otherwise, I would have missed many experiences.

I went to Florence with the same mindset. I would not let language prevent me from absorbing the real Italian lifestyle; rather than conforming to what they wanted me to see as a tourist. I wanted to hear their stories. Their struggles. I did make the mistake of prioritizing everything except learning the language a little before going. However, as an advanced Spanish speaker, I was able to catch on quick. The two languages are very similar. So, I learned quickly and was able to express myself in choppy sentences.

When learning a new language, I cannot stress enough how important it is to simply try. Even if you think you sound awful, do not be embarrassed to practice. I had classmates who knew a lot more than they accepted. Remember: there is no worse attempt than not trying at all.

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CW: Beyond Florence, which other parts of Italy were you able to explore? How was your experience in these places different from your host city? Any tips for future CAPA explorers?
EPR: I had the extraordinary chance to travel to 16 Italian cities north of Rome while studying abroad in Florence. Particularly, I very much enjoyed Venice, Perugia, and Siena. I do have to add that my least favorite was Milan.

It was extremely fascinating how different each part of Italy is. Even when it came to the language. I learned to speak Florentine Italian. For example, when I went north, they could not immediately understand certain words I commonly used in Florence. The food diversity is too complex to explain in this interview, but I can say that I enjoyed trying typical foods from each region.

My tip to incoming CAPA explorers is this: plan generally where you want to go. Do not make yourself a hardline schedule, but have a tentative one. This way, you will save yourself money (buy train tickets at least one and a half weeks ahead), and stress.

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CW: Talk about your favorite local foods. What did you try that you had never tried back home? Did you find a favorite place to shop for food? Did you try to make any local recipes?
EPR: My absolutely favorite Tuscan dish was a soup called ribolita. More specific to Florence, I really enjoyed the bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine-style steak). In Italy, it is customary to have at least two courses. I tried many great dishes, but non rivaled the ribolita and bistecca combination. One restaurant in Florence that is really good is called Persus near Pizza della Liberta. It was recommended to me by a local woman I met during a train ride back from Rome.

On regular days, I would swing by the best pizzeria in Florence simBIOS. There I would enjoy a sausage and broccoli or veggie pizza. Their service was outstanding and, as I learned more Italian, I became good friends with the owner. My last meal there was on the house. I was deeply humbled by the kind gesture.

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CW: Share a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it stood out for you.
EPR: Every afternoon, I would make my way to Gelateria Lungarno. At first, it was the superb gelato, alone, that got me to return time and time again. But, one afternoon, I finally had the courage to engage in a conversation with the owner. I learned his name, Giorgio Casalini. From that day in February, Gelateria Lungarno was a must go to.

On my regular visits, we would talk politics or about his long career in gelato. Since Giorgio only spoke Italian, our conversations were brief at first. Then, as I spoke more Italian, our friendship grew. It was through our friendship that I learned more about the concerns Italians live day-to-day and economics of Florence. Giorgio was genuine through his actions and blunt with his words. He is the kind of friend that I needed while being abroad. His gelato shop was not a business I went to. It was a place where I sought comfort and great conversations.

One morning, I had the privilege to watch a master in action. Giorgio has been making gelato for 55 years. Two weeks before departure, I went to Giorgio’s shop around 10:30a.m. (local time) when he prepared the gelato. I watched as he made my favorite flavor amarena e canella, among others. His delicate attention to detail gave the gelato its unique taste that brought me back; as well as so many others. I hope to see Giorgio again sometime in the near future.

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CW: Describe an area of the city that surprised you and tell us what it was about it that you didn’t expect. How did this change your perceptions of the city as a whole?
EPR: When we think about Florence, we think about Brunelleschi’s towering dome atop the cathedral. We picture the crowds of tourists pointing their phones in every direction. But we never consider that just outside of the bustling city center, there is another much quieter, less congested Florence.

