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Italian Student Interns Bridge Two Cultures with OU in Arezzo Living Experience

OU in Arezzo, the University of Oklahoma's study center in Italy, offers students the opportunity to study abroad alongside their OU classmates and study with OU professors in a beautiful facility that feels like home. But they also have many opportunities to immerse in Italian culture and interact with locals. One way they do this is through a special cross-cultural internship and living experience program with the University of Siena (UNISI), which allows UNISI students to intern at OUA and, if they select the living experience option, to also live alongside American students in the Rooney Family Center (RFC) for one semester/summer. This program benefits both the Italian students and the American students in countless ways, promoting friendship and understanding of cultural differences.


UNISI interns are typically undergraduates studying languages who are interested in interacting regularly with English speakers and improving their skills. Interns collaborate with OU in Arezzo student services and administrative offices, and their duties include supporting students as they navigate Arezzo and adapt to Italian culture; translating, interpreting and helping with site visits or events; helping produce OUA English-language materials; promoting OUA initiatives to other UNISI students; and creating social media content. The UNISI Living Experience interns not only live and work with OUA students, but they are also included in all OUA activities and events.


"The UNISI students who intern at OUA provide a unique component to the study abroad experience for OU students," says Lucio Bianchi, OUA student services coordinator. "UNISI students are the bridge that spans two different cultures. Aside from providing cultural competency opportunities, they quickly become friends and mentors to OU students. By the end of the semester, both OU and UNISI students are bound by common interests and experiences, resulting in a newfound appreciation for cultural diversity and inclusion."


That is certainly true of this year's living experience interns, Xiaodan "Elena" Dong and Azzurra Bonaccolta, who agreed to write a bit about their experience living and working at OUA – the memorable moments, lessons learned and friendships forged. Read on to hear more from them, and to learn more about study abroad at OU in Arezzo, visit arezzo.ou.edu.


Xiaodan Dong (Elena)


Hello everyone, I am Xiaodan Dong but everyone calls me Elena! I am currently studying Languages for Intercultural Communication (more precisely, English and Chinese) at the University of Siena in Arezzo. I have been working as an intern at OUA the since the beginning of fall semester, but that is not all…I am living with the American students, too!

It all started with a message from a university colleague: there was an opportunity to live and to work in the RFC structure. Obviously, I applied for it. When will such a juicy opportunity, where I can put into practice what I have learned, come back again? I am a very shy person who cannot often show her determination, especially in an interview where you have to talk face-to-face; for this reason, I was very surprised to see that they had chosen me.


I was interested in the living experience program and for the internship at the University of Oklahoma in Arezzo because I believed they would improve my communication skills — and they have. Working with lovely people, I have improved in both my English level and my communication and organization skills, which were pretty poor before this internship. Moreover, I wanted to meet new people, especially people who speak other languages than mine, and make new friends.


I had never lived in a residence with other people before this experience. I was excited but at the same time anxious because I did not know if I would live up to the expectations. Fortunately, everything went well: the internship was interesting and stimulating and the living experience was unforgettable! I have met fantastic people who, with friendliness and kindness, have accompanied me through this beautiful experience. I have enjoyed living with American students who all, despite their differences in appearance, personalities, customs and so on, want to learn more about different languages and cultures, want to make new friends from all around the world and want to have fun in every moment of their life — just like me! I would like to mention my roommate M., whose sweetness has melted my heart. I will never forget her beautiful personality and her stunning outfits, or the day when, during a difficult time of hers, she looked for my presence as if I was the only one who can calm her down. Plus, the staff of OUA: wonderful! They always do their best to make you feel at home. I remember one time when I was too shy to take a piece of cake in the kitchen, and one of the staff told me: “You can serve yourself! You’re at home!” I was so moved I was going to cry for these simple words.


During the last months, I have met people who I will miss so much once this experience is over. I have participated in various interesting events, had fun and always learned something. I have made new friends from my university who I would have never met otherwise. To sum up, this is an experience I will never forget, which gave me all I expected to receive — if not more. Thank you, OUA!


Azzurra Bonaccolta


Hi, I’m Azzurra! I’m from Sicily and I study languages at the University of Siena. I am an intern at the University of Oklahoma in Arezzo, and I’m also doing the living experience; therefore I will live here for three months in total. I discovered the possibility of doing this experience from my university, and I decided to apply because I wanted to improve my English knowledge and work skills. I also love to meet new people and learn more about cultures different from mine. Here at OUA, I met lovely people and I loved hanging out with them — talking about life, watching movies together, doing activities and discovering more about ourselves.


I’ve been living here from one month and a half and I have already had many memorable experiences. One of the most memorable things that happened to me was developing an awesome and strong friendship with an international student who’ll be staying at OUA for one year. When we met each other for the first time, we immediately got along wonderfully and I’m absolutely sure that in the future we’ll keep in touch with each other.


Thanks to Elena