“I’ll never have the chance to travel and learn like this again” said Gabrielle Langmann, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, when explaining why she was determined to study abroad. Even with her hefty course load as an anthropology and English literature double major, as well as a pre-medical student, she made studying abroad a priority.
Gabrielle chose to study at Lorenzo de’Medici, The Italian International Institute in Tuscania, on an Academic Programs International (API) program this past summer. In a few short weeks, she learned more about her family heritage, Italian culture, and more about herself including her personal strengths, academic interests, and career aspirations.
Living in a small Italian town was quite different from the loud urban campus she was used to. Gabrielle says one of the most important lessons she learned in Italy was how to be quiet, slow down, and balance life. She first discovered this through the simple act of getting morning coffee:
There are no Starbucks in Tuscania and no options for coffee to-go, so you have to make time to sit in a bar and drink your coffee there. This experience was so refreshing.
Stopping to smell the roses, or in this case, drink a cup of coffee, is part of everyday life in Tuscania, and now part of Gabrielle’s. Since she has returned to the University of Pittsburgh, she is less stressed and understands how to better balance time for school, work, fun, and relaxation. She says, “I am now channeling the Italian mentality and enjoying life.”
When you speak to Gabrielle about her time in Italy, it’s clear that she has a strong passion for Italian people and their culture. In Tuscania, she made every effort to speak Italian and get to know the local people, which provided another valuable lesson:
When you study abroad in a setting that is unfamiliar, you learn how to communicate in ways you never have before. This ability to make personal connections is important for whatever career you choose.
Gabrielle’s career choice is to become a physician. Studying abroad gave her new ideas about how she would like to practice medicine. She says,
Doctors Without Borders is something I would like to do in the future, or work on a global health project. From studying cultural and medical anthropology, and with my own personal experience of living in Tuscania, I’ve learned how important it is to understand other cultures, people’s ideas of how they perceive their health, and local public health problems in order to truly understand what’s going on in the local community and conduct successful research.
As Gabrielle now mentors potential API study abroad students at the University of Pittsburgh, she provides a shining example of how students in any major can incorporate studying abroad into their education. When students tell her, “I don’t think I can afford this” or “I don’t think I have time,” she is quick to urge them not to write off the opportunity. She works hard to dispel myths that engineering, pharmacy, and other pre-med students cannot study abroad, saying that even the most rigid curriculums require general education requirements that can often be met in another country. She also talks to students about financial planning and scholarship opportunities offered by API and universities.
There are many students across the United States like the ones Gabrielle meets. About 81% of incoming college freshman say they would like to study abroad, however, only one percent of all students actually do and have the opportunity to gain the skills that Gabrielle did. (View NAFSA’s study abroad participation rates by state and study abroad demographic data). To change this, not only do we need inspiring mentors and international educators around the country to continue their hard work, we also need more robust funding and support at the national level.
Be part of a movement to make study abroad possible for many more students by joining Connecting Our World, NAFSA’s online grassroots community. Once you have signed up, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the issues, let you know when your members of Congress and President Obama need to hear your voice (we make it very easy for you to e-mail them!) and give you opportunities to share your stories and enter contests. Through Connecting Our World, we all have a real opportunity to make sure every student can benefit from an international education.