Overcoming anxieties to learn a new language immersively in Siena, Italy

Author: Carolina Carpenetti

Carolina Carpenetti ’25 is a computer science major and Italian minor from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. During the summer of 2023, she traveled to Italy with the assistance of a Summer Language Abroad (SLA) Grant from the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures (CSLC). The center offers grants to cover immersive summer language learning opportunities and is a valuable partner with the Nanovic Institute in equipping students with European language skills.

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Carolina Carpenetti and friends attending Siena's biannual horse race, the Palio.

When I made the decision to attend Notre Dame, I knew from the outset that I wanted to study abroad. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and study in a foreign country was such an exciting prospect for me. Moreover, with the impressive statistic that over 70% of Notre Dame’s undergraduate population studies abroad, I knew that Notre Dame would be the perfect place to turn my dreams into reality. With this aspiration in mind, I applied for the Summer Language Abroad Grant through Notre Dame’s CSLC last fall semester with the intention of studying abroad in Italy. As an Italian minor, I thought studying abroad in Italy would be an indispensable opportunity to practice and improve my Italian language proficiency, and on a more personal note, Italy would allow me to explore and appreciate my cultural roots as someone with an Italian background.

Upon learning that I received the Summer Language Abroad Grant, I was beyond excited to travel to Italy. However, despite this excitement, I knew that I had one tough obstacle to overcome: anxiety. I have struggled with social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. Moreover, my anxiety is particularly severe when I have to leave my house for an extended period of time. For example, having to leave my home in Pennsylvania at the start of each fall semester can be very mentally taxing. With that in mind, I knew that spending these five weeks abroad would be challenging as well.

In the days leading up to my departure for Siena, an expected wave of intense anxious thoughts washed over me. These anxieties predominantly stemmed from knowing that I would be such a far distance from home. I am very close to my family, and I find an unparalleled sense of comfort when in their company. I could not immediately rely on my family during this exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, period. Furthermore, this anxiety was compounded by concerns regarding my Italian proficiency. To use my Italian skills in real-life situations was particularly nerve-wracking to me. I felt intimidated to speak Italian in the presence of native speakers. My communication skills have always presented a challenge, so I was apprehensive about speaking Italian to those who have spoken Italian all of their lives. Because of these anxieties, the time leading up to my program was particularly challenging.

However, to my relief, many of these anxieties and worries were soon swept away, due in large part to the amazing group of Notre Dame friends I encountered in Italy. I quickly formed tight connections with many of my peers. These newfound friendships provided me a source of comfort during my time away from my home and family. In addition, this group of friends had also encouraged me to break out of my comfort zone and engage in Italian conversations with others. We were able to support and assist each other when navigating situations where communication was necessary, such as ordering at restaurants, using transportation, and shopping at grocery stores.

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A scenic view overlooking Siena, Italy.

My study abroad experience became a turning point in my life. It was proof that anxiety did not control me, and it could not prevent me from embracing this opportunity fully. Despite the initial struggles I faced, I adapted quickly to my new environment and found incredible support through my newfound friends. Their presence and encouragement helped me flourish, and I am immensely proud of how I managed to overcome my anxiety and make the most of this enriching experience abroad.

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