Stories that Shaped Us: Eye-Opening Experiences in Italy
Gabriella Ulrich is an ISA Florence alumna and a ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador whose experience studying abroad changed the way she sees the world!
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Italy and how this experience continues to impact her, even after returning home to the US. Check out her story below and hear her tips for others wanting to follow a similar path!
When did your passion for travel and exploring other cultures begin?
My passion for traveling started when I was very young – I think this sprouted from my frequent family vacations to the Poconos, Florida, and Arizona. I also played travel softball for most of my childhood, so I was traveling to many different places with that as well. I was lucky enough to visit Italy when I was 12 with my family for a wedding and it was amazing, so when I was about 13 or 14, I started to make my bucket list of places I wanted to travel to in my lifetime. I then fell in love with the thought of seeing all the wonderful sites, places, and cultures I was dreaming about in person. By the time I graduated high school I had my heart set on visiting other parts of the world and exploring other countries starting in my college years.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Italy?
When I did my research about studying abroad, I had no idea where I really wanted to go – I was very open and intrigued by many places. I originally had been signed up to study in Barcelona, but when it came down to the time when I had to make the final confirmation about where I was going to study, I couldn’t get Italy out of my head. My whole family is Italian, and we have strong Italian roots, but I also wanted to venture outside of Italy so I could indulge in other cultures, since I had already visited before. I thought about it for a while and concluded that I didn’t really remember much of my time in Italy, but I knew that it would feel the most like a home away from home for me, so I chose to go to Italy and travel to new places from there.
What did you learn about yourself through these experiences and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?
Studying abroad was the best thing I have ever done for myself, both personally and professionally. I have always been very independent, but while abroad, I learned so much about myself and my eyes were opened to so many new things. I encountered new ways of learning and interacting with other cultures, and I learned how to adapt to new cultural norms, as well as how different cultures interact with people in general and in the workplace. I also gained a better understanding of how to conduct business abroad and how to adapt to other cultures’ business practices. Being fully emerged in another culture is, in my opinion, the best way to really understand and engage with people in their home country. Since going abroad, I understand different cultures and societies more than I ever thought I would, and I now see how each country plays its own part in our world through business, culture, and economics.
Did you experience any challenges while abroad? If so, what were they? How did you overcome these?
I went to Italy without knowing any Italian (which was not the smartest decision I have made), but thankfully a lot of people spoke English and learning phrases and names for things from the locals was a cool way to indulge in their culture and get to know some people there.
Another major challenge that I unfortunately had to face was having a death in the family while I was abroad. I got a call on a Tuesday that a member of the family had passed, and that the funeral was that upcoming Friday – about a week before my scheduled departure to leave Italy at the end of the semester during. The ISA Florence team assured me that they would do everything in their power to help me and that the only thing I should be concerned now with was packing up and getting home to my family. I booked a new flight home, and the ISA team took care of the rest, including arranging for me to take my finals online rather than in-person. They kept close tabs with me during the last two days I was in Italy before my departure, then Alessia, the Resident Director of the Florence program, came to say goodbye to me the morning I left.
I was so touched by the handling of my situation, and I could have not asked for a better time abroad and a better team to be there every step of the way. I think my story truly speaks volume about just how amazing my ISA team was and how thankful I was able to study abroad in Italy.
What are you up to now? How has study abroad played a role in your professional future?
I am currently in my last semester of undergrad at Arizona State University, where I am majoring in Sports Business. I am also currently working with the Angels MLB team for spring training along with some other side hustles like babysitting and the ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador program. Study abroad has played a huge role in my professional future because my time in Italy has become a major topic of conversation in my everyday life and in job interviews. There are a lot of companies who look for employees that have international experience and what better way to exhibit that than sharing about my time abroad? I feel as if I am more prepared for the professional world because of my time abroad.
Any advice for students thinking about going abroad to Florence?
My advice is if you are thinking about doing going abroad, DO IT! For one, studying abroad looks great on job applications. I also cannot say enough amazing things about my time and experience in Florence and with ISA! Florence is beautiful, located just a few hours by train from so many amazing places, and is a great spot for someone looking for a home-like city feel since it is a smaller city and is so rich in history and Italian culture. I made some lifelong friends that I got to travel the world with – so, if you’re thinking about studying in Florence, GO!
Inspired by Gabriella’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your next adventure today!