Study Abroad

Visual Journalism and Culture in Florence

Izzi Barton in Italy

In my freshman year, I developed my major, “Visual Journalism and Culture”. Coming into college, I was unsure of a major that seemed to capture all that I wanted out of my education. I worked at the town newspaper in my hometown while I was in high school and was interested in learning more about people and different cultures. My major is a combination of anthropology, communication, journalism, sociology, and Human Rights. I have taken courses in all of these areas to help develop my understanding of the human experience, and appropriate ways to document people’s personal stories. I want to help people’s voices be heard and learn how others view the world. That is why I chose to go abroad during my junior year at UConn.

After the cancelation of the program that I had planned to take in Belfast, Ireland, I was offered a General Studies program in Florence, Italy. I was worried about going to a country where I didn’t speak the language and was not sure what courses were going to be offered. The change was a blessing in disguise; once I saw the course list I was relieved and excited about the fun and engaging classes I had to choose from. In a city with so much history and culture, it was amazing to be able to take courses that taught me more about where I was. I took Intercultural Communication, Photography: Portfolio in Florence, and Social Media and Social food as well as the Italian course that everyone was required to take.

The Intercultural Communications course developed my understanding of my major because I was able to learn about cultural norms from the perspective of an individual that lives in a completely different culture than ours. Most of my courses at UConn have been taught with a focus on American culture or global culture from an American perspective. Being able to learn from a completely different point of view was very educational because it helped me develop my anthropological skill of cultural relativism. We had countless discussions on the differences between our cultures as well as “Firenze vs Florence” meaning comparing the touristic side of Florence to the local city of Firenze.

The photography portfolio course was also eye-opening because I learned about artistic photography from a professional Italian photographer. He would go to fashion shows in Milan on the weekends and bring his photos back to class on Monday so we could analyze them with him. I gained a deeper understanding of the art of photography and how to connect with subjects through the camera as well as face to face. I learned about all sorts of niches of photography and got to witness the professor’s editing technique. One of the most helpful methods of learning to me is getting to watch a professional go through their process and compare that to others’ methods.

A photo of Chianti by Izzi Barton

Overall, having the chance to challenge myself by living in a foreign place gave me time to think deeply about how my experience is relative. I felt as if I was getting an opportunity to do Anthropological fieldwork as I took long walks around the city and made connections with local shop owners and learned their stories. I got to see firsthand the differences between life in different places and the norms that cultures create. My studies in Florence promoted my desire to learn about as many different cultures as I am able to. It was extremely challenging at times, but it is one of the best learning experiences of my life.

By Izzi Barton
IMJR: Visual Journalism and Culture

End of Life Care in Belgium

This past January, I traveled to Ghent, Belgium for a two-week interdisciplinary program on palliative and end of life care. This program was hosted by Artevelde University College Ghent and organized by the COHERE Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to collaboration in higher education to promote innovation, education, and best practices in the fields of health, social care, and rehabilitation.

Simone in Brussels

This interdisciplinary program consisted of students from seven European universities and the UConn School of Nursing. Students came from a wide range of disciplines, including nursing, speech pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. The program sought to educate students on the nuances of end of life and palliative care through active discussions about our respective countries’ healthcare policies and social climates surrounding end of life care, site visits and volunteering with patients, and presentations from experts in the many fields relevant to a patient’s medical experience at the end of life. During the program we also discussed many of the philosophical aspects of end of life care. One of the most powerful experiences of this program was listening to a panel of healthcare professionals debate the implications of euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium. This experience prompted me to further explore the philosophical arguments for and against the legalization of physician assisted suicide in the United States by writing a paper about it for Public Health and Policy in an Aging Society (PUBH 5475) this past Spring semester.

