Study Abroad in Florence, Italy (Institute at Palazzo Rucellai) and Summer Discovery Grant and Research in Ireland
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Ginnelle Sroka

Paterno Fellow
Major: English
Minor: Sociology
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How did you learn about these opportunities?

I learned about the study abroad program through my own research on the Penn State Global Programs website and the research opportunity through my thesis supervisor, Jessica O’Hara.

Tell us a little bit about your experiences.

I spent the spring semester of 2011 in Florence, Italy. There, I was able to take classes to fulfill many of my General Education Requirements, such as Oil Painting (in Florence!), Cross-Cultural Perspectives and, of course, Italian Language. Also, the school only had classes on Monday through Thursday, giving us Friday through Sunday to travel. During my four months abroad, I visited 6 different European countries and 26 cities. I traveled everywhere from Amsterdam to Spain. These are places I certainly would not have gone if it weren’t for choosing to study abroad at this point in my life. This opportunity was also made possible with the assistance of College the Liberal Arts Enrichment funding.

“Studying abroad opens new perspectives and horizons, and is an excellent addition to any resume or CV.”

Since my thesis was on Irish poetry and there was a trip offered to Ireland with an opportunity to meet with influential Irish poets, it seemed only natural that I participate in the program to conduct hands-on research. Unfortunately, with time and financial conflicts from my previous semester abroad, I was not able to accompany the group on the entire trip. Fortunately, I received a Summer Discovery Grant from Penn State’s Office of Undergraduate Education and an Ambassador Travel Grant from Schreyer Honors College. I was then able to fly to Ireland and meet with the group in Allihies, where the poets would be meeting. The grant money covered my flights, my stay in Allihies and my subsequent stay with family for the rest of the summer to write my thesis. There, I met poet Paula Meehan and decided to base my thesis on her poetry.

How did these experiences impact you academically?

Besides fulfilling Gen. Ed. Requirements during my study abroad experience, I was able to take an English course that focused on Dante’s Divine Comedy taught by one of the foremost Dante scholars in academia. I became well-versed in a text and author I had previously known very little about. Also, I developed a fair understanding of the Italian Language and culture while living there. This experience has influenced a large amount of my academic work since then, including my E-portfolio which is focused on the theme of international communication. 

After research in Allihies, I changed my thesis topic to center on the poetry of Paula Meehan and the effects of gender repression in the Irish poetic canon. Finding a topic that I was passionate about and having firsthand research made my thesis immeasurably better. Thanks to this opportunity, I now have an 86-page thesis and an invaluable connection with one of Ireland’s foremost contemporary poets.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did these experiences impact them?

After I graduate, I will be doing Teach for America for two years before returning to school to earn my Ph.D. in English. This experience has undoubtedly given me the “travel bug”. I have already begun to look into graduate schools abroad, in places such as Ireland and the UK. It has only strengthened my resolve to obtain a position in which travel and research abroad is encouraged and funded, such as academia.

“Researching and writing my thesis has enhanced my desire to eventually attend graduate school and enter academia.”

My thesis itself will be an invaluable asset to any graduate school application and prepare me for my dissertation. This experience has taught me that I can write and research lengthy academic works, and that I thoroughly enjoy it.

Would you recommend these experiences to other Liberal Arts students?

Absolutely! I cannot stress enough how beneficial a term abroad can be. In interviews, I am always asked about my time abroad and consequently I can’t talk enough about it. Some say that experience is the best teacher. If that is the case, I am confident that I learned more about the world in 4 months in Italy than in all my years of conventional schooling.

Additionally, many people who receive Summer Discovery Grants use the funding to stay home and do their research (it essentially takes the place of a summer job). However, I felt that I took full advantage of the funds by traveling and gaining an inside perspective on my thesis topic. I would recommend applying for the Grant to anyone conducting thesis research over the summer, and highly encourage using those funds to find primary sources in interesting places.

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