December 23, 2015
"Ancient Rome has always captivated me, and I got to walk by and/or explore the ruins and history of that period every day," says Elizabeth Witkowski, '17, of her fall-semester study-abroad experience. "I also loved the weather there; moving back to Michigan is tough."
Witkowski, a business and organizations major, chose John Cabot University in Rome, Italy, for its strong business program, taught in English. She also knew that from Rome, she could easily travel to several other European countries.
A surprise bonus was the realization that the best parts of "travel" could come from simply walking around the corner.
"I enjoyed exploring the different neighborhoods and finding those restaurants and shops that only the locals know about," Witkowski says. "Diet, clothes, food, exercise and simply just interacting… everything was different."
Her studies were different, too. "They were unlike any classes that I would take at Albion," Witkowski explains. "My professors were not teachers first; they were an archeologist, a corporate translator, a CNN Italy broadcaster and a government employee."
It also turned out that John Cabot's English-only program wasn't just for Americans. "In one of my classes, I sat between a South African and a Siberian, with a Ukrainian in front of me and an Italian behind me," she says. "It’s fascinating to have so many different countries represented in one class. I’ve realized that culture does not divide people as much as we think it does."
The cultural diversity also provided a unique—and valuable—aspect to Witkowski's studies. "For one course, a student presented each week on a different culture in regards to business and lifestyle; I did mine on Midwest America," Witkowski says.
"In that same class, we learned different negotiation styles and which ones work for which countries and cultures. This class produced a lot of discussion and debate due to the large amount of different countries being represented.”
"I also learned more about the United States here," she says. "My American friends [in Rome] come from all over; even though we’re all from the U.S., the way we were raised and our cultures are different."
And while educationally her experience speaks for itself, Witkowski is also aware of the lessons learned just by being on her own.
“Since I don’t know much Italian, when walking through the streets I just had myself and my thoughts. Walking is the main way of getting around, so I had a lot of time to think and reflect," she says.
"I've recognized I have a very good sense of direction, which came in handy quite often because of all the small narrow streets," she says. "I've also realized that this experience has allowed me to focus on myself and who I want to—and can—be."