As an individualized major in Healthcare and Aging, my major encompasses a wide range of courses on aging, healthcare systems and policy, social determinants of health, and healthcare justice. I originally worried that my field of study was too niche and I wouldn’t be able to find an international program that met my interest in the intersection of healthcare and public policy. However, after hearing about a friend in the School of Nursing’s experience in Belgium, I knew that this program would be a great fit. I worked with the Education Abroad office to connect with the School of Nursing, and was accepted to participate in this program despite not being a nursing major. I encourage everyone considering an individualized major to seek out opportunities that may seem unconventional or are in a different department or school.

Although I had learned about international healthcare systems and policies in my courses, I was able to experience another country’s healthcare system and approaches to end of life care firsthand. I greatly appreciated the experience of discussing such an important topic with students from different backgrounds. Upon returning to the United States, this experience fostered my critical examination of the U.S. healthcare system in comparison to that of Belgium, both in my course work and later in each country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience emphasized the variety of approaches for handling medical issues between different countries and cultures. I left Belgium with a more global perspective on healthcare, and a strong desire to improve healthcare policy here in the U.S. Most importantly however, I relish the friendships I formed with my peers and the desire to pursue some form of postgraduate education abroad that came from this experience.

By Simone Fournier
IMJR: Healthcare and Aging

Food, Sustainability, and Study in Italy

I graduated in May 2019 from the University of Connecticut with a B.A. in “Food, Culture, & Sustainable Society” (individualized) and Human Rights. My individualized major focused on the relationships people have with food, and how to use that knowledge to make our food system more sustainable. My courses were drawn primarily from the departments of sociology, geography, and anthropology.

Although UConn has many courses with which I could build a strong academic program, I wanted to expand the scope of my studies beyond the United States. I looked into semester-long study abroad, and quickly found that Italy could be the perfect destination. UConn Education Abroad offered programs to Florence and Perugia, both of which had food-related coursework. After meeting with Valerie Nightingale, a study abroad advisor, I soon realized The Umbra Institute in Perugia would be the best fit. The Food and Sustainability Studies Program (FSSP) is specifically oriented the topics of my individualized major, and includes immersive class field trips and community engagement courses. I was also drawn by the city of Perugia itself, where I would be able to immerse myself linguistically and meet other university students.

While in Perugia, I took Italian, Water Essentials, The History and Culture of Food in Italy, Sustainability and Food Production in Italy, and Anthropology of Food. Although I did know some Italian (and a lot of Spanish) before visiting, the mandatory Italian course helped me gain more confidence speaking independently. Water Essentials was a multidisciplinary course focused on the intersections of water with society, the environment, gender, and politics. The remaining courses I took were directly part of the Food and Sustainability Studies certificate program. The History and Culture of Italy focused on taste, “Italian-ness”, and what Americans know to be “Italian”. Our history course also included a variety of field trips to places like Florence, Parma and Modena. These field trips gave us unique opportunities to see one of the oldest pharmacies in Florence, some of the first cookbooks in Italy, production of prosciutto, parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar. Sustainability and Food Production in Italy is a community engagement course which allowed us to gain experience volunteering at two different urban gardens. One of these gardens was a mental health residency which practiced horticultural therapy. Anthropology of Food centered around a mini-ethnography project in Perugia where we dined at local restaurants while making observations about their presentations of local and traditional menus. After this course, I co-authored an academic paper with Dr. Elisa Ascione, and a couple other students in the program, which is currently under review. The manuscript we submitted is titled, “Nostalgia on the Menu: Study Abroad Students Exploring the Past in Italian Restaurants”. It is a collection of writing based on ethnographic observations of five Perugian restaurants. The goal was to describe what “local” and “traditional” means to these establishments through an analysis of their decor, menus, websites, and interviews.

In my opinion, the FSSP is one of the strongest parts of The Umbra Institute. Through that program, I gained connections to accomplished faculty, experience volunteering at food-related non profit organizations, and was able to visit many parts of Italy. I also made great friends, as the Fall section of the program was quite small. One of my friends even traveled with me to take the GRE in Rome! My experience as a study abroad student made me a competitive candidate for graduate school, among many other opportunities, and continues to inform my academic career now.

