Traveling abroad opens doors, sparks inspiration

Samuel Morse went to Paris as an artist, and returned to the United States as the inventor of the telegraph. Elizabeth Blackwell studied medicine in Paris, and then founded the first women’s hospital in the United States. Mark Twain traveled outside of the States, and afterword wrote his most famous book, “The Innocents Abroad.” Studying abroad develops and changes people. It grants them a springboard to get them to their next destination in life.  Morse, Blackwell and Twain all used their discoveries abroad as a transition to something bigger and better.

I, Amy-Gabrielle Bartolac, traveled to Italy as an ignorant tourist, and came back to the United States as an empowered student. To accomplish this, I enrolled in Seton Hill University’s (SHU) Renaissance Art course through the university’s Study Away Program during M-term. The location? Italy—Rome, Venice and Florence. I now have knowledge and inspirations, but I’m uncertain how to apply them. Studying abroad nudged me away from familiarity and toward discovery. Assistant art history professor Maureen Vissat, who traveled to Italy with the class, said, “Each trip I marvel as I see my students, many who have never left the country before, become so self-confident in their abilities.”

I must decide how my personal development from studying abroad will lead me to the next turning point of my life.

Not as an art major but as a freshman communication major, I initially wondered if this course would benefit me. At a liberal arts school where all areas of study are embraced, of course it did. I learned about Renaissance Art. I can discuss Caravaggio’s use of realistic lighting in his paintings. I know that Michelangelo’s statue of “David” is the perfect model of a Renaissance man. For a communication major, this information is new and invigorating. So what do I want to do with this new knowledge? I have no idea. But as far as I do know, knowledge is power.

I could apply my new information to a novel that I began as part of my creative writing course. Frank Klapak, professor of communication and education, says that all information is relevant. He says that each piece of information or each experience provides “stuff” to add to a novel.

I can use a breathtaking view—ancient, pink buildings with flower boxes, lining a narrow canal with bobbing boats. I can use an event—I met an Italian chess shop owner who taught me different Italian greetings depending on the time of day.

I may use these descriptions in a novel that I thought was just a requirement of a class. But studying abroad acts as my transition from beginning the novel to ending it. I can dream even if I’m not eating chocolate gelato on the Spanish Steps at sunset.

Through the chess shop owner and other Italian natives, I learned the importance of bilingualism. I learned phrases such as “Do you speak English” and “Do you have juice,” but I realize how elementary I sounded when I spoke to an Italian waiter in a white tuxedo.

Language opens secrets to a culture. If I spoke Italian fluently, I would have avoided being criticized by an annoyed Italian cashier for incorrectly counting Euro coins, but I also would have absorbed more essence of Italia. A second language grants an understanding of the opinions of foreign locals through conversation. You don’t need to speak Italian to eat the best pasta in the world or to get a picture with guards outside of
St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, but language connects you to people living the lifestyle where the grass is always greener. I want to learn another language to communicate. Thank goodness I’ve been working toward a minor in French.

While I thought I was traveling to Italy only in pursuit of Renaissance Art knowledge, I came back with experiences that addressed my needs as a communication major and French minor. These are my discoveries that make me bigger and better equipped for creation like Morse, Blackwell and Twain. Italy gave me souvenirs, photos, memories and hundreds of extra calories, but it also gave me intangible “stuff” to use anywhere or for anything. Any suggestions?

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