#StudyAbroadBecause You Can't Afford Not To

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American milliner Gina Mazzotta creates original, hand-made custom hats for women, men, and children. The brand was founded in 2012, when, after recognizing a lack of stylish, contemporary hat options, Gina was inspired to create her own. She studied with milliner Amy Hamilton and fell in love with the millinery process. Drawing from her background in visual merchandising and window design, she integrates runway fashion with chic, custom every day accessories in her explorative and innovative take on traditional hat forms. Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Gina Mazzotta Millinery can be found at trunk shows and events in cities throughout the U.S. 

Gina Mazzotta: #StudyAbroadBecause You Can't Afford Not To

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
In the Fall of 2005 (my sophomore year,) I was in my Italian III class, and the professor announced that the Pitt in Italy program that summer was moving from Florence to Syracuse, Sicily. That was the moment I made my study abroad decision and never looked back. 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
In a few words, the experience was amazing—very hot, but amazing. I was living and studying in Ortigia, the small island part of Syracuse, which had a very small population. It made for the best study abroad experience, as I really felt like I became part of the community during my short time there. I befriended the regulars at the beaches, restaurants and coffee bars, and since few people in Sicily spoke English, I was able to immerse myself in the culture and practice my conversational language skills. 

My favorite memory had to be the fact that we were there to witness Italy winning the World Cup. We watched the final game on a big screen in the main piazza and of course, the town (and entire country) went crazy after their team became World Champions. The pure joy and pandemonium in the streets that night and in the days to follow was unforgettable. Oh, and I climbed an erupting volcano. 

The biggest challenge I had was leaving—but I’ve been back to visit. 

Gina Mazzotta: #StudyAbroadBecause You Can't Afford Not To

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
My Italian definitely improved tremendously. My study abroad experience definitely changed my life. 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
Absolutely, yes. I see the initial trajectory of my career as a series of events that may not have been possible if I had not chosen to study Italian language abroad in Sicily. Dolce & Gabbana, a fashion house known for its strong Sicilian influence, seemed to be the unofficial sponsor of my summer in Sicily. It was everywhere I turned--in advertisements, the locals’ attire, and in conversation with new friends. I gained such a love for the company that when I returned home, I decided to apply for an internship there for the following summer - and my knowledge of Sicilian culture from my study abroad experience helped land that summer internship in New York City. While there, I gained valuable knowledge of the fashion industry and where I fit into it. Upon returning to New York after graduation, my Italian language skills helped me get my first two jobs: Promotions Coordinator at Radio Maria and Visual Coordinator at Armani Exchange. 

I continue to use my language skills daily, since my husband is from Italy. When we started dating, he did not speak much English, so the growth of our relationship relied mainly on my knowledge of Italian. I fell in love in Italian! Now I am also able to communicate better with my relatives in Italy, and we have become closer. I go back at least once a year to visit, and if I had never studied Italian, these visits would be such a different experience—if I would even be going at all. Studying Italian at Pitt in Italy was one of the best things that I have ever done for myself, and I am so grateful for the doors that it has opened for me. 

Gina Mazzotta: #StudyAbroadBecause You Can't Afford Not To

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
Be sure to research all resources that you have available to you. I was fortunate to win one of the Nationality Room Scholarships that are offered for study abroad at Pitt, which made my trip possible. There’s a lot out there if you look. 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
I have always been proud of my Italian heritage, but after living in Italy through Study Abroad and learning the language, I feel a much deeper connection to the Italian culture. It made me realize how different it is to be Italian American vs. Italian. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Just that 11 years later, I am still so grateful for my Pitt-in-Italy experience. 

#StudyAbroadBecause you can’t afford not to. Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer! 

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Gina Mazzotta: #StudyAbroadBecause You Can't Afford Not To



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, precious daughter, Maya, and playful kitty-cat Zorro.

You can read more of her #studyabroadbecause interviews, as well as articles on various forms of international education at home and abroad, here.


All photos courtesy and copyright Gina Mazzotta