Catarina’s English lesson

Note: Starr S. is one of four 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipients who is currently studying in Europe.

This week, I walked into a liStarr in Italianens store in Sansepolcro to purchase souvenirs for my mother and my aunt. The store had many different tea-towels, hand towels, and scented bags. I fell in love with a hand towel-sized linen hanging on the back wall of the store.

The store owner was a middle-aged woman. Her daughter was sitting beside her, writing in a workbook. I tried to ask in Italian if I could have three of the towels I saw on the wall, but I could tell that my skills in Italian were terrible. The owner gave a look of confusion. I then asked if she spoke English and she said yes. After I was able to request the towels, she asked me if I was from the college and if the towels were a gift. I told her yes and looked down at her daughter.

Her daughter seemed to be really frustrated. The mother looked at me and told me her daughter was working on her English homework. I asked the little girl in Italian what her name was and how old she was. She was a little girl named Catarina, nine years old. I sat beside her and asked if I could help. I felt attached in some way to this little girl because as I am struggling to learn Italian, she is struggling to learn English. For her homework, she was learning how to say numbers and colors in English. Fortunately, I knew how to say numbers and colors in Italian and we were able to communicate using this knowledge. It was a mixture of two completely different cultures, but it worked so well, and I made a friend.

As we had finished up and her mother wrapped my towels, Catarina gave me a hug. Her mother put a small scented lavender bag that she hand-sewn in the bag with the towels. She told me it was a gift and that she could not wait to see me again. She told me that if I needed anything, she would come. I left the little store crying. Here I was in Italy, with not a clue in the world about this culture, but I was offered friendship and was accepted into the culture. I was accepted simply for tutoring a young girl about my own culture.

This story tells me that I care about culture and family. It shows that I value other cultures as my own, and that I am happy when I am helping someone else. This has made me so secure in my career goals because I wish to help people in whatever way I can, which is exactly what the purpose of a doctor is.

–Starr S.

Belvedere in Arezzo

Note: Starr S. is one of four 2016 Honors Study Abroad Scholarship recipients who is currently studying in Europe.

Starr in ItaliaThe park at the top of the hill in Arezzo has been by far the best view of the Tuscan countryside that I have seen.  The park lies behind a grand cathedral that looks like it was made by God himself. Inside the cathedral, an organ plays softly as if to lull you to sleep.

Upon arriving at the park, I  noticed immediately the couples and lovers walking with their children or their pets. There were even some elderly couples strolling around the park and pointing at different places off the side of the mountain, as though they were remembering them from their youth.

I wish to be like them one day. I wish to stroll around the Italian countryside with my husband or my children and point out the many places I have been here. I wish to tell them about the Arezzo cathedral with its ceilings painted in gold and its gargoyles that are so life-like, they almost talk to you. I wish to show them the pictures of me standing on top of the mountain in the park in Arezzo with the entire Tuscan countryside behind me. I wish to tell them about the elderly couple sitting on the bench in the Arezzo park, remembering their youth as I am remembering mine.

On this mountain, there seems to be nothing I cannot see, nothing I cannot do, nothing I cannot be. I traveled with a group, and as we all stared out at the sunny Tuscan view we all had the same thought: How can I explain this when I get to Raleigh, and can a picture do this justice? After seeing Tuscany from one side to the other, it is almost a lie to call Raleigh “home” anymore. Italy is our new home, and it is nothing short of breathtaking.

Inside the cathedral, the organ sang to us and told us the story of the many people who lived and worshiped in this place. I could not only hear the organ, but could feel the emotions it was portraying: beauty, sadness, grief, love, and humility. The organ played humbly as if to let me enter the cathedral and experience its story for myself. Inside, the cathedral was eerily cool and empty and there were no sounds other than the organ and the soft footsteps of a few people walking around. Outside, in the open and joyous space of the park, an entirely different tune was played. It was not a tune of sadness, but one of family, hope and future. It was the happy tune of children playing, familiar faces meeting, and lovers laughing. The contrast was remarkable, but in both scenarios, I felt welcome and comfortable.

The same applies to study abroad. I feel comfortable in the United States, where I know the culture and the people, but I also feel at home in Italy because the people are welcoming and happy. They are a non-judgmental people just like the cathedral and the park of Arezzo.

–Starr S.