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Archives For August 2016

by: Cora Webb (public health and women’s and gender studies double-major)

During the summer, I took my first plane ride across the world to participate in the College of Charleston’s first public health study abroad program hosted in Florence, Italy. From squeezing hands with my seatmate during takeoff to trying to avoid baggage fees for my overweight luggage, I encountered a continuous succession of new experiences that have altered my perspective of this world.

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Cora Webb studying abroad in Italy

As most believe, studying abroad (especially for the first time) gives students an opportunity to leave their comfort zone and establish themselves in a new environment, all while attempting to further develop their understanding of the culture they jumped into. I can now attest that this belief is true. While abroad, every day gave me the chance to reexamine my boundaries and opinions. When travelling to the various cities within Italy, such as Venice or Siena, I learned that no place or people can be thought of as homogenized, even if within the borders. As we travelled, we came to the realization that some of the standardized views people held were wrong. After climbing the Duomo, the famous church of Florence, it was easy to believe that religion was a central aspect of people’s lives. We came to realize that was not the case for a lot of people we met, many of which who had an issue with the Catholic Church and its role in the tax system. Moreover, someone also told us that they believed in God, but everything else was just imaginative stories. In those moments, we became enlightened on the similarities shared between our countries – beliefs are as individualized as people.

Studying abroad has heightened my receptiveness to and awareness of unfamiliar languages and social behaviors.  Prior to this endeavor, most, if not all of us students, never spoke Italian. This made our transition awkward and embarrassing, yet it gave us multiple learning experiences. One morning, when looking for a coffee shop before class, we stumbled upon a business that had its door open, but a chair was keeping it open. Being ignorant to the meaning of this, we came inside only to be confronted by an angry store owner who yelled at us so loud that we ran out the shop, puzzled and embarrassed. Even so, we learned something helpful: businesses open late and close early. This is only one of our multiple embarrassing situations that aided us in the scary, yet necessary process of becoming cultured.

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Cora Webb

Most importantly, this journey across the ocean taught me that you cannot push your culture and concepts on to other people. Ethnocentrism prevents us from completely engaging in any experience. Some students instinctively expected people to speak and understand English, which not only displays inattentiveness, but is insensitivity. The truth is, even though you may look and sound outlandish, people always appreciate you trying to understand their culture and beliefs. Being respectively inquisitive (without intrusiveness) shows thoughtfulness and can help you develop your interpersonal communication skills, as it has done for many of us. After asking if someone spoke English or trying to explain how I spoke little Italian, the best thing I could do was meet them where they were. With this being said, I took a lot of time using a book of translations and pronouncing words wrong, all of which taught me patience and gave me a greater appreciation for those who have taken the time to learn more than one language.

Just as I had to subdue my apprehension of flight, studying internationally pushed me to acquire the adaptiveness and flexibility needed to continue on, not only in a professional settings, but in life itself. This journey has gave me the confidence to pursue other opportunities that may seem out of reach. I appreciate all the time and resources that were given to achieve my longtime dream of studying abroad. None of the effort put into this experience was wasted or went unnoticed. I have arrived back in the United States as an improved version of myself. Although frightening, studying abroad replaced my anxiety with courage. Therefore, I am thankful I travelled overseas. The knowledge I now harbor will not just be my own to bear, but will be given to others as encouragement for them to achieve their aspirations, just as people encouraged me to achieve mines.

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