Professor Nonie Wanger, Manhattan College
Director of Study Abroad Program
How did your teaching career begin?
Well originally I wanted to be an architect, but since I grew up with the French language, I decided to become a teacher. I like teaching, it's really a passion for me. I love to see the impact it has on my students. Especially seeing students that I had in a class in their freshman year, and then having them in another class junior or senior year and seeing how much they've grown. I teach French and Italian in the Modern Language and Literatures department. I've also been the director of study abroad at Manhattan College for 35 years now, and seeing the impact that the program has on students who have never even been out of their neighborhood is really amazing.
What brought you to Florence?
About 20 years ago we decided we wanted a program in Italy, and we thought about Rome, but decided it was just too big of a city. We chose Florence for several reasons. First because of the Renaissance history and art that it has: it's the city of Dante. Also because it isn't that big, it allows the students to become part of the fabric of the city. We were looking for a school to host our students and our program, and that's when we found the Istituto Europeo. My colleague visited the school and said that it was perfect, that it was small, right next to the Duomo, and that we would get great attention from the administration and teachers. So we decided to bring Manhattan College here. It was an excellent choice, since we have been teaching courses here for 20 years now.
How has the program changed in the past 20 years?
It started with very few students. Originally it was designed for students who had just finished the beginner or intermediate Italian courses to continue their learning here. The first year we had seven students, and this year we have 19 students in two classes. In past years, when we have had four courses besides the language course, we have had more than 30 students. Florence's summer study abroad program is the most popular out of the ones we offer. I think it is simply because they talk to each other about it and spread the word. We also have a lot of students from Italian backgrounds that want to make a connection with the country. Students from all five colleges of our university (Art, Science, Education, Business, and Engineering) come to study here in Florence. One of the best things for me is when students tell me how much the study abroad program has impacted them. I was just emailed by a girl who studied here two years ago and is returning now to work for a tour company.
What do you think is the most important thing that students get out of the study abroad experience?
They understand the differences in culture, and that not everyone thinks the way they do. Different cultures do things differently, but ultimately we all have the same goal in life. Students also discover themselves when they study abroad. They learn to be more independent, to negotiate situations, and they learn tolerance with each other and the outside world. This will help them in their future jobs too, to help them think from different points of view. The best way to learn from this experience is to fully engulf themselves in the culture and in the language. Students should break from home, and learn about the city and culture they are in. They get to see the world differently and to use that in their own lives.
We wondered what some of the students from Manhattan College's program thought about Florence and the study abroad experience, so we interviewed two students attending classes here at Istituto Europeo.
Student Interviews: Matthew Chiaramonte and Anna Champagne
Why did you choose to come to Florence?
M: I'm going to be a senior, and I wanted to study abroad at least once. Also, my family is from Italy so I wanted to learn about the culture.
A: I've never been to Europe before, and I had a friend who studied here for two semesters and he told me about all the experiences he had, all the people he met, and everything sounded so great that I decided I wanted to come here too.
How are you enjoying Italy so far?
M: I like Florence a lot, and also the South where my family is from. In my free time I just like hanging out with my friends, going to get coffee at a bar. Basically every week we have a trip too, so I've been to Rome, Pisa, Amalfi Coast, and we're going to Siena this week. It keeps us really busy.
A: It was a big culture shock initially, but after a couple of days being here I started exploring and walking around more. I want to see all the little streets and try different foods. I don't like having a destination, I prefer just wandering around.
What are some of the cultural differences you've noticed?
M: They dress differently, I guess more elegantly. When I went to visit my cousins who live in Italy, it was interesting because they see us differently. We're related, but we live in different places which makes our lifestyles different.
A: How people greet each other is very different. Everyone is so friendly here, especially compared to New Yorkers. They're also friendly to tourists and are eager to help which is something that i'm not used to at home.
What are your favorite things about Florence?
M: I like that you can walk everywhere. Everything is within like 15 minutes walking which is great. I also like the food of course. My favorite thing I've had is the Florentine steak which was amazing!
A: This past week I just went up to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset over Florence and it was amazing. I also love the gelato.
When you go home, what are you going to tell your friends?
M: First off, I'll tell them to definitely go. I've had so much fun, it feels like I've been here for two months not just three weeks. Everyone should study abroad if they can.
A: I'm going to tell them to go abroad, they have to. It's scary at first, but everything about it is worth it. It's important to try to break out of your comfort zone, like trying to break the language barrier. The experience is great!
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