Study Abroad Alumni Experiences – Stephen – Sorrento, Italy

By October 23, 2018Blog post

Here at JU, we are so happy and proud to have a partner like Sant’Anna Institute. We have so many wonderful Study Abroad Alumni who traveled to Italy this past summer and came back with fantastic stories to tell. One of these students is Stephen Eager, who went abroad to Sorrento during our Faculty-Led Maymester session in 2018. Stephen is a student veteran and a Communications major here at JU. Read an excerpt of his own personal blog here, and check out more of his writings at: https://literaltruths.wordpress.com/2018/06/13/the-value-of-learning-culture/

An excerpt from, “The Value of Learning Culture”…

“Upon getting settled in, we had a welcoming meal to which we were able to experience first-hand the food culture in Italy. We enjoyed the immediate hospitality and were ready to capture the essence of Italy through academic study. Study abroad offers numerous opportunities for growth. The personal satisfaction I felt through learning cultural differences, the chance for a more independent study in a faraway land, and the deep study of history, culture, and languages are some of the great privileges I have experienced while studying in another country.

I have always experienced culture and travel through the lens of an Army soldier. For example, when I traveled to Afghanistan I quickly emerged myself into a culture that I knew nothing about but was required to carry myself with a driving force of superiority over all other local nationals. The locals are not people. They are potential enemies—no matter who they are, or what region they are from. No amount of cultural training can ever change this soldiers’ mentality. This is simply a survival skill embedded in soldiers who are trained to do unthinkable things if duty calls for it.

Communicating with, and emerging myself into the Italian culture, I was able to capture a sensitivity towards my fellow Italian counterparts. I learned that the Italian nationals are just as curious about my culture as I am of theirs. Some local restaurants even attempt to “Americanize” their establishments as to bring comfort to American travelers. Seeing these things and making an effort to relate to the Italians helped me grow as a person. I have an understanding of a world outside of my own—this time from my personal perspective.

College students are like young service members in several ways. When a student graduates high school and takes that first initial step into society, they are often unequipped to deal with society on their own. Likewise, when a young person joins the military they are young, impressionable, and eager to learn how to be on their own. It is true that in our military young soldiers and sailors are taught how to be confident and independent through a strict training regiment. The true value of lessons learned only comes with experience; experiences that comes from actually doing something and gaining understanding. This is a hard lesson to learn. A city kid from Boston—and poor most of my life—my confidence has always been lacking. Though joining the Army wasn’t an immediate fix and boost in confidence, the military did give me the ability, and drive, to learn how to take responsibility for my own self-development—a development that I choose to further even today.

Today’s students come from all walks of life, and varying levels of maturity. I began life with a rocky start that requires self-motivation, dedication, and perseverance to get to where I am today. The journey has been long and has not easy. I have many experiences that helped develop me along the way. One of my most powerful lessons were learned from traveling to foreign lands. The majority of my travels have been mission-based, yet the values and appreciation I have learned come from a different point of view. I have learned and experienced life through the eyes of another culture.

Jacksonville University has a history of being culturally diverse. Walking around campus on any given day makes this obvious. Likewise, JU offers several options for students to study abroad—both faculty-led programs, and tradition study abroad programs. JU gets it.”

Stephen also reflects about life passions that study abroad ignited again in him, which he did not expect…

“What began as a job landed itself a safe place that I would spend the next four years of my life. I was a mere fourteen-year-old teenager when I was introduced to horses, but it is something that is very dear and near to my life. The barn was my escape. The barn offered me protection from a broken home, from the difficulties I encountered in school, and from the social oppression unpopular children experience in school. As I grew up, I fell away from horses. Life got in the way as it tends to do. I joined the Army, had a family of my own, and what was once a dream of living the life of a true equestrian became something of the past. Until Italy and May nineteenth, two-thousand and eighteen when I sat in the saddle, on a horse, for the first time in nearly fifteen years. It felt good. If I were asked what the greatest memory I had while studying abroad was, I would have to say that the ride up Mt. Vesuvius is it. Not only did my study abroad trip give me a new-found appreciation for cultural differences, it reawakened a passion that I have had since childhood.

 

The best universities understand the value of a complete education, including a culturally diverse individual. I am happy with my choice to study abroad. Not only did my knowledge and appreciation for Italian culture improve, but I was able to take time out for myself—on a personal level—and rekindle the burning flame that has dimmed tremendously over the years. I have traveled the world, and I brought with me many life experiences some traditional students do not have. However, the value of traveling to learn and take a serious look into the culture of a foreign nation is a lesson that must be learned in person. Embrace it. Experience it. Study abroad and you too will be able to experience Italy up close and personal.”

 

– Stephen Eager