By Abby Katz
IMJR: Food, Culture, and Sustainable Society

Adventures in Wollongong

This past Spring, as a second semester junior at the University of Connecticut, I studied abroad at the University of Wollongong in Australia. Studying abroad was something I always wanted to do, and combining that with my newly created individualized major, Global Health and the Environment, was icing on the cake.

Abigail (left) and her sister in Sydney
My major focuses on human health, environmental health, and how they interact. One of the classes I took while abroad, Sociology of Food and Nutrition, seemed made just for me. It pieced together many different elements of my major and emphasized the connections between our health and the environment around us. With lectures on agriculture, sustainability, food culture, and other related topics, I was inundated with information in the best way possible. The class discussion allowed for exchange of ideas between students of different cultures, religions, and national origins. I spent a good portion of time on a group project delving into the effects of climate change on communities, which directly relates to what I am studying and gave me the space to explore it on a deeper level.

While in Australia, I contacted a few non-profit organizations and participated in some of their community beach and park clean-up events. Not only did I help out in Wollongong and Sydney, but I also attended community awareness events on plastic pollution and political action. I heard speakers from the United Nations and made connections with people and companies that have led to volunteer opportunities here at home. Forming these relationships would not have been possible without my individualized major; it served as a springboard that allowed me to reach out and introduce myself.

Studying abroad in Australia also meant learning the slang, indulging in Australian coffee, meeting people from all over the globe, spraining my ankle, seeing dolphins, and studying at an incredible institution where I got to know my professors and challenged myself both academically and personally.

Coming back I was more excited for my senior year of college than I ever thought I could be. I arrived home with a clearer purpose, more confidence, independence, and knowledge than I had before. My time abroad expanded my horizons in ways that only real life experience can, and for that I will be forever grateful.

If you’re feeling nervous about studying abroad, that’s okay. I was nervous too. Do it despite your fear of the unknowns. Grasp the opportunity to grow, learn, and have fun. The world is out there waiting for you. Go introduce yourself!

By: Abigail Roth
Individualized Major: Global Health and the Environment

When in Rome

Bryce (left) with friends at carnival in Venice

I am a rising senior at the University of Connecticut with an individualized major in Global Finance and Political Economy, which explores the relationships between the public and the private sector and their interactions in the anarchic global environment. I always knew that I wanted to take my studies abroad, and during the spring of my junior year I enrolled at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. I chose Rome because of my Italian-American background, the courses offered, and the unique opportunities that studying in the Italian capital has to offer.

While in Rome, I took courses in International Business, International Organizations, International Finance, and Italian Language. My instructors were as diverse as the classes they taught, which added to the richness of the experience. It was fascinating to learn about the European Union in one of its founding member countries. One interesting project that I completed was a research study on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and how their efforts are complementing the work of national governments to solve the world’s complex problems. In my International Business course, we completed weekly case studies on European companies to learn about their successes and failures upon expanding internationally. The course in International Finance examined monetary flows, exchange rate fluctuations and their impact on the interwoven global financial system. Learning the Italian language from a native speaker was a fantastic way to immerse more completely into the culture and allowed me to converse with native Italians on a deeper level.

Vatican City from St. Peter’s Basilica

Without the Individualized Major program, I may not have studied in Rome and would not have acquired all of the memories that I will cherish in the future. Throughout my four months in Italy, I made long-lasting friendships with the people with whom I shared the journey. Some highlights from my study abroad experience include: getting an audience with the Pope for Easter mass, hiking to the top of Mount Vesuvius (an active volcano near Naples), grabbing pizza with a cousin who lives in Rome, seeing the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland with my family on spring break, walking through Paris in the snow, attending Spring Fest in Munich, Germany, sailing in the Adriatic Sea along the coast of Croatia, and hiking the five villages of Cinque Terre in northern Italy.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had this life changing experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. The lessons that I learned both inside and outside of the classroom will continue to benefit me as I enter my final year of college and eventually the workforce. If I had just one takeaway from my semester abroad it would be that no matter where you go in this world, there are certain principles that apply universally. Among these are the importance of staying curious, showing kindness to strangers, and having respect for your surroundings.

