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Where There’s A Will … Nontraditional Student Studies Abroad

Social work student Thomasina Williams studied abroad in Italy this summer.

Studying abroad allows students to apply their learning to the real world, as they gain first-hand experience with other cultures, languages, traditions and people. It also teaches students a lot about themselves, as they navigate new, unfamiliar environments. This Q & A highlights how Humanities and Social Sciences students have incorporated study abroad into their undergraduate career.

Thomasina Williams is a junior majoring in Social Work. She studied abroad in Italy during summer 2015, just one semester after transferring to NC State from Wake Tech. Her study abroad experience was especially meaningful, as she is the first of her immediate family members to attend college, and is a nontraditional student, an older undergraduate with a husband and two children at home.

What sparked your interest in study abroad?

A Spanish 101 classmate told me that she planned to study abroad, which would help her graduate earlier.  My response was, “Congratulations! Good for you to be able to travel.”  She replied, “Promise you can go with me?”  I was really shocked at first, but then thought “Why not?”  Things then fell into place. My husband was all for it because we both looked at it as a one-time opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. My passport process went smoothly and I easily made travel arrangements. I had tremendous help and support from family and friends.

Briefly describe your experience.

While in Italy, we stayed in Rome for the first four days with historical and cultural walks throughout the city. We then moved into our beautiful apartments in Perugia, where we studied at the University for Foreigners. Most of us were taking different levels of Italian from the elementary level to the intermediate, along with culture and cooking classes. Every day brought something new and exciting to look forward to. We took weekend excursions to Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre.  All the locations were beautiful, welcoming, and rich with history.

How did your study abroad relate to your major, career, or personal goals?  

The study abroad experience connects to my major because the dynamics of social work relate to diversity, community and social and cultural backgrounds.

I chose Italian because I have already taken Spanish; both are romance languages and are somewhat similar. I enjoy learning about culture, language and history.  These concepts go hand in hand with social work because we all have unique experiences that shape our interactions and attitudes.

My study abroad has encouraged me to consider doing social work on a global level. I hope to learn more about other countries’ governments and policies, and to help communities thrive.

What are some things you learned?

I learned so much about Italy – the culture, food, language, government and social issues. Every day, we learned new skills for being abroad: how to shop at local markets, how to use banks, how to use public transit systems and how to order food. People’s faces became very familiar to me in Perugia. It was a small city, and therefore it felt safe and comfortable. I met some amazing people in my class who were from other countries. They all brought unique characteristics to the table, making us a diverse group united in the common goal of learning Italian.

What were some of the challenges?

We needed to adjust to the lifestyle really quickly. (Plus, not having a dishwasher and air conditioner really humbled us!) We had to do lots of walking, but no one complained because we had to live there for six weeks and it became normal after a while. The cities were a bit busy and tourist crowds took a little getting used to. My advice is to research the places you are traveling to, read others’ reviews and experiences, have an open mind and respect other cultures the way you would want others to respect your own.

What were the rewards?

Some of the rewards included the confidence of completing our program.  Additionally, the students developed strong relationships, and we looked out for one another. It really humbled all of us to realize what we conquered in the six weeks we were there.  Overall, that was the greatest reward! Now, we are all back home with our families and friends sharing our remarkable stories. I have even encouraged others to obtain their passports, which is the first step toward international travels.

I urge anyone to travel abroad because there is so much to see outside the limits of your own country.  Yes, it takes money and sacrifice, but the intangible rewards are worth it.  It really did change my life for the better.