Lauren Fels ’22: ‘My Program Offered Many Volunteer Programs Such as Teaching English to Elementary, High School or Adults, Volunteering with Service Projects Around the City and Giving Tours of Florence’

Lauren Fels

Program and Location:

Fall, Semester at Lorenzo de Medici Institute; Florence, Italy

Major/Minor(s):

Elementary Education (with an ESL Add-On)

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I have always loved traveling because there is so much of the world to see and I always learn so much when I experience new cultures. I had never been out of the country for 4 months and knew that if I had already learned so much from the little travel I have done studying abroad would be extremely rewarding (and it was!!)

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned more about who I am as an American. Being immersed in a completely new culture really made my own culture apparent because there were some obvious differences. The whole mindset in Italy is a lot more relaxed: dinner can go on for up to 3 hours, some places close for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and there is a real emphasis on community. This made me recognize how I am always constantly on the move in America and how much I value community. This lifestyle taught me how to relax more. I also learned how to be more independent. I thought I was already pretty independent to begin with but studying abroad really pushed me to grow in that aspect because there were times I had to handle things on my own. It was so rewarding overcoming situations like understanding what people were saying to me in Italian, budgeting properly, planning weekend trips myself, and making a foreign country feel like home.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

My favorite part of my program was the volunteer opportunities they offered. I took some of the general requirements abroad that I needed for my major but I did not have any classes where I worked with children like I do for Elementary Education. However, my program offered a volunteer opportunity to teach English in an Italian Elementary school once a week and it was the most rewarding experience. I have been thinking about teaching abroad for a year or so and this was the perfect chance to see if I would like it. It was also really unique to see how the Italian school system worked. My program offered many volunteer programs such as teaching English to elementary, high school, or adults, volunteering with service projects around the city, and giving tours of Florence.

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

Don’t feel bad if every single thing does not go smoothly. Leading up to study abroad all I heard was how it would be the best time of my life (which it was!!) but not every single thing went right for the entire 4 months. There were times I missed flights, got sick, missed home, or was confused by the signs that were in Italian. I would not trade these things for the world though because the ‘struggles’ I faced caused me to grow so much. Also, take advantage of every opportunity! Time flies while you are over there. There were times I was so exhausted from traveling but I tried to live with a no regrets type of attitude while I was in Italy so I continually walked around, went out to eat, listened to music, etc. There is SO much to explore. Take it all in while you can!

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

My classes I took abroad were a lot more intimate. My biggest class had 10 other people in it. This allowed me a lot of 1 on 1 instruction, conversation with my classmates and teacher, and fewer distractions. I was also able to take really unique classes abroad. One of my classes was Pairing Food and Wine. I was able to learn a lot about the Italian culture in this way and do a lot of hands-on learning (we cooked every class). I also took some field trips. In my nutrition class, we took a field trip to an olive mill and got to see the entire process of how olive oil is made and then tasted some fresh off of the assembly line. The things I learned in these classes are things I will remember forever because of the unique instruction and intimate class sizes. The teachers were also all very nice and all understood how eager we were to learn about and travel through Europe. Because of this, we did not have an overwhelming workload and the teachers were very excited to share about their country.

Would you do it again?

Yes, 10000% I would study abroad every semester if I could.

This post was originally published in Study Abroad.