By Bryce Ciccaglione
IMJR: Global Finance and Political Economy

Studies in Switzerland

My name is Aaron Plotke, and I am a senior at the University of Connecticut with a dual degree in Nutritional Science and Health Policy (my IMJR). For the fall semester, I decided to study abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. The program I am participating in focuses on Global Health and Development Policy. We are covering a wide range of topics from global governance systems and health to food security and international health regulations.

Aaron Plotke and colleagues
The students in the program. Aaron is in the back row, second from the right.

The program has been (and continues to be) an incredible academic and cultural experience. We are conducting multiple research projects from local case studies focusing on health issues in Switzerland and Morocco to a final month-long independent study project on a topic of our choosing. Geneva is home to many experts in global health and development who work for international organizations; we attend lectures by them, network with them, and interview them for our independent research projects. In addition, as part of the program’s goal of cultural immersion, three times a week we are taking classes in French, the primary language in Geneva. We have also taken a few short field trips to other cities in Switzerland, such as Bern to visit the Swiss Development and Cooperation Program, and a week-long excursion to Morocco. This was one of my favorite parts of the program. We lived with host families in the old city of Rabat (called Medinas) while hearing experts from local non-government organizations (NGOs). We were as integrated into the local culture as one week allowed. The first time we walked into my host families building, I found myself in the midst of a four-day celebration for their new born cousin, in which they immediately invited my roommate and me to join. This was definitely a highlight of our trip to Morocco.

As I reflect on my study abroad experience, I couldn’t have picked a better program to complement my majors in Nutritional Science and Health Policy. The School for International Training’s program in global health and development policy has expanded my knowledge into the global arena and has also given me a better idea of what my future career may look like. Studying the work of international and non-governmental organizations has certainly made an impact on what I will do after graduation. Networking with experts in the global health and development sectors may lead to internships and work opportunities in the future!

by Aaron Plotke
IMJR: Health Policy

A Barcelona Experience

“I’m in love with cities I’ve never seen and people I’ve never met.”
-Melody Truong

My name is Asha Chowdhury, and I am a senior at the University of Connecticut with a major in International Media and Promotion. This summer I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, for an internship that changed my life.

Asha in Barcelona
Asha in Barcelona

The internship was with YouBarcelona, a marketing and public relations agency that works with the biggest and most well-known nightlife venues in Barcelona: Opium, Bling Bling, Pacha, Hotel W, Shoko, Otto Zutz, etc. I cannot express how excited I was to learn more about this young and lively company. As YouBarcelona’s marketing and social media intern, my tasks included managing a number of their social media accounts, creating content for their website and translating it into other languages, and reviewing venues on Trip Advisor. This was both exciting and scary, because while I had a gut feeling this was where I was supposed to be, I was very afraid of not being happy.  Fortunately, I fell in love with my work the moment I stepped into the office.

YouBarcelona meeting room
YouBarcelona meeting room

I had two amazing supervisors, Eric and Jorge, who assigned me a number of Instagram accounts and a fake Facebook, where I was constantly promoting venues and responding to customers.  This task was one of the easier ones, but it is vital for the venues to gain recognition and brand loyalty. Customers were very engaged with the social media accounts, and, by the end of my internship, I gained ten thousand followers. This was the most the company had seen in that short an amount of time. Secondly, I created landing pages and blog posts for the English version of YouBarcelona’s website at least three times a week. The goal was to increase our visibility on Google, drive more traffic to our websites, create more brand recognition, and improve our customer relationships. This task allowed me to be innovative in ways I didn’t know I could. Lastly, and this was one of the most tedious tasks, I translated web content for each day in English, Spanish, Catalan, German, French, and Italian. Since tourism is extremely important in Barcelona, it is crucial that we have a multilingual website that can build international relationships. I have little knowledge of these languages, however, which proved very difficult in the beginning.  By doing the translations I gained some basic knowledge of each language and more experience for the international aspect of my major.

