Research, Culture, and "Adapting": A Semester in Italy
The most critical skill developed abroad is the ability to adapt, says Brent Ramsey ’13, a political science major who spent his Spring 2012 semester at the University of Torino in Italy. Indeed, being flexible with new cultures, learning environments, political settings, and languages opens doors to new experiences; living away from family and friends in an unfamiliar environment forces students to act, to become problem-solvers, and to appreciate the differences and similarities between the US and the new culture in which they find themselves. “After immersing myself in an entirely new environment for a semester, I now feel like I can live and work anywhere and for however long as I want or need to,” Ramsey says.
Although Ramsey lists his biggest challenge abroad as his “futile attempt to do everything,” he accomplished a great deal in a few short months. On one trip, he recalls, he went to the European Union Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. “I was able to spend three days attending presentations and interviews with members and employees of several critical European Union committees, including the Committee of Regions, the E.U. Parliament, and the E.U. Commission,” he says. “Fortunately, due to one of my professor’s connections, we were able to sit in on a high profile debate between the current and ex-presidents of the European Central Bank. It was an extraordinary opportunity given the economic circumstances of the time.”
Another excursion brought him to Ivrea, a smaller town north of Turin, on the final day of Carneval. “Ivrea celebrates by having an annual orange war, where dozens of horse drawn carriages of people exchange orange volleys in each town square with hundreds of citizens. It is a tradition that is hundreds of years old, and I was fortunate enough to be adopted into a team so that I could participate. It was the single most fun and culturally significant experience I have ever had.”
Perhaps most importantly, Ramsey was also able to develop a research project that will serve as his undergraduate thesis this year. After noticing countless flags and graffiti posts in town regarding the No TAV (Treno-Alta Velocitá or High Speed Train ) movement, he approached professors and locals to learn more. He found that “in short, the movement consists of inhabitants of a critical alpine valley west of Turin in opposition to the state construction of a new high speed rail line that would pass through the Valley. The locals oppose the new rail line between Turin and Lyon, France because of environmental, mafia involvement and financial responsibility issues.” During his visit to the European Union Committee of Regions, he developed the idea that this movement could evolve into a greater movement of regional rights and representation at a supranational level. “After I discussed the topic with a professor … he offered his support by helping me to arrange several interviews with local and state politicians,” Ramsey says. Ultimately, he was able to engage in preliminary research on the local movement.
Beyond these activities, the experience itself has prepared Ramsey to excel professionally: “I had been told many times prior to going abroad that it would be a resume worthy experience. Since returning I have realized how true this is. The whole experience helps to develop observation skills, critical thinking skills, language skills, and countless other skills that are critical in any job environment.”
Overall, Ramsey sees study abroad as an opportunity of a lifetime. “The opportunity to study abroad was … a way to see politics and especially international relations from a different perspective,” he says. It was an opportunity that helped to advance his academic career, sparked new research interests, exposed him to new cultures, and gave him the confidence to pursue a wide range of professions after graduation.