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Max Karen_PhotoName:

Max Karen

Class Year:



Huntington, NY

Global Study Semester:

Spring 2017


CIEE Ferrara: Language and Culture

Ferrara, Italy


OMS and Italian Studies

Activities on Campus:

  • PLA, Italian Studies Department

My Story from Global Study:

Studying abroad in Ferrara was an amazing experience for numerous reasons, one of the main ones being the language. I’ve taken Italian classes beginning in middle school and all throughout my time at Gettysburg. While in Ferrara, I was planning to take the remaining classes for my Italian minor. Even though I’ve studied the language for so many years, I still really lacked the confidence to speak and have a true conversation. For this reason, I would often shy away from conversing in my Italian classes. This was something that I wanted to change in my time abroad.

Choosing to study in Ferrara was definitely the best place for me to gain that confidence that I had longed for, and that became evident after my first day in the city. My host mother did not speak a word of English. This was definitely intimidating at first but it forced me to use my Italian. Additionally, unlike Rome or other big cities, most of the residents in Ferrara did not speak English. After being in the city for about a month, I already noticed massive improvements in my speaking abilities. There was one moment that truly sticks out in my memory as the time when I felt like had achieved my goal of feeling confident in my Italian speaking.

At this point in the semester, I had been in Ferrara for four months and was travelling to Dublin to visit friends for St Patrick’s Day. I had to take a train from Ferrara to the airport in Bologna but first I had to get from my homestay to the train station. Biking was my main form of transportation, so I figured I would just bike to the station. Normally it wouldn’t have been an issue but I had three days’ worth of clothes in a duffle bag and I definitely do not tend to pack lightly. As I’m sure one could imagine, biking with this massive duffle bag was not exactly a brilliant idea. I should’ve just taken a taxi, but I was stubborn and over confident in my biking abilities. Instead of taking me ten minutes to get to the station, it took double that time and I was in very serious danger of missing my train and possibly my flight. I arrived at the station and my train was already there. Just make matters worse. I accidentally cut my hand slightly on my bike’s chaining while I was locking up my bike. So now, I was running through the train station and of course, the first ticket machine I went to was broken. I finally got my ticket and was sprinting to the platform with this massive bag in one hand, blood dripping from the other, and the ticket in my mouth. I made it to the platform just in time and jumped on the train as the doors were closing. I was bleeding, out of breath, and drenched in sweat. The train was packed so I couldn’t even sit. I was definitely a mess. There was a kind looking middle-aged woman standing next to me. As I was wrapping my bloody hand in a tissue, she turned to me and laughing, said “Tutto a posto?” (Everything ok?). I responded in Italian. She looked at my duffle bag asked me where I was traveling to. I explained where I was going. She told me how she was working at the university in Ferrara and was going to Bologna to see some friends for the weekend. It came up that I was American and the woman mentioned she always wanted to learn English. We spoke for the whole half hour train ride to Bologna. As the train pulled into the station at Bologna we said our goodbyes and she wished me good luck with the rest of my travels (as I clearly needed it). I got off the train with a feeling of euphoria. I just had a conversation with a complete stranger for a half hour in a foreign language. I made plenty of grammatical errors in my speech but it seemed like I always made myself understood and was always able to interpret what the woman was saying. It was an amazing experience and definitely a turning point in my learning the language. During the rest of my trip, I kept thinking about the conversation. About a week went by and I still kept thinking about my experience on the train. I decided that instead of just a minor, maybe I would add Italian Studies as a second major. I was fortunate that my class scheduled worked out and after speaking with Professor Perry, it became official. I was majoring in Italian Studies.

My Advice for Future Students:

To anyone trying studying abroad in a country that speaks another language, I would say try to speak that language as much as possible. It’s the only way to improve and it really is unbelievable how receptive people are to foreigners trying to learn the language.