ISI Florence
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Kayla Conway

Major: Psychology and Criminology
Minor: Biology
Hometown: Port Washington, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I have always wanted to spend a semester studying abroad in Florence since I visited the beautiful city at 16. Upon entering my sophomore year at Penn State, I searched the Penn State Education Abroad website and searched for a program that would be offered in the spring semester and located in Florence. Most people look for the programs first and then the location, but it was very important to me to be in Florence so I found a program that would allow me to study in the city I love.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

My experience was incredible. I came into Penn State as a Biology major intending to minor in Psychology. While I wound up switching to a major in Psychology with a minor in Biology, and even tacking on another major in Criminology, I had never taken any classes that weren't specifically designated towards my major. In a sense, I "saved up" my Gen-Ed classes because I knew that I wanted to study abroad and my major classes may be difficult to take elsewhere. While abroad I got to take classes unlike any I had taken before. I got to take oil painting and photography. I got to capture and depict the beauty of Florence that I have always greatly admired. I also took an art history class that allowed me to learn about the rich history of Florence, while also getting to travel around the city with my class to actually see in person the paintings and buildings that we were learning about. It was unbelievable! Lastly, I took Italian. While I had taken one semester of Italian prior to my semester abroad, nothing could have prepared me for the amount I would learn while immersed in the language. My Italian class was by far my favorite because it focused equally on learning the Italian language and the Italian culture. We had many guests come in and speak to us (all in Italian of course!) and they ranged from Italian actors, to authors, to students our age that studied at local universities. We also had activities that got us out into the community. One day we were asked to go out into a piazza and interview strangers in Italian. I was terrified, but it was an incredible experience and I met some very kind and interesting people who were so appreciative that I was trying to learn their language. I also had dinner with Italian students at a quintessential Italian "osteria." But my experience was not limited to my academics. I also traveled around Florence, Italy, and much of Europe. I met so many wonderful people, all different but equally incredible. Every place, every culture was undeniably different but also very similar in some regards. As a psychology and criminology major, it was exciting to see the similarities and differences among people. I want to spend the rest of my life learning and working with people, their minds, and their behaviors. There is no better way to understand people than to observe them, and traveling allowed me to experience the diversity of the world first hand. I would not trade my experience abroad for anything, and I only regret that it came to an end. I am forever grateful to Penn State, the College of the Liberal Arts, and the Paterno Fellows Program for helping make this life-changing experience possible for me.

There is no better way to understand people than to observe them, and traveling allowed me to experience the diversity of the world first hand.

How did this experience impact you academically?

My study abroad program is one that is offered through Penn State. I chose a program that is offered through Penn State because I wanted my semester abroad to count. I did not want to spend a semester taking classes that would not help me get my degree. As such, my classes will all be transferred and the classes all go towards my GPA. That being said, while many people told me that classes abroad are much easier than those at Penn State, I did not find this to be true for my program. My classes were difficult. I not only had classes unlike those I had ever taken before, but there is also a cultural difference in how classes are taught in Italy. While my Italian professors followed the program's guidelines which were American based, there were certainly some difficulties in getting used to the grading, the way classes are taught, and understanding professors whose first language is not English. It was a challenge at first, but with time it became easier. Overall, I would say that studying abroad is not easier, it is not harder, it is just different. No one can truly ever be prepared for moving to a different country for 4 months. There were many challenges that I never expected to encounter, academically, culturally and socially. However, these challenges contribute to what makes the experience unique and incredible.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

As mentioned above, I am a Psychology and Criminology major. I intend to attend graduate school for Clinical Psychology before hopefully practicing psychotherapy. I would also like to specialize in forensic psychology one day and perhaps collaborate with government agencies to help prevent violent crime or help those who have suffered from it. As such, my future revolves around understanding people, their minds, and their behaviors. The problem with that, is that all people are not the same. Diversity is present within small communities, let alone throughout the world. How can I possibly hope to understand people if all I've ever been exposed to is only a small group of them? This is why I decided to study abroad. This is how my semester has impacted me. I have met people who speak many different languages, live in many different places, and hold many different values and beliefs. While one semester traveling Europe certainly does not expose me to "all people," if even a thing is possible, it undoubtedly opened my mind and my eyes.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

ABSOLUTELY! I had a once in a lifetime experience and I am so incredibly grateful. I would do it again if I could because honestly, 4 months was not nearly enough. I would encourage everyone to spend a semester abroad if they have the chance. Every country, every city, every place, is very different. Everyone should try to get outside their comfort zone and see other places and people. It helps your understanding of the world and will undoubtedly impact you in some way. Whether you decide to study in Florence or elsewhere, I highly recommend spending a semester, or even a couple weeks, abroad. You won't regret it!

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

First and foremost, the Paterno Fellows Program has impacted this experience by making it possible. Studying abroad is not only a challenge culturally and socially, but also economically. There are many more program fees, travel fees, insurance fees, and personal expenses when you travel abroad than when you spend a semester at Penn State. However, this is experience has been worth it, and more. The Paterno Fellows Program was very generous in awarding me a travel grant that made my semester in Italy fiscally possible for me and my family. Additionally, the Paterno Fellows Program emphasizes the importance of such experiences. They not only provide funding, but they highly encourage their students to participate in programs such as ISI Florence which contributed to my decision to participate in it. I am very grateful to be a part of the Paterno Fellows Program and they have greatly contributed to my amazing experience.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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