The White House Wants You To #StudyAbroadBecause
"Every time I leave the country I study abroad." I love this quote by National Geographic Travel's Offbeat Observer, Robert Reid. And I truly believe in this simple but poignant sentence. I have been lucky enough to study abroad TWICE (in the most traditional sense) - my first time was for the summer semester in 2002 in Florence, Italy. I was in the NYU program at Villa La Pietra, probably one of the most stunning places you could hope for an academic opportunity abroad. Mornings would begin in the city for my Renaissance Art History class with my fresco-painting professor. Rather than staring at slides or squinting in art books, we traversed the city from one church to another to physically see these masterpieces for ourselves. It was the most incredible class I have ever taken in my entire life.
After a freshly cooked Italian meal back at the Villa, my daily intense Italian language classes kept my brain chock full of new vocabulary to use on our nightly adventures in the city's local pubs and dance clubs. When you're a 20-year-old thrown in with other 20-year-olds in a foreign country, it's always great to be able to strike up small conversation, especially with a local, handsome boy named Giovanni...just saying.
But that first trip, which was probably my scariest, planted the seed in me to reconnect with my own culture on a deeper level. As an Italian-American, I grew up hearing and somewhat speaking my family's dialect from Southern Italy. But after my trip in Florence, I wanted to go back and keep discovering my family's heritage in the mother country - by twist of fate, I was born in the United States, but I could have easily been born in Italy just the same.
My second study abroad opportunity came to me by chance - I was told about the Association of Italian American Educators (AIAE) who offered a scholarship program to study in Rome for six weeks in the summer. It is called Programma Ponte (the Bridge Program), and it is offered to Italian-American students and Italophiles in the US. A relatively unknown opportunity, this truly immersive program was also an incredible experience. With only 12 American participants, we stayed in a local Italian university dorm; ate with gli studenti; spoke with the students on topics such as politics and young life in the US (this was pre Facebook, YouTube & Twitter); and we explored the age-old city on Italian history, art, and culture.
Study abroad changed my life.
That's not an overstatement - without study abroad, I would have never gotten the travel bug. Without study abroad, I would have never really learned the language of my family. Without study abroad, I would have never truly felt like a global citizen. And without study abroad, I would have never taken the chance to start Bare Feet®.
Earlier this week, I had the honor of being invited to the White House for the first, ever White House Travel Bloggers Summit. The State Department has announced it is opening a US Study Abroad Office within the next few months - not only is study abroad personally beneficial to its participants, but it is also extremely financially and professionally beneficial to the local and global economy. Be sure to see my quick overview of the #WHTravelBloggers experience, as well at the launch of the #StudyAbroadBecause campaign - join the conversation and share your #StudyAbroadBecause story today!