Experience Italy: growing valuable skills with a new language

16 February 2024
Learning Italian through cultural immersion
Stepping out of your comfort zone to study a new language overseas can lead to a rich learning experience. Arts and Science student, Adeline Chai, shares about her time of growth in Italy when she embarked on an intensive in-country unit.

Since 2019, more than 180 University of Sydney students across various faculties and schools immersed in an intensive language overseas program in Italy. As part of the Open Learning Environment (OLE), undergraduate students can experience the local culture first-hand and acquire new language skills with partner universities around the world.

Media and Communications and Psychological Science student, Adeline Chai, recounts her time learning Italian as a language beginner with host institution, University of Padova, which expanded her horizons beyond language and cultural knowledge.

Adeline Chai in Italy

Adeline Chai in Italy for the OLE In-Country Experience unit

What was it like learning Italian in Italy with an overseas partner university?

Learning Italian at the University of Padova was a surreal experience for me. I have always struggled with learning languages, so I felt that this experience was going to place me outside of my comfort zone. We had an amazing tutor who made the experience easier and better. She was so encouraging and I never felt silly for asking questions.

Why did you choose to learn Italian?

I chose to learn Italian because it sounds beautiful. It also has such a rich history embedded. It made me think of the arbitrary difference between a language and a dialect (since Italians speak many dialects among themselves depending on the city they are from still, while “Italian” is closest to the Florentine dialect), and how what we deem as “normal” is influenced by many cultural and social factors. I also found that learning Italian helped me connect with the locals more.

What useful skills and new perspectives did you gain?

I learnt to trust myself more. I was initially afraid that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to a new place, a new language and a new country. I believe even more now in the quote, “half a life is a life you didn’t live”. I am going to be more adventurous now in trying things that I am afraid of.

Going on an intensive in-country experience made me realise the importance of venturing out of my comfort zone to learn and understand new languages and cultures, so we can appreciate and embrace them.
Adeline Chai, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Media and Communications) and Psychological Science major

Why is it important to expand your linguistic and cultural horizons?

We live in a world where people travel and live in places different than the ones that they grew up in. The experiences I had in Italy affirmed that, as humans, we have more similarities than differences regardless of where we came from. I firmly believe that learning the diversity of languages and cultures will help us to connect with one another, and should thus be a personal responsibility to be open-minded and enthusiastic about other cultures.

What advice would you give to other students about learning a new language overseas?

Know your own goals and limits. It can be easy to get carried away with trying to make the most of the experience, but there will be days where you just don’t feel like exploring or you might be struggling more than usual mentally – and I think it’s okay to take a step back during some of those days. Don’t be afraid to seek help from others or even share your thoughts when you feel that way. It would be a shame to waste any opportunity we get to connect with others simply because we do not understand them or their language.

Worth 6 credit points, In-Country Experience units are open to undergraduate students with little to no language experience to immerse in a new language and culture with partner institutions around the world.         

Browse Adeline’s photo album and watch her video of her experience in Italy on the School of Languages and Cultures’ Facebook page.

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