The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for a story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Michael Bowman from Alfred State College, who is currently enrolled in their spring semester 2017 program.
I was raised by an Italian family. My childhood memories are centered around watching my Nonna (grandmother) make fresh food from scratch, while other family members would be chatted in the kitchen, and later gathered around the dinner table as one family to share a meal. Being raised by an Italian family meant every morning waking up to my mother’s soft voice saying, “Michael, it’s time to go to Nonna and Nonno’s house” as the start to my day. At an early age, waking up at 6:30 in the morning wasn’t easy, but now looking back, I realize the importance of spending those days with my grandparents.
Every day was the same. Nonna would have a bowl of cheerios already made for myself and my grandfather; each morning with Nonno was an Italian language lesson. My Nonno hoped that teaching me some Italian would prepare me for the day that I would finally go to Italy. He somehow always knew that one day I would go. In the summer of 2013, I was granted that opportunity and went with my Nonna, Aunt, and cousin for three weeks. Who would have known that three and a half years later, I would be studying abroad in Sorrento, Italy? At the time, my mind couldn’t grasp the beautiful blessings my family had to offer, as well as the unique, rich, and genuine Italian culture I experienced. But you don’t have to be Italian to appreciate what I’ve seen while studying abroad.
When I first arrived in Sorrento, excitement and jittery feelings rushed through my veins as I wondered what would this orientation day consist of. I will always remember my first day at Sant’Anna Institute. All the students were seated in a room while the professors introduced themselves and indicated what class they taught. All the professors were genuine and welcoming with open arms, which reminded me of my family. As most of the professors proceeded to walk out the classroom door welcoming the students, I said, “Grazie, piacere di conoscerti,” meaning “Thank you, it is nice to meet you.” Immediately, all the professors’ heads swiftly turned to me and they asked if I spoke Italian. We had a brief conversation on where my family is from in Italy, and how I learned Italian. It made me happy to know that my grandfather’s lessons had paid off, and I know he would be proud.
The thing that I love most about Sant’Anna, is that it doesn’t matter if you know all the Italian in the world or if you don’t even know how to say “ciao.” The staff at Sant’Anna wants their students to have the experience of a lifetime. Every morning, when students walk up the stairs to purchase coffee, all staff members smile and say good morning, even if they don’t know the student personally. When I am inside the walls of Sant’Anna, I don’t feel as if I am in a college, I feel at home.
I love seeing professors laughing and making jokes with the students about the weekend trips. At the beginning of this semester, I only knew the fifteen students from my college in New York attending the program. As for the other students, I had no clue who they were, what state they came from, or even their names. Luckily, it only took a few days to become friends with all the other students. As time progressed, we exchanged phone numbers, connected on social media, and soon were making dinners with each other, traveling to other countries, and going to the English Inn in Sorrento to eat big meals as one school. The way I see it, we became a family.
Studying abroad is a unique, beautiful, but also privileged experience. One must come to the realization that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this opportunity. Students that can study for a whole semester in another country should make the most of it, not only for themselves, but for the ones who couldn’t go. It’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture while studying abroad. I’ve studied here in Sorrento for a semester and I really believe that it is important to try to adapt to the surrounding culture. You should try to absorb what the country offers.
I have met so many locals here that I consider good friends; these people have helped me out in times of need when I didn’t know where to go for help. They will drop everything that they are doing to make sure I am having the best time I can in their country. Those are the characteristics of the culture that I will be bringing back to my home, not just for me to be a better individual, but also to pass the experience onto my friends and loved ones. In doing so, I’m hoping that one day, other students will want to experience what I’ve experienced in Sorrento, Italy, studying abroad at Sant’Anna.
To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!