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Student Spotlight: Serving Communities in Italy

by Joshua Miller | March 12th, 2012

My Italian study abroad experience in Sienna was nothing short of amazing. As a student learning Italian at an American school in Switzerland, I had my eye set on an Italian immersion program that allowed me to see all the elements of Italian society and culture. I chose Sienna Italian Studies (SIS) because it fit for what I needed out of my study abroad program–a small student body with a close faculty/student ratio, an Italian immersion program, an Italian home stay requirement, and a service learning component.

The first weeks of intensive courses, tours around the city, and social events with the faculty and students fostered a great rapport among the people within and outside the program and provided a satisfactory introduction to Italian society and identity. The International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership (IPSL) was the venue in which I learned the most in all aspects of my experience. I typically volunteered 15 to 20 hours a week in three different sites. Each place had a unique set of individuals and different goals, which made each day  engaging and exciting.

In the soup kitchen, I worked three hours each day four to five times a week. This would include coming a half hour before service and setting the tables, cooking the food, running small errands around the convent, and ensuring everything ran smoothly. The most rewarding and relaxing experience was after service when the helpers, volunteers, and nuns got to eat lunch together. We would discuss anything and everything from religion, politics, economics, social welfare, current events,and pop culture with such diverse views (one lunch there was a discussion with Tunisian, Belgian, Italian, Albanian, American, Dutch, Spanish, and Moroccan views).

I also taught English twice a week for two hours. I loved helping people speak and learn a new language because it inadvertently taught me things about my own language and culture from another perspective. By discussing what we take for granted in the U.S., I learned more about my culture, and beliefs. Through this class, I met people who I still keep in contact with to this day.

Overall, my service learning experience has afforded me a more global view of the world. After studying in Italy and living with an Italian home stay family for four months, I have achieved Italian fluency. Not only does this look great on a resume, but it also shows I can adapt and assimilate to a foreign society without reservations. I hope with my Italian proficiency, I will be  a more unique and outstanding candidate for my future career aspirations in foreign policy.

I also learned how to truly live in a different culture from my own. I traveled to school on the bus everyday with my Siennese neighbors who made me feel like part of the community and a true Sienna resident. One day, I was walking around with one of my professors and I was stopped on four different occasions by people I knew. My Italian professor looked at me said, “Guarda, sei gia’ un Sienese proprio!”–meaning “I am already a resident of Sienna.” It was in this venue, I learned to bridge the gap between my cultural views, ideas, customs, and beliefs with those of Italy.

As I was leaving Italy and reflecting upon my service, I definitely can say I would have not done any other program nor would have exchanged my service learning experience–the experience was nothing short of priceless.

Joshua Miller attends Franklin College Switzerland and is majoring in International Relations with minors in Italian and History. He hopes to pursue a career in foreign policy with aspirations to utilize foreign language skills he has acquired through a lifetime of language learning. He loves traveling, reading, movies, sports, and experiencing new things everyday.

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