By Marco DiLeonardo
“Allllllora, mi chiamo Marco…”
“Allora”, an Italian filler word while in thought, is a common expression through which I began the most challenging and stimulating six months of my life. During the spring semester of 2017, I studied abroad in Bologna, Italy in an intensive, fully immersive program known as BCSP, or the Bologna Consortial Studies Program.
“Allora” often conveys a sentiment of uncertainty in the present moment, which as I discovered first-hand, is the Italian way. As the only student at the University of Pennsylvania studying in Bologna, uncertainty dominated my first few weeks in Italy. Making new friends, finding an apartment, and attending university classes challenged me to venture out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in my family’s patria and a city I would grow to love. Born of Italian immigrants from Abruzzo, I desired to reconnect with my roots and promote my understanding of the “old-country” way of life. Through an amazing network of American friends from the University of Notre Dame, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Illinois, along with a group of welcoming roommates from Lecce and Salerno in southern Italy, I lived a multi-cultural semester dominated by Bologna’s hallmark features: tortellini and towers.
The International Relations program at Penn provides the foundation for one to conquer uncertainty and mature both professionally and personally. Through an individualized and rigorous core curriculum, I was able to attend unique and dynamic courses at the University of Bologna. The most challenging and surely rewarding, however, was Maurizio Ambrosini’s “Sociology of Migration.” Through my heritage, I have always preoccupied myself with the movement of peoples across borders in search for a better life: my parents pursued that path. In Professor Ambrosini’s class, I executed an extensive research project in which I studied Bolognese youth refugee populations through one-on-one interviews. At the end of the semester, I presented and defended my findings in front of the leading migration scholars in Italy. In my senior thesis, I study Italian migration policy in response to refugee crises. Do the policies my parents experienced still exist or have they transformed? Through my research project, I came across extensive data, both qualitative and quantitative, which I have incorporated into my thesis.
While my research and university classes were influential and demanding in my abroad experience, they did not prevent me from undertaking other adventures. BCSP and the International Relations program allowed me to not only pursue challenging coursework, but to also travel across Italy and Europe. As I embarked on my Bolognese journey, I pursued a different study abroad experience. Rather than visiting the typical tourist sites (as many do), I entered each trip with the desire to live like a local. I was fortunate to visit several cities and countries in Europe. Among them were visiting a high school friend in Paris, attending Frühlingsfest in Berlin, and a road trip through the backwoods of Slovenia. Each individual trip enriched my experience and has led me to become a more independent person, while simultaneously creating unforgettable memories.
“Allora” can imply two very different notions to the listener. One, can suggest a stutter, an instance of confusion, or a search for direction, much like my nervous, shaky introduction on the first day of class. The other can represent stalwart confidence, demonstrating preparation and poise, evident at the end of my tenure in Bologna during my research exposition. My extensive travel itinerary, coursework, and research represent the culmination of my time abroad: I conquered the uncertainty of living across the world from home. Each time I ordered an espresso, sang "Take It Easy" by The Eagles, and presented thought-provoking analysis, I engaged in a semester-long moment which has imparted an indelible mark on my college experience.
Marco DiLeonardo is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he studies International Relations