INTERVIEW BY CHELSEA ALLEN
Carmela originally wanted to study at an English-speaking university, however she decided to aim high and push herself by applying to a non-English speaking university. Carmela studied abroad at the University of Bologna, Italy.
“I think the first week was the most challenging part,” She says, “It wasn’t homesickness. It was just that I was in a different country. I have relatives in Italy but not in Bologna. So when I got there on my own, I didn’t know anyone. I was navigating the streets by myself, going to the international office, working out my subjects. Basically not having any idea how to do anything.”
“I guess I just had to learn how to be comfortable in my own skin. And realise ‘right, now I don’t know anyone, I’m going to have to do these things on my own.’ But eventually it was going to get better, and it was just an initial hurdle.”
Carmela enjoyed the community at the University of Bologna, and that is what made her want to get involved in ESN (The University of Adelaide Exchange Student Network). She wanted others at Adelaide to be able to experience what she did.
In terms of tips to offer other students, Carmela chose an alternate approach, “This isn’t what to bring, but more so what not to bring. Don’t bring too much stuff with you. Pack lightly. Anything you need you can buy over there. It’s just easier to cart all your stuff around with you when it’s light.”
All of Carmela’s courses were in Italian. She tells us of her experience with studying in a language other than English: “It got easier as I got along. For me, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s believing and having the confidence to do it and speak up. I ended up raising my hand sometimes and asking questions, which I was too terrified to do at the start. And they knew I was an exchange student, they knew that Italian wasn’t my first language. So they knew that I was going to make mistakes, but that was okay.”
Carmela shares with us her experience of an embarrassing language slip. “There’s a verb for ‘to be excited’ and in some contexts it can mean ‘to be horny’. I was using it sometimes in the wrong context. And it wasn’t until the end that I realised ‘Oh my god, I was using that word the whole time in front of my family and everyone!’ It was an awkward moment for myself, how many times did I say that?”
When asked what she would take from her exchange to her future life, Carmela says, “Anything is possible. Even coming back home, and having everything in English again, I felt like I could do anything.”