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Laura Wilder

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Global Studies and Italian double major
Program: UNC in Firenze (Lorenzo de' Medici), and Bologna Consortial Studies Program through Indiana University
Location: Florence (Summer) and Bologna (Semester)
Term: Summer 2018 and Spring 2020


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Prior to going to Florence for the LDM summer session, I had never traveled outside of the US before, so I was hoping to dip my toe into the world of international experiences. My dad had studied abroad in Cortona, Italy during college and my brother studied Italian at ECU, so traveling to Italy was my top choice. After returning from Florence and having fallen in love with the Italian language and culture, I decided to add an Italian major and later studied abroad for a semester in Bologna. For this second experience, my goal was to further improve my Italian in an immersive environment, and BCSP fit the bill with all Italian-taught courses, amazing cultural excursions, and a requirement to find your own housing (intimidating but educational!).


What did you learn about yourself?
Through both my Florence and Bologna experiences, I learned that I am a lot more courageous than I ever thought. Whether it be something small like introducing myself to a new classmate to make a friend, or something big like taking a spontaneous road trip to Sicily before COVID, I learned that it is important to take opportunities when they are given to you and not to waste time being nervous. For anyone who has seen the new Disney movie Luca, there were many times where I had to essentially say “Silenzio bruno!” to my fears, and take a leap of faith. More often than not, it pays off! It helped me to make lots of friends during both study abroad experiences, I became a pro at taking solo trips all across Italy, and it gave me my favorite memories that I love to share with friends, family, and prospective study abroad students to encourage everyone to be brave.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my time in Bologna was in the History of Dance class that I was taking through the University of Bologna. Our professor organized an optional field trip for our class to an Isadora Duncan exhibit in the small town of Rovereto, and at first, I was pretty nervous to go; my American friend couldn’t go on the trip and I didn’t know any of the Italian students yet. Keep in mind, the course was taught in Italian and most of my classmates preferred to speak in their native language, so trying to make new friends was a little intimidating! I decided to take a leap of faith and attend despite my worries, and I’m so thankful that I did because it was unknowingly the last experience I would have with my Italian classmates before COVID. We all took the train together from Bologna to Rovereto that weekend and had an incredible tour through the Duncan exhibit in MART (an exceptional modern and contemporary art museum). We even witnessed a local Carnevale parade go by while eating lunch at a cafe! All the while, I was practicing my Italian, getting to know my professor, and chatting with my classmates to plan when to hang out next. I felt so included and excited for the rest of the semester with my new class, and all thanks to this unique bonding experience. It was a pivotal moment in my Bologna experience because a wave of relief swept over me that I was capable of making the most of my study abroad experience. I finally felt like I could keep up verbally with my Italian classmates and could make friends, I loved my professor and was excited that she wanted to get to know me, and I was proud of myself for going on the trip!


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
While it’s important to listen to our fears when it comes to our health and safety, they often hold us back from our full potential in other matters. Studying abroad is meant to challenge you as an individual and bring on uncomfortable situations, so it’s natural that there will be uncertainties along the way. Remember that this is a learning experience and try to prepare yourself mentally for problems along the way. I had a mantra during both experiences for situations that stressed me out: take a deep breath, analyze the situation, make a decision that you think is best. Simple! Whether it’s getting lost, walking into a new class and you don’t know anyone, or going on an adventure, this mantra will serve you well. Finding good friends who you trust, taking alone time for yourself daily/weekly to reflect, and finding a balance between your academic and social lives will greatly improve your experience as well.


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
As a woman in Italy, it’s important to be aware of the gender stereotypes and customs that can still affect your day to day life. More often than not, it’s simply being stared at while walking down the street or being expected to dress more modestly, but other times it can affect your safety or your relationship with an authority member. Thankfully, I typically only had run-ins with flirtatious gelateria owners and passersby on the street, to which I shrugged off and kept going!


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
For women when dealing with cat-calling and flirting, I found that it’s best to remain polite and ignore it the best that you can. I’m typically a confrontation type of girl, but I realized that causing a scene will not solve the problem and will often make it worse. If anything, embrace it as a chance to practice your Italian! Surprisingly, I also felt safer walking around the city at night in Italy than I do in the US as a woman, but of course, keep aware of your surroundings, stay in well lit areas, and tell a friend where you’re going. Finally, remember to respect that you are in a country with a culture that is not your own; rather than simply judging the gender stereotypes, educate yourself on why they are so prominent (i.e. the history of Mussolini, etc.).