Video: Gelato, Piazzas, and Deaf Accommodations in Italy

Italian piazza as seen from above
"I've been to Italy and back!" declares Alison Ecker, a graduate of the University of Oregon, where she studied abroad. "I can do anything!"

For Alison, Italy was all about taking the time to savor simple experiences, whether people-watching on a leisurely evening in the piazza to lingering in Italian conversation with friends over a glass of wine. As a person who is hard of hearing, Alison worked with the coordinators of her program to arrange for accommodations that would help ensure that she had the same opportunity to engage in the classroom lessons and discussions, furthering her skills and confidence in the Italian language.

Prior to her studies abroad, Alison traveled to Costa Rica with Mobility International USA in 2009 as part of its "Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Rights Leadership Exchange Program" for young people with disabilities, which emphasized the importance of self-advocacy and engaging with people from other cultures and backgrounds. No doubt she took these lessons to heart in Italy and will continue to do so going forward!

Video Transcript

ALISON: I just remember getting back and I just walked down the street with this little thought in my mind like "Wow, I've been to Italy and back! I can do anything!" It really changed my perspective on a lot of things.

<<VOICE OFF-SCREEN: Why Italy?

ALISON: I had a really good experience with my Italian language teacher my first two years of taking Italian. They always encouraged me to go abroad and were always talking about opportunities to study abroad and different programs at the [University of Oregon]. Obviously most of them were either Italian or had studied abroad in Italy themselves so it was all just really exciting to me, and it was all about making it real. Reading about the language and the culture in books just isn't the same so I had that goal ultimately, to go to whatever country of the language I was studying, which happened to be Italy.

<<What was the program like?

The program was three and a half months. I went for a semester. I could have stayed for a whole year, but it was too expensive. The town that we were in, Ferrara, has several famous artists that were very well-known in the Renaissance. We also did site visits to places where these authors lived. There was a castle in the middle of the town where one of the authors lived.

<<Were there other hard of hearing people on your program?

Nope, I was the only person with any kind of disability in my group. But... they were actually really good at accommodating me with everything we did. I was totally blown away by their support, friendliness, and positive attitude towards doing it. And their proactiveness in communicating with me before the program actually started, so that was all great. I had brought my FM system, so my little microphone that I use in my classes.

I gave that to all my teachers. I also had an Italian notetaker which worked out really nicely. It was a little bit tricky to find someone. The program coordinators were looking for an Italian student. Obviously, it would need to be someone who knew Italian well and also the content of the course. and um...So they found a woman who had kind of a background in what I was studying, and she was also a very good notetaker, so it had to be a combination of those factors, but I lucked out on that one. And she also became one of my friends during the program.

<<What was it like coming back to the United States?

It definitely gave me a lot of confidence and... It totally changes your perspective on everything once you've been abroad, and that was my first experience being out of the country. I really just kind of dived right into it. I didn't just go on a short little vacation. I wanted the whole deal, the day to day business of being in another country longer than a week. So I really just wanted it all, I dived right into it.

<<What do you miss most about Italy?

[Laughing] I miss the gelato, I miss the shoe stores... Italians know their shoes! I miss the little piazzas and having a central place in town where everybody sort of gathers, and sort of leisurely walks around and looks at stores and talks, and everybody eats ice cream, two, three times a day.

<<Did your Italian improve?

Definitely, especially when I drank wine! [Laughing] But I just really need to practice. It's totally one thing to see it and write it, versus speaking it, and that's what I got a lot of in Italy - practicing speaking it.

I'm Alison, and study abroad is for me.

<<NARRATOR: Is study abroad for you? Visit www.miusa.org/ncde

Edited photo courtesy of Lee Coursey, Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/4dYos5