Living and Learning in Tuscany Helps Students Step Out of Their Comfort Zones
Living and Learning in Tuscany Helps Students Step Out of Their Comfort Zones

by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor

Growing up, Samantha Higgins ’16 would get such severe homesickness that she could barely tolerate sleeping over her friends’ houses down the street. She says just leaving her home state of New Jersey to enroll at UNH was a big step.

She took an even bigger step out of her comfort zone when she decided to spend the spring semester studying at UNH’s campus in Tuscany, Italy. She concedes it was an anxious flight across the Atlantic, but many of her concerns were allayed soon after the plane touched down.

This semester, 45 students are studying at the University's campus in Tuscany.

“When we landed in Prato and the staff greeted us at the airport, all my fears went away,” she said. “Everyone was so welcoming, which helped with my nerves of being out of the country for the first time.”

Only halfway through her time in Italy, she says she already feels more confident and self-assured.

“I think being here has helped me become more of an individual, more understanding and better able to work through a problem,” she wrote in an email from a hostel in London during a spring break excursion that also took her to Paris and Greece.

Higgins says she has become more patient as she tries to use her still-developing grasp of Italian to communicate with the locals. “I really had no patience before and I had a fear of being alone, but now I am okay doing things by myself, and I enjoy it,” she said.

Higgins, a criminal justice major, is one of 45 students spending the spring semester in Italy, marking the largest group to study there since the University opened the campus in 2012. Students interested in spending the fall semester in Italy have until March 30 to apply. Tracy Tamborra, associate professor of criminal justice, and Peter Massey, forensic science lecturer, will be teaching in Prato in the fall.

Kayla Giordanella ’17, a forensic science major, has wanted to return to Italy since she took a trip there in high school. She said one of her favorite memories so far was attending the carnevale that took place in Viareggio. 

“It was a great experience to be surrounded by costumes, confetti and handmade floats like you have never seen before and to be part of an Italian tradition,” she said.

Her time abroad has changed her and shaped her future in ways that she said are difficult to fully articulate.

“You learn to be independent in a lifestyle that is so different from your everyday life,” said Giordanella. “It is just amazing how much you grow and mature while being here, and I am proud of that.”

Aubrey Marino ’14 is spending her last semester at UNH in Prato, completing work on her honors thesis that is exploring the attitudes of law enforcement professionals in various countries toward mandatory arrest laws.

She plans to pursue a career in social work, and the experience of living in a different culture has been good preparation, she said. “In the field of social work, I will be interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” she said. “It is important to have an appreciation for differences in order to effectively help others.”

Piero Ianniello, an adjunct professor of Italian teaching at the Prato campus, said the students this semester are motivated to learn about a new culture. “What I hope the students take with them is a different view, a more open mind and a new interest in foreign language and culture,” he said.

Read the Charger Bulletin’s “Postcard from Prato” series being written by students studying there this semester.

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