Deciding to participate in Fairmont State University's Italian Exchange Program (UNICAL) was far easier than actually making the first-time trip 5,000 miles from home in Marion County, WV. Lindsay Menas, an English major, will spend one year studying at the University of Calabria-Consenza. Through e-mails, blogs and Skype communication, she describes many of her opportunities as first-time-in-her-life experiences. Just getting to the second largest campus in Europe, with an enrollment of 40,000 students, was a unique journey for the University junior.
Classes for the 21-year old at the University of Calabria did not begin for about a month after Menas arrived on foreign soil in the fall of 2011. She had much of September to adjust to new surroundings. Those first days in Italy, Menas was experiencing the awesome sights, becoming familiar with unaccustomed living arrangements and taking advantage of preparation time for new academic processes.
As Menas makes sense of a new language, begins to understand common customs and learns how to succeed in an international classroom, she is dealt regular lessons inside her tiny apartment before ever hitting the crowded, racing streets. And, she’s enjoying every step of the journey.
Following are some of the international traveler’s insights in her own words.
International flying/travelling alone
"Before my international flight, I had only flown one time. It was to California with FSU’s Concrete Canoe Team. I’m not one to freak out over flying, even over the ocean; in fact, I’m amazed by it. The international flight was neat, and I enjoyed talking to different people and learning where people were going and why. I got lucky and had a seat by myself on all three planes on my way to Italy, but I still didn’t sleep well and airline food still sucks,” she said. “The views were gorgeous. And, I was happy to be flying instead of slow-boating across the Atlantic. Once arriving in Italy, I was 150 percent positive that I was safer in a plane than on their roads any day. They have some of the craziest drivers ever!"
Taking in new sights
"I have never seen something so beautiful as I did on the ride over the mountains as the sun was going down. There were houses staggered colorfully about the mountains, lights covering the land like stars in the sky. I tried to take pictures, but they don't get close to portraying what I saw with my own eyes.”
Living away from home/with roommates
"I’ve always lived at home with my mom, so this is the first time living alone and having roommates. I really enjoyed living at home, but I am learning how to be completely independent and do everything for myself, which I think is crucial for any 21-year-old woman. Also, this is my first time experiencing the drama that comes with living with people who are different from you. It is interesting on so many levels because our communication is limited until I learn more Italian. Sometimes, you have to use more than words to understand or to get a message across to others.”
Following a European course
"There is no homework or exams. There are only lectures several times a week and one big exam at the end of the term. I should also add that I’m required to read 14 books and watch three movies for TWO CLASSES. Here, you teach yourself or you learn nothing. They could care less if you fall behind. I really appreciate our system in America now. I am taking three online classes through Fairmont State in order to keep enough hours to meet the PROMISE Scholarship requirements. I was behind in all of these classes because I did not have access to the Internet as soon as I arrived. So, in my spare time this particular week, I have been studying, reading and doing homework and tests for those classes in between having dinner with friends, singing karaoke to American music in the living room with my suitemates (so fun!), exercising, eating like a pig, studying Italian, going shopping and sightseeing. When you have to keep up with three online courses at FSU, two courses in a language you don’t understand and crazy, fun Italians who always have unexpected plans for you, you absolutely must spend every second wisely. This is good for me. I’ve always wasted so much time."
Enjoying new carb combos -- and even squid
“I’ve gotten many opportunities to try foods that I’d never dreamed I’d find myself tasting. After being dared to try squid at a Chinese buffet a few years ago, I was extremely shocked to find myself eating it both as fresh fish and in spaghetti with the black ‘ink’ included. I’m not a fan of Pepsi, but half Pepsi and half Peroni [Italian beer] is an awesome combination. Here, there is no drinking age, at least none that is enforced. So, I was legally
allowed to drink alcohol, ironically enough, one week before my 21st birthday. "
“I hate to tell you all, but so far, everything I have had here tastes better than it does at home. It has more flavor, is prepared more carefully, and though I miss a lot of foods from home, everything here is absolutely incredible! One thing that is very different from home is the pizza. When we have pizza in America, we order one or two, and everyone eats a few slices. It has a lot of sauce, a lot of a cheese, and often other toppings for specialty ones. Here, when you order pizza, you order an entire pizza for yourself. They are thinner, but not perfect in shape. They have a little sauce, but the sauce has a lot of flavor, and you can order a pizza with almost anything on it. I even saw one on a menu the other day with Nutella on it, which excited me because I have a slight addiction to the stuff. But, one of my favorites so far, I had for dinner the other night at an awesome pizzeria near the university. It had tomatoes, mozzarella, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes on it. I only ate half of it because my stomach has not yet adapted to their eating habits, but it was absolutely incredible.”
One good thing leads to ... more work
"This is the first time that I have to walk everywhere that I go or figure out the public transportation system because I’ve always been able to just hop in my car everywhere I go. This is probably a good thing for me, though, because it balances out the extra calorie intake.”
Cooking only on an electric stovetop
"I must sadly admit that I am very sheltered. I have never cooked on anything but a gas stove. It took me 15 minutes to understand how to use the electric stove top, and I’m still learning exactly how to cook on the thing. It’s also my first time not having a microwave or an oven to use. I thank God for cereal and the cafeteria."
"Who needs to be on a low-carb diet when you have to walk to and from the grocery store for a total of 10 miles while carrying them all back home? There's nothing like burning your calories before you even take them in."
Washing laundry by hand
"We really take our washing machines for granted. I keep telling myself that washing laundry by hand, in a plastic bowl, is therapeutic and good for my fingernails. I feel like if I tell myself enough times, I’ll eventually believe it."
Hanging laundry to dry
"I have one thing to say about this. I hate hard towels."
Showering in less than 10 minutes
"When water pressure and temperature are so inconsistent, there is no other choice."
Sleeping in a twin-size bed for first time since she was 8
"Actually, my bed is smaller than twin size. My queen will swallow me whole when I return home."
Reflecting on opportunity
"It's a lot to adjust to, but experiences build wisdom and appreciation. Here you have to live spontaneously. This takes me out of my comfort zone because I am a planner, but it is teaching me to live each moment in life for what it is rather than being stuck in the past or consumed with what the future may or may not bring. More than anything, I hope that what I have to say might encourage or inspire another fellow Falcon to take this amazing opportunity and embark on their own adventure!"
Fairmont State University and the University of Calabria, Italy, have enjoyed a relationship of partnership and collaboration since 2007. This first-time international traveler, even with the few lifestyle adjustments she’s had to make, is a prime example of why this relationship will last for years to come.
What does “be First” mean to you? To share your “be First” story, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Italian Exchange program, click here.
Lindsay is maintaining a blog here.