As I scavenged for new places to explore, I found myself in the area called Nuovoli. It was there where I found the Italians willing to speak to me as a regular person and not as a potential customer. There were stores (more to the price an American college student would search for) and parks. There were neighborhoods tagged with graffiti that told a different story than that of the city center.

It was in Nuvoli where I realized that there truly was a Florence outside of the tourist sites that attract so many people from around the world; that had initially attracted me.

Another area I really enjoyed, Porta Romana, was a short bus ride away from my place near Il Mercato Centrale. It was a rather quiet place as compared to the endless noise of the city center. I became particularly fond of the area because of a park that brought out families, couples, and other people of Florence. It was a great place to just go sit and observe Italian life through a more intimate lens.

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CW: Did you manage to volunteer or do community service while abroad? What are your tips for other CAPA students who hope to do the same?
EPR: From the time I was a freshman in high school, I committed myself to promoting opportunity and education through any way possible. Many people have come into my life to help steer and empower me in a positive direction. I always strive to be one of them for others.

During my time in Florence, I connected with a volunteer-led organization called Anelli Mancanti through a professor (Jenny McCord). I began teaching basic English alongside other Florentines who dedicated time to instructing others.

Volunteering with Anelli Mancanti was definitely a perspective changing experience. I had the fantastic opportunity of meeting immigrant communities. I was able to learn about the immigration situation in Europe on a more personal level. My parents are immigrants themselves, therefore I was deeply grateful to have had the chance to hear the opportunities, struggles and injustices they face.

Another great factor in volunteering was that my adult students taught me Italian while I taught them English. I became very good friends with them. One even became my permanent barber while I lived in Florence. Volunteering was a unique experience that the large majority of students who go abroad, miss. Do not be in the majority and ask your CAPA local professionals about the type of organizations you might be interested in.

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CW: How do you imagine that your experience abroad will change the way you approach your environment now that you are back home? How do you think it will change the way you approach your studies?
EPR: As I mentioned before, I grew up in a small community. Then, I went to college in a small town. Although college expanded my thinking and allowed me to engage with a larger diversity of people (deeper than skin color), it is nothing compared to living/ studying abroad.

While living in Florence and traveling gave I gained new problem solving skills. I know that my self-confidence also grew in the sense that I doubted myself less, especially when traveling alone. As a political scientist, I honed my ability to engage in civil discourse and speak about American politics through an outsider perspective. All of these enlarged abilities will, without a doubt, help me as a person and professional. This experience gave me a stronger sense of empowering my community through broadened thought processes. Finding more creative solutions. Additionally, being firm in my decision-making.

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CW: Is there anything you wish you would have done while you were studying abroad that you didn’t manage to fit in? Is there anything you did that you didn't expect to do but particularly enjoyed?
EPR: In terms of experiencing Italy, I feel very satisfied with my effort to genuinely engage with the people and life style. I had the opportunity to visit 16 cities in Italy. They each had a distinct cultural feature to them; which kept me engaged. For, example, in the north, people were more independent and their Italian did not always match with what I had learned in Florence. Further, I had the opportunity to travel to Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine.

I did not get the opportunity to travel south to Naples and Sicily, however. At first, I was pretty disappointed for not being able to fit it in, but then I had an unexpected surprise in Kiev, Ukraine.

Those who knew about my trip to Ukraine were concerned about that county’s unrest. All the chatter made me a little skeptical and I almost decided to pass on that trip. I am very glad that I didn’t. Kiev is, in my opinion, a remarkable city. Stuck somewhere between its communist era and today’s global society, Kiev has people and structures that offer a very evident story. As an aspiring political scientist, this was a great trip to make. The people in Kiev were the kindest I encountered while in Europe. Their English was choppy, but then again, I could only say a few words in Russian. The language barrier did not prevent me from enjoying my experience. From the communist era monuments to the cappuccinos served on the street, Kiev was a city unrivaled by any in the west (in terms of uniqueness).

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Thanks, Eduardo!

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Florence Interviews