#StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

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Clara Dorfman is a senior majoring in philosophy and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. She spent the summer of 2014 interning at Vatican Radio in Rome, and then the following school year studying at the University of Bologna. Before coming back to Pittsburgh this year for her final year of college, she returned to Rome for another internship, this time at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. After graduation, Clara’s hoping to pursue a career in international journalism, with a focus on the roles of religion and civil rights in society.

Clara Dorfman: #StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

Clara (right) in Venice with her sister

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
I chose to go abroad because I was eager to experience life in a different part of the world; I chose Italy because I had long been drawn to the country and its culture. I first went to Rome as an au pair for the summer – which allowed me to live with a local family, in a relatively authentic and economical way. I chose to return to Rome, and later study in Bologna during my junior year in college, because during that first summer I quickly grew to love the Italian lifestyle and language, and I couldn’t wait to get back.

Waterfalls at the Villa Gregoria Gardens in Tivoli, Italy.  Clara Dorfman: #StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

Waterfalls at the Villa Gregoria Gardens in Tivoli, Italy

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
My experience was challenging and fun and scary and exhilarating, all in one, as I learned to embrace and find a place for myself in another part of the world. One of my favorite memories is of the first solo trip I took – to Siena, where I stayed with pilgrims at a hostel along Italy’s thousand-year-old Via Francigena. Challenges during the school year included navigating a new educational system (where exams are almost all oral, not written) and learning to care for myself outside of my native culture, and without the safety net of my family nearby.

Along the Via Francigena, an Italian pilgrimage route, with a friend. Clara Dorfman: #StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

Along the Via Francigena, an Italian pilgrimage route, with a friend. 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
I developed a love of independence and a confidence in my own abilities. I feel changed by my experiences abroad, yes; I don’t know quite how to answer this sort of question, though, because I feel certain that I would have grown and changed during another year in Pittsburgh, too. Nevertheless, what I probably value most from my year abroad is what I gained in knowledge of a foreign culture, and my ability to adapt in it.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?
Without that first summer in Rome, I don’t believe my interests would have headed in the direction they did throughout college. That is, I’m now interested in journalism, religion, and international affairs – three areas I had little knowledge of or dedicated interest in before I spent time in Italy. 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
I suggest learning (at least a bit of) the language of the country you’re interested in, before you go. This will allow you to immerse yourself better in the culture, in ways that are not always obvious. Being able to walk into a grocery store and address the clerk in Italian, for example, enabled me to connect with locals on a deeper level. Even when it was obvious that I was an American or I stumbled across my words, locals genuinely appreciated the effort – and would often teach me a little grammar or vocabulary on the spot! Additionally, if your interest is in the culture of a nation itself, then I strongly suggest going through a study abroad program – such as Indiana University’s Bologna Consortial Studies Program, which I used – that provides instruction in the native tongue, in local universities, with native speakers as your classmates. Speaking and hearing the language in the classroom can be invaluable to learning about the country.

Flower Vendors at a local market in Nice, France. Clara Dorfman: #StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

Flower Vendors at a local market in Nice, France

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
I’ve both developed a greater appreciation for other cultures and grown proud of my heritage as an American throughout my experiences abroad. I like that I’ve learned to feel at ease, even at home, in a culture other than my native one – but at the same time I’ll be the first to admit that my home country will always be the most ‘comfortable’ place for me to live, in its own way! 

Inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Clara Dorfman: #StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom

Inside the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy


#StudyAbroadBecause…the world becomes your classroom.


Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

All photos courtesy and copyright Clara Dorfman