Name: Matt Wilken
Program Location/Year studied: USAC Torino, Italy – 2012
University attended: University of Iowa
Major: Leisure Studies: Recreation and Sports Business with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship
Why did you decide to study abroad in Torino?
I had studied Italian for one year and was determined to continue learning, so the choice of which country was narrowed down. Part of my family is from Italy as well so this fueled my desire to learn and study abroad in Italy. I chose the city of Torino because I did not want to study in an area that was consumed with tourists. In Torino, I was most often forced to utilize my Italian language skills which was very conducive to my learning.
What surprised you most about Torino?
The beauty of the city and surrounding areas. Torino is not usually mentioned when discussing cities in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples, Palermo) but I would argue that it is better than those cities in many ways. As I mentioned, it does not host many tourists, which helps it maintain its’ authenticity. There is an abundance of history in Torino when you consider the galleries, the Shroud of Turin, it being the first capital of Italy and many others. The nearby mountains, great wine (Piemonte), the amazing people, and Juventus set it apart from other parts of Italy.
You returned to Italy after your study abroad to complete an internship opportunity, can you tell the story about getting your internship in Florence? Where was it at? What were you doing?
My involvement in the Italian language was probably more so than my major was throughout my undergrad degree. I was graduating in the Fall of 2013 and had not accrued debt as I was completing my degree on the G.I. Bill (Served in the Army for 5 years). I surmised that I could take out a loan since I wanted another adventure before starting/continuing my career and grad school. I knew that I was looking for an experience that combined my interests in sports, Italian language, as well as being in a place that I had grown to love. I worked through an organization called World Internships to set up an interview and after the process, I ended up having an internship with the Italian Soccer Federation at Coverciano. I primarily helped with marketing of the Italian Soccer Federation Museum, supervising guests, translating emails and conversations for English speaking groups, and other odd jobs.
How did studying abroad with USAC help you get your internship?
Everybody that I worked with spoke Italian (Well, I found out one week before I finished the internship that the assistant Silvia spoke a bit of English but wanted me to continue speaking Italian). That being said, I would not have had any real experience speaking Italian with foreign Italians without studying abroad. In the interview, I was asked to speak Italian with them and I believe that without my experience studying abroad in Torino, I would not have been well enough equipped to intern where I did.
What was it like going back to Italy but not as a student studying abroad?
It enhances the experience even more. You now have friends that you can visit, places you are familiar with, and secrets places to visit that others do not know of.
How has studying abroad since impacted your career?
That experience was the beginning of opening my eyes to the international world. I developed an understanding and an appreciation of people in Italy and Europe in general. I have built relationships that have lasted since and know the cultural differences that can impact business affairs internationally. I have a plethora of examples to illustrate this but to put it simply, there is a bond that is created between individuals that have similar experiences. The more experiences you have, the more opportunities you have to create these bonds. It goes without saying that building trust is extremely important throughout ones’ career and when you are able to do this better than others, it is quite the advantage for you.
You mentioned the military, did you find it difficult to study abroad while being part of the military?
I believe that being older and more mature (hopefully) definitely helped. Having been in many different countries in the Middle East I think I was well equipped to overcome any sort of culture shock. I lived in a tent in Afghanistan for one year so the lack of air conditioning and adjusting to a different culture was probably not as difficult for me as it is for your typical student. I also understood that most people in other countries take pride in their culture and language and I wanted to make sure I was setting a good example for the students that came after me.
In Afghanistan, I studied the Pashto dialect and was able to converse with to a certain extent with locals. Just by using the few phrases I was good at, I could see an entirely different response and they would welcome me into their homes oftentimes and show appreciation for my willingness to learn about them. It was a very similar experience in Italy so I highly recommend students to at least learn elementary language and culture skills for wherever they choose to study. Additionally, I found out that the G.I. Bill actually would pay for a portion of my study abroad and ex-military should be taking advantage of this. Not only would they cover tuition but with that comes the monthly stipend for housing so that was amazing in my opinion.
What did you learn about yourself during your study abroad?
I learned that I have a desire to travel and learn more about other places/people.
Looking back on your study abroad, how has your appreciation for your experience changed over the years?
My appreciation has deepened and continues to steer my path today. It shaped my focus in grad school as I researched international events such as the World Cup and Olympics. I have taken on new languages since and will be completing a 2-year certificate in Arabic this May. I believe that I will always be seeking to learn more and it started with this study abroad experience.
What advice do you have for students considering studying abroad?
I would say stop considering and just do it. I have never heard anybody say they regretted studying abroad but I have heard many say that they wished they would have done it. Go see the world, meet people from all over, and learn as much as possible.
In my opinion, there truly are no downsides to studying abroad. You may never find out who you truly are unless you put yourself in situations where you’ve never been before.