I studied abroad through USAC at their Reggio Emilia location. I studied the Montessori and Reggio approach along with a cooking class, which was just a one-hour credit. Since I went through this program and not a faculty-led trip, I was the only one from Tennessee in my program. At first, this was overwhelming and a little scary, but after going I preferred my experience to be this way. My favorite part of the experience and going alone was that there was no one I knew to skew my own opinions of everything I experienced. I was able to be pushed out of my comfort zone and travel alone, which added to the experience and taught me to handle unique circumstances that I could not gain from my class experience.

I learned in the Educational Approaches course so much about the methods and approaches that are incredibly different from the school systems in the States, even those that carry the Montessori or Reggio name. Although the Montessori and Reggio schools in the States follow these methods to the best of their ability, there are many cultural differences that inevitable make the schools differ. I also gained so much knowledge and experience through the cooking course. In the States food is usually something quick and enjoyed on the go. There was something to be said for not only taking the time to prepare the food, but sitting and slowing down to enjoy the experience of eating the meal, but also to be present about the people you are with. In my opinion, this is a much healthier way of thinking. I took this with me and try to be mindful when I am with people enjoying a meal.

The final part of my experience, is that since I took a class at an Italian university, I met Italian students. I got really close to one other student there and enjoyed conversations with her about cultural differences, we asked each other many personal questions about each other’s culture. These conversations were my favorite part of the experience because we are both very open to discuss controversial topics in our own cultures and share how they differ and our own opinions without fear of being judged. We just wanted to learn about the world and how different or similar our lives are. This experience of studying abroad has provided me with more knowledge than I could have imagined with just being in a classroom and pushed me in ways I never thought I could handle, but did and am proud I got to have this experience. I would recommend studying abroad to anyone who is considering going.

Natalie Poland is majoring in Early Childhood and Family Studies and studied abroad in Summer 2019 in Reggio Emilia, Italy with USAC. Natalie had the following to say about studying abroad, “I would recommend studying abroad to anyone considering it. If you apply to go alone, try not to let it overwhelm you and take it as an opportunity to explore. You learn so much in classes but also so much more by just being immersed in a new culture that you don’t get to experience staying in your comfort zone.”

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