Black Hills State University student Kaitlin Schneider got more than she expected during her fall semester studying in Italy. Schneider, psychology major from Sturgis, learned a new language, immersed herself in a new culture and broadened her understanding of the world and herself.
Although she’s only been back a few weeks, Schneider is already thinking about a return visit. “I have to go back and visit someday. It has become such a part of me. It has transformed my life.”
Schneider had always been interested in traveling to Europe; however, her motivation increased after her brother, recent BHSU graduate Nolan Schneider, and his fiancée Rebecca Clausen, BHSU biology and Spanish major from Sturgis, returned from a summer trip to Spain. “When I got that experience and exposure through them, I got this drive that I had to do this too.”
She spoke with Rusty Wienk, BHSU international program coordinator, and searched several different programs before finding one that offered a psychology course that she needed to graduate this spring.
During her fall semester at Florence University of the Arts, Schneider took cross-cultural psychology, Italian language, wine appreciation, and garden and arts which was a history lesson of the city and its politics and the culture that has evolved from it, she said. “The garden is such an important aspect of Florence and its history.”
In her cross-cultural psychology course, Schneider utilized much of what she learned in her research methods and social psychology courses at BHSU. “My exposure with both of those classes helped me be one of the top students,” she said. “I already knew a lot of what the teacher was talking about. When she asked questions, I was able to facilitate discussions and understand the research she was talking about.”
“It is good when your home University is setting you up for success all around the world.”
While her classmates were all Americans, Schneider spent time outside of the classroom immersing herself in the culture of the city. “I started meeting more Italians. It was a great experience. I got to practice my Italian and learn so much more about the culture from the people I met.”
One of her favorite memories in Italy happened in Cinque Terre when she and some classmates were trying to take shelter from the pouring rain under a restaurant’s umbrella. The owner of the restaurant came out with a carafe of wine and a big platter of octopus. The owner said it was his birthday and wanted the group to celebrate with him. “He just kept bringing out dishes of beautiful seafood,” she said. “He fed 12 students for free. It was that kind of generosity that I often ran into.”
Schneider explored Italy, mostly on bike, and would often communicate with friends and family about the amazing things she was seeing and eating. “I really appreciated having the experience alone. It teaches you so much about survival and what you are like. It is important to learn who you are; you don’t get that until you are alone for four months.”
Aside from touring Florence, Schneider spent time in Rome, Venice and all over the Tuscan hillside. She also spent her fall break in France visiting Grace Boeun, a foreign exchange student she became friends with at BHSU.
Boeun studied at BHSU last year and is currently studying in Lyon, France.
“It was really exciting because I got to go see her in Lyon and then we went to Paris together. It was an absolutely amazing experience. At one point we were sitting at this table with her friends, and she is from Korea, I’m from America, there was a boy from Austria and a boy from Morocco … we were all sitting at this table together in Paris. It was absolutely mindboggling.”
Schneider will graduate in May and plans to pursue her master’s with a goal of eventually becoming a university professor. She said a big factor in her desire to follow that path was Dr. Aris Karagiorgakis, BHSU assistant professor of psychology.
“I have fallen in love with the academic setting. I love college,” she said noting that she also wants to continue her involvement with research. “Research has become more of a hobby than a requirement for school.”
For now, Schneider will continue working on her research with plans to attend some conferences and publish a paper for her senior project. And, plan for her next trip abroad.