By Mia Agee
Assistant News Editor
Amidst the colorful streets of Florence, Italy, senior worship arts major Alanna Ziegler discovered something more valuable than the city’s Renaissance architecture, art and gelato. She discovered a home in her host home’s hospitality, the ability to converse and share life with Italians, and the freedom to go out on her own and explore Florence.
Sommer Bright, the graduate assistant who currently runs the study abroad program, is largely the one who made this opportunity possible for Ziegler. In the fall of 2021, Bright worked together with Katie Miller, the faculty in charge of the study abroad program at the time, to add WorldStrides as an additional affiliate partner to Trevecca’s study abroad program.
“Now, we have the partnership, which has opened up the options to hundreds versus 10,” Bright said.
Since that partnership with WorldStrides, there have been an average of two Trevecca students each semester who have studied abroad, according to Bright. As she has taken up the leading faculty role in Trevecca’s study abroad program, Bright has been aiming to promote the program and its newest opportunities as a result of its affiliate partnerships.
Kelly Poyo, senior communication studies major, and Ziegler are both Trevecca students who have taken advantage of the study abroad program through WorldStrides. Poyo studied in Amman, Jordan in the fall of 2022 while Ziegler studied in Florence, Italy in the spring of 2023.
Since Poyo decided to study abroad in the fall of 2022, the program at that time was just starting to get back up and running since COVID-19. When looking at the countries the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) offered, she found the only two locations she had to choose from were Oxford, England and Amman, Jordan.
She ended up choosing the latter. Though Poyo spent the bulk of her semester in Jordan, she also ended up spending 10 days in Israel and Palestine and then two weeks in Egypt and Turkey. The intercultural studies and interfaith interaction she experienced in each of these Middle Eastern countries was the most interesting part, she said. She found hospitality to be a significant part of the culture.
“You would walk into a store, and they’d offer you coffee, tea, cookies, and dates,” she said. “If you went to a local house, they would just make you feel like you were part of the family.”
Unlike the traditional lecture-based learning found at most universities like Trevecca, the Jordan educational setting was much different, according to Poyo. Each course would typically have two major assignments, and the rest was exploring the city and having the professor point out things they were learning about, she said.
Over the course of the semester, Poyo took four classes each worth four credit hours for a total of 16 credits. These courses studied Middle Eastern culture, the Arabic language, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and Islamic thought in practice.
In addition to her courses, Poyo also had the opportunity to go on trips with her 15-person cohort–all of whom were also studying abroad from the United States or Canada through the CCCU. The trips were organized by the program directors, and mostly everyone in the cohort ended up going, according to Poyo.
“We went to Petra, we went to Jerash– which are the Roman ruins in Jordan–, we went to the Red Sea and the Dead Sea,” she said. “Basically every single big thing you can picture in Jordan, we hit up.”
Each student had the freedom to go off on their own, but only one student chose to do so, according to Poyo.
One major difficulty Poyo experienced during her time studying abroad was the sense of loneliness she felt being in such a new environment on the other side of the world. She also found that learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was very emotionally tolling.
Poyo considers herself a “raging extrovert” and loves getting to hear others’ stories, so this sense of loneliness came out of left field, she said.
“I often wished that I could transport my favorite people there for like 10 minutes and just vent to them and share all my feelings because it was kind of awkward and hard to do that sometimes with people that you’re just starting to get to know,” Poyo said.
Though Poyo did not experience true culture shock from any of the Middle Eastern culture, she almost experienced a “reverse culture shock” when she came back to the United States and saw no women wearing hijabs.
“It was just a typical thing to see women wearing the hijab–the head covering,” she said. “That was something I’d never really seen as often as I did. So coming back, I was like ‘Oh my word, where are all the hijabs?”
For Trevecca students who are thinking about studying abroad, Poyo suggests starting the process sooner rather than later in their academic career so that it will not conflict with credit hours or prevent them from graduating on time.
Ziegler had looked at many different possible study abroad locations through WorldStrides, but she ended up going with Florence, Italy because of her favorite book Love and Gelato, which takes places in Florence.
“Ever since I read the book, I was like, ‘I really wanna go,’ and so I went and I read it in Florence,” she said. “It was a dream come true.”
Unlike the United States and much of western culture, life in Italy is slower, and there is a bigger respect for the elderly, according to Ziegler. She also found that Italian culture is one of unity and universal community.
Specifically, she observed that Italians dress for the season rather than the weather because in that culture, they transition through things together– almost universally.
“During the very hot months of spring that just kind of pop up out of nowhere kind of like here, I would pull out my shorts to walk to class,” Ziegler said. “The amount of glares I received from generally the elderly baffled me.”
Ziegler took courses that went towards her behavioral science minor and general education courses–an art history course called ‘Florentine art walks,’ a cross- cultural psychology course that studied culture shock, a human rights course, a three-week Italian intensive, and Italian language.
The semester was split up into two halves, and they had a week and a half long winter break, according to Ziegler. Her classes met one day a week for three hours, and they always had Fridays off.
“I think the school tried their best so that students were able to travel and experience the country and not have the stress of school,” said Ziegler. “I had an assignment or two a week and maybe some reading, but mostly you were just exploring.”
The university she took these classes through is called the American University of Florence, and it is specifically for American study abroad students, she said. Her professors were all Italian, but they all spoke and taught in English.
Similar to Poyo, Ziegler experienced an almost “reverse culture shock” when she returned to the United States and found that although Nashville is a touristy city like many of Italy’s cities, the tourists here are mainly all Americans who speak English. Italy, on the other hand, has tourists from all over the world, and few of them speak English, according to her.
“There is a lot of, like, everyone, everywhere–Americans, people from Europe, people from the Middle East. I met people from Russia. I met people from Asia. None of them spoke English,” said Ziegler.
Her host mom spoke minimal English, though her host dad was very accustomed with the language, as he was a world traveler tradesman. Ziegler found that many vendors and people on the street spoke little or no English.
“If I went down around the corner to the gelato shop, that shop owner spoke no English. She could get through, like, ‘medium, small or large’ for your size, but I couldn’t really talk to her until I figured out more Italian,” she said.
In Ziegler’s experience, besides the emotional and foreign language preparation, studying abroad requires a lot of work both in completing the paperwork and saving up the money to afford it.
“I spent all summer working as much as possible with a full-time job trying to raise up all the money that I could so that I could fully experience being abroad,” she said. “Don’t go into it if you’re not willing to put in the work.”
Bright hopes to double the average number of students who study abroad each semester, as she believes it gives students a chance that comes only once in a lifetime. After you graduate, the opportunities to have an experience like this are little to none, according to Bright.
“When you travel, you get to look at the picture. You get to see the picture, but you’re not a part of the picture,” said Bright. “When you study abroad, you take a step into the picture. You take a step into the story, and you’re a part of the culture.”
To apply to study abroad, visit the office of global engagement Trevecca SharePoint and click on “Study Abroad.” For any questions regarding studying abroad, reach out to Sommer Bright.