Upon returning to the United States, I can honestly say I created the perfect major for myself. I was able to integrate my internship with my major and found that work wasn’t work anymore. I found myself enjoying the whole process. And through writing for social media, blogs, and the web, I enhanced my professional skills. In the future I can only grow more.

by Asha Chowdhury
Individualized Major: International Media and Promotion

Monika Coello’s Italian Experience

This past summer I spent six weeks in Florence, Italy through the UConn Business Summer program. I left Storrs with a little bit of excitement, a little bit of fear, and all the questions in the world about what these next six weeks would hold. At the time, I had just decided to become a double major and add Consumer Behavior to my nearly completed Psychology major. I decided that this experience would be the best way to truly know if I belonged in the business world. The program included two courses led by UConn faculty: “Business in Italy: International and Entrepreneurial Perspective” and “History of Culture and Food in Italy.”

While getting acquainted with the breathtaking city of Florence, my business course took me on interactive trips to six different businesses in the neighboring cities. From authentic paper marbling to a winery run from a historic Medici castle, my classmates and I experienced an eclectic collection of business settings. My first trip was to a pizza company that was unlike any other business we would visit. Contrary to the family-centered way of business that is common in Italy, this company had it eyes set on international expansion while maintaining authentic values. After a tour of the facility, the business executives presented their plans for expansion and engaged in an open discussion about the challenges and opportunities for their company and asked for our recommendations. It was after this trip that I knew I was in the right place.

Tuscan Vineyard
Tuscan Vineyard

As the weeks flew by, we were tasked with evaluating each business, giving our thoughts on what they did well and what we felt could be improved, and constantly comparing and contrasting the American way of business to that of Italians. Despite all of the papers and assignments, we were still able to travel and explore on our days off. As our classes only ran from Monday to Thursday, I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful island of Capri, the ruins of Pompeii, and the magnificent shore of the Adriatic Sea. Those six weeks abroad gave me one of the most memorable, beneficial, and absolutely fantastic experiences of my life. I may have arrived in Florence with apprehension, but I left with every assurance for which I could have asked.

Florentine Lunch
Florentine Lunch

Ariana Scurti, Social Entrepreneur

During the summer of 2015, I traveled to Guatemala with the Social Entrepreneur Corps through the 8-week UConn study abroad program. It was a fantastic experience and program, and I learned more during that time than in any other period of my life. Perfectly complementing my individualized major in International Relations (with a focus in Human Rights and Development) and my traditional major in Spanish, this program reaffirmed my desire to work in the human rights and economic development sector. We worked with students from all over the country and different universities such as UConn, Duke, Babson, Boston University, University of North Carolina, and Cornell. Our community partner, Soluciones Comunitarias, is run by absolutely amazing people, and we worked very closely with them during this whole process. They use the MicroConsignment Model (MCM), a sustainable and impactful social business plan that mirrors microfinance initiatives in many ways.

Our big group was divided into three different teams: Esperanza, Oportunidad, and Impacto. My team, Esperanza, focused on eye care and eye health—this entailed running and organizing free eye exams for the local communities and finding the correct glasses or other products for the clients. This was the first year that they implemented the SVOne (as seen in the picture below), a device that took pictures of the client’s eyes and read what they needed for a distance prescription. As a team, we created a final report of over 100-pages with deliverables and instructions on how to carry out an effective campaign with the SVOne. This included everything from how to create strong relationships with local eye doctors to a way to properly manage the product sales.


We worked five to six days a week, but on our days off we were able to travel, hike, and explore the local community. On a weekend with two days off, we climbed Volcán Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America. We made it to the peak to watch the sun rise over the volcanoes in the distance (see picture below). It was one of the hardest, but most incredible physical challenges I’ve ever experienced. At UConn, I continue to work with Social Entrepreneur Corps as a Campus Advisor because I truly believe in the work that they are doing and I hope to help them continue and improve upon their vision in any way possible.