A Student's Perspective: Study Abroad in Florence and Siena, Italy

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Dec 05, 2013 / 0 comments

Buon Giorno! To continue with our College Programming Series, we are featuring Andrea Aloe, who studied in Florence and Siena, Italy! Andrea is one of our participants who studied abroad specifically to learn the Italian language. Even though Andrea is Italian-American, her experiences in Italy really helped her to learn more about her roots and culture. Andrea received her Bachelor’s degree in Italian and History from the University of Pittsburgh in 2005 and her Masters from Notre Dame in 2007, in Italian Studies. Read below her interview with Wandering Educators on her unique study abroad experiences in Italy!  



Venice, Italy


Were you always interested in studying abroad? What motivated your decision to go abroad?

Absolutely! I was a language major, and I wanted to spend as much time abroad as I could. The first program I participated in was a summer program offered at Pitt. I had only finished one year at Pitt, but that summer my favorite professor was in charge of the program and I really wanted to have him as a professor again.


What was your study abroad experience like?

During the summer program in Florence, I lived in an apartment outside of the city with 5 other girls from Pitt. We had class Monday through Thursday at a school not far from the Duomo. We also had a conversation course two days a week, as well as a course on Italian culture once a week. Friday thru Sunday was usually spent traveling around Italy. Being able to travel to many of the country’s regions was quite an adventure. As an Italian-American, I always had my own understanding of Italian culture, which was largely based on where my family came from in Italy. After visiting so many of the other regions I was able to see how diverse Italy is -  each region has its own culture and language.
My second study abroad experience was quite different! I really wanted to spend more time abroad so that I could focus on my language skills. Formal study abroad programs can be very expensive and I couldn’t quite figure out how to afford another program. Fortunately I had a really fantastic undergraduate advisor who told me about a few language schools in Italy where I could directly enroll as a student. With her encouragement, I flew to Italy in January 2004 and signed up for classes at l’Università per Stranieri in Siena. I really can’t even begin to describe how incredible my experience was in Siena. I lived in an apartment just a short walk from the University with an Italian woman who didn’t speak any English. I had an Italian language class every day and also attended a class on Medieval Art twice a week. What made this experience so special was that almost everyone in the class came from a foreign country – France, Russia, China, Sweden, Korea, Morocco (just to name a few!). Since the majority of my classmates didn’t speak English, we were only able to communicate in Italian.


Ponte Vecchio


What skills did you develop from your experience abroad?

I learned many skills beyond speaking a foreign language. Some of the most useful were figuring out how to ride the metro and learning how to cook!


Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how and why?

Studying abroad forced me face my fears. Being a rather shy and reserved person, I became much more open to trying new things, and I learned to put myself out there without fear of failure or humiliation.


What were some challenges that you observed that happened on your study abroad experience?

My biggest challenge was forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone.


How did you prepare to go abroad? What steps did you take that really helped you? What advice would you share with other students? Did you have to attend a pre-departure orientation?

My advice to other students studying abroad is that you only get out what you put in!


Many students worry about the cost of going abroad. How did you pay for you study abroad experience? Were there any scholarships and grants available? Any tips you would recommend to students who’re interested in going abroad?

The professors in the French and Italian Department at Pitt really encourage students to study abroad, and so various scholarships are offered through the Department. Other scholarships for summer study abroad are available through the Nationality Rooms at Pitt.  My tip to students who want to study abroad is to not be deterred by the cost. I was very fortunate to receive two scholarships. And though I was blessed to have very generous grandparents who paid for my flight, I worked several jobs and saved every penny I could to be able to pay for the remaining costs. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!


Did anything about your study abroad shock or surprise you?

When I was taking classes in Siena, I was really surprised to see so many people from all over the world that wanted to learn how to speak Italian.  It was very interesting to get to know my classmates and find out why they were studying in Italy.


Capri beach


Once you returned from your experience, how did you reflect upon your study abroad experience? 

I studied abroad long before blogs were popular! Instead my aunt helped me make a scrapbook with photos, train tickets, museum tickets, and postcards from all the cities I had visited.


Did your study abroad experience ever come up in a job interview?

Shortly after I finished my MA degree, I interviewed for a job as an administrative assistant on campus. The professor who interviewed me happened to love Italy, and we ended up spending quite a bit of the interview talking about our travels there!


Has your study abroad experience helped you to get where you are today career-wise? If so, how?

Without a doubt! I’m very happy to be back at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching introductory and intermediate Italian language courses. There are days when I walk into the Cathedral of Learning and think how crazy it is that I’m now teaching the very same classes that I took as an undergraduate!


What is a favorite memory that you had from your study abroad experience(s)?

One of my favorite memories was visiting Capri. I took a boat tour around the island that included a trip inside the Blue Grotto. I’ll never forget ducking my head down while the tour guide grabbed ahold of the bar and swung the boat inside!


Blue Grotto, Capri


Have you adopted any traditions or customs from the country that you studied abroad in? What were they (if any)?

As an Italian-American, I grew up with many Italian traditions. However, I did learn a few new recipes from my Italian roommate in Siena!


What is up next for you?

My husband and I just became parents! Our son, Giosuè, was born in September, and I’m very happy to be able to spend the next few months at home with him!






This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!





Anastasia R.D. Lopez, M.A. recently graduated with her Masters degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs degree from Western Michigan University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Her experience in higher education and student affairs ranges from Career Services, Academic Advising, working with first generation students, students with disabilities, international students, transfer students, undergraduate/graduate students, and study abroad and international education at both public and private universities. She also has related experience in business as well as hospitality and tourism management. Stasia is a Global Education Editor with Wandering Educators and lives with her husband, Fernando, in Michigan.