Ashley Kennedy got an interesting introduction to Italian culture when she participated in Stony Brook’s Study Abroad Short-Term Program—imagine her reaction to hearing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” sung in a foreign language while volunteering for a church playgroup in Florence, Italy.
Although Italian was her minor when she studied in Florence, Kennedy improved her ability to speak the language in a major way while she was there.
“I tell everyone it’s a great way to do a study abroad or a student exchange program. You will have an amazing experience and learn a lot about the culture, language, and history,” she said. “It’s a great way to fulfill DEC requirements or even major/minor requirements, and it looks great on your resume.”
Kennedy recommends the experience particularly for those students who enjoy attending a small school and getting to know the other students and professors.
As good as the study abroad curriculum was, Kennedy said much of the learning occurred outside of the classroom. “The teachers really know their subjects. But there were also a lot of classes that the teachers made interactive. For example, I took a wine class and my professor took us around to some of the wineries around Florence.”
Learning the language from the locals also had its advantages. “It’s very different because half of the time you’re just experiencing it. It’s easier learning from the people because they aren’t giving you a grammar lesson, they’re pointing to something, telling you how to say it, and from there you learn to put it into sentences,” she added.
Although many students in the international programs stay with host families, Kennedy lived in an apartment in Florence.
Kennedy said the cost to do study abroad was about the same as what she paid for a semester at Stony Brook.
Spending a full semester in Italy provided Kennedy with a sense of the “real” country, rather than a travel brochure version of it. “If you are just on vacation you’re trying to cram everything in, and you don’t sit back and relax and just walk the streets and talk to people. If you live there, you go back to the same grocery store or fruit stand and the people start to know you. You’ll learn about the ‘real’ Italy from them.”
Kennedy needed to make adjustments, though. “I knew they had a siesta around lunch time but I never realized it would be that long. There was one store that I went to about six or seven times before I actually went there when it was open,” she said. Sometimes the shopkeeper would take his siesta and decide not to come back, or sometimes not open the store at all on a certain day. That’s when you have to put aside your New York mentality and realize that you are in a different country and they do things differently.”
While attending the study abroad program, Kennedy found ample time to travel around the country and to neighboring countries, such as Sicily. While there, she visited Taormina, a beautiful town on the coast overlooking Mt. Etna. She also went to Rome and to Viareggion for Carnevale. Siena, Milan, Pisa, the Czech Republic, and Germany were additional stops on her itinerary.
Kennedy said she took away more than just fleeting memories from her study abroad experience. “The friends I made are people I am still in contact with—We actually just had our one-year reunion and it was great.”