Among the students completing their first semester at UNH this fall is a cohort of engineering students who have yet to step foot on campus – at least as official students. That is because they are spending their initial semester at the University’s campus in Tuscany, Italy.
In fact, William Adams, associate professor of computer science, believes that the first semester in college might be the optimal time to study abroad. “I have seen the first-year cohort study abroad students mature much more quickly than the norm,” he said.
He reasons this is because studying abroad in a small cohort helps ease the transition from high school by fostering relationships among a small group of students who bond over new experiences of being immersed in a foreign culture.
“I tell parents that their son or daughter will be standing taller when they see them again after their European experience,” said Adams. “Upon their return, parents often attest to this fact.”
One of the students in the cohort is Michael Tracz, an electrical engineering major from Derby, Conn.
“The main reason I wanted to take part in this opportunity was to make lifelong friendships before I stepped onto campus,” he said. “This experience has developed my personal independence very rapidly.”
During just the first half of the semester, Tracz and his classmates explored Tuscany, Paris, London and Rome. He is studying Italian and taking a class that examines the Italian renaissance, as well as classes in computer programming and engineering.
“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything,” said Tracz. “I have learned a lot about myself and the world. I feel as if I have grown into an adult.”
In addition to the engineering cohort, a group of graphic design students also spent the fall semester in Tuscany.
One of the appeals for Shaquasia Myrie ’15 was the fact that the city of Prato, where the campus is located, is not a popular tourist destination. “I knew I would experience the true Italian lifestyle,” she said.
“This experience has taught me to adapt to my surroundings,” continued Myrie. “I had to listen more to understand what was being said to me before I spoke, and I had to pick up on certain things when communicating with another person, which was difficult due to the language barrier.”
Kara Zavaglio ’15 called her first excursion outside of the United States an eye-opening experience. She is already hoping to plan a return trip. “I have been thinking about the possibility of returning to Europe after graduation to start a career,” she said. “I feel well-rounded now that I have lived in another culture.”
Since the Tuscany campus opened last fall, more than 110 students have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich culture of Italy.
“The global experience of our students is an important résumé item to set our students apart from others without study abroad experience,” said Adams. “I have never had a study abroad student who did not thoroughly appreciate their experience.”