Kathryn Higgins '12

Italian and English major

I have come back to Mount Holyoke College after a year abroad—eleven months away in a country that seems to be so distant from America… 

I have been trying to write this piece for three months. Three months of notes scribbled on napkins, three months of scratchy notebook paragraphs, three months considering the possibilities and importance of what I could impart to you concerning my experience as an intern at an Italian university. However, I think that my ideas are a bit more abstract than that. Of course I could write: “Yes, I did work at an Italian university where I was required to speak Italian daily. Yes, I did in fact live in Venice. Of course, yes, the food was very good”. But I don’t want to waste your time with general statements and I want to explain a few fundamental and integral pieces—thoughts that continuously return to me when I read my journals from this summer or when I wake up after dreaming about Italy.

The first point that I would like to emphasize is definitively cultural. Venice, a city that is considered to be one of Italy’s top tourist destinations, is a place that I would characterize as extremely complex—it is a novel location frequented by visitors who come from every corner of the globe and is inhabited by a mix of students (both Italian and international) and Venetians. Amongst the confusion of tourists and locals you are bound to come into contact with a few sobering situations—you see English children climbing statues while shouting, you note Americans laughing loudly in an otherwise quiet square, you watch as a rowdy group of Spanish students sit in the middle of the piazza and play their guitars, you watch as the same Spanish students are expelled from the piazza by Italian policemen—and you come to a point when you ask yourself how you fit into this cultural puzzle. I recognize that I am American, but I am not sure if I want to be directly associated with the stereotypes that I encountered on a daily basis. In general, this internship allowed me to live in a populated and diverse city; however I would like to note that I lived alone and was forced to define my identity as an American in relation to Italian culture. Working in an office provided me with a platform and a support from which I could expand my consciousness of the lifestyle itself. Overall, this position is work related but it thoroughly encourages (more than anything else) the exploration of mundane events which, as a result of their “italian-ness”, become daily adventures.

The final aspect which I cannot stress enough revolves around the idea of motivation. This internship—this opportunity to live in an Italian city during the summer months—is a chance to learn as much as possible about Venice, about the people you meet, and about yourself. Of course, being an American in Italy is difficult because the English language seems to be ever-present and every now and then the lurking homesickness will jump out in attempt to ruin your day (what a fabulous Fourth of July spent alone cleaning my kitchen and reading a book in the gardens on the other side of the city!). However, I do not wish to discourage you. If you have always dreamed of being an explorer, or if you are in love with the Italian language, I would recommend that you try your hand at the application. And so I will leave you with the only description of my experience that I have promoted over and over again in conversation with family, friends, professors: It was the most unforgettable experience of my life so far and I will think of it fondly as I build my hopes and plans for the future.