When and where did you study abroad?
I had the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Two years ago my brother studied in Florence, and said the experience changed his life and was the best experience he has ever had. So I decided it was time to get away from my usual life and explore Italy.
What was the biggest surprise?
When I started getting used to the Italian lifestyle, the biggest surprise was the way Italian people carried themselves and interacted with each other. In Italian, the word "simpatico" means "nice," however, my Italian language professor had told me that being nice isn't what their culture is known for. Rather, he said, they are known for their honesty and loyalty, which is was Florentines consider "simpatico" to mean. But I found them to be very friendly.
How did you deal with the cultural divide?
I felt that in order to deal with it, I had to learn to speak Italian and pick up their mannerisms. Getting used to the hand gestures and certain table manners took some time. Before I went to study abroad, I took a beginner Italian language course to prepare myself, which made it easier to communicate. I also took an intermediate language course while I was there. The best part was that I could walk outside my apartment and practice speaking to native Italians. The most important thing about cross-cultural communication in Italy was using hand gestures. If I didn't know how to say a certain word, hand gestures were a universal way I could communicate!
What made your study abroad trip a success?
I felt that making new friends and letting myself be at ease made my study abroad successful. At times I was homesick, but then I would realize that this is a once in a lifetime experience and I had to use it to its fullest advantage.
What was your return like?
Returning home was tough. I had gotten used to the Italian culture and was unaccustomed to the American lifestyle. However, I had a lot of stories to tell my friends and family. I was able to give them gifts and show them pictures while telling them stories about my adventure. But it took me a long time to get used to the American culture and the pace of life. Italian people are very laid back, they took their time with everything; even something as simple as walking to the grocery store. New York is a fast-moving place; everyone is always in a rush. When I came home, I realized that I never took the time out to observe my surroundings. I used to do everything in a hurry. Now I try to take things step-by-step and notice everything around me.
Do you have any top tips for students hoping to follow in your footsteps?
If you plan on studying abroad, be prepared to arrive not knowing anything, feeling like an outsider -- but leave feeling like you found a new home. My trip was a life changer. It gave me a new outlook on life and allowed me to appreciate everything that this world has to offer. Before it was time to leave Italy, our whole study abroad program wrote quotes for the semester yearbook. I found that Mark Twain's quote summed up all my feelings in just a few sentences. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
In a year I will be attending law school and on my way on achieving my goal of being a judge. I have looked into several internships abroad at legal firms and I'm taking that option into consideration. However, I do plan on going back to Florence, where I studied abroad, and visiting other countries and cities that I have not yet seen.
Kristina does a good job of describing Florentine culture, and how she did her best to maximize her time in the city. Though still in the process of earning her undergraduate degree, Kristina has begun to determine her future career goals. She should consider studying international law and aiming to become a judge in the international court system. This is an exciting, challenging and rewarding career for those motivated and passionate enough to pursue it. Until applying for law school, Kristina should maximize her cross-cultural experience on campus by becoming involved in internationally-oriented extra-curricular activities, and gearing her elective courses towards international subjects to maximize her exposure to international issues and/or build language skills.
- Read the entire International Law Careers section to get an overview of some of the most popular international law careers and advice on how to select a law school.
- International Clubs on Campus are a great way to get involved in cross-cultural activities without having to travel abroad. There is also an associated Resource List, International Associations With Clubs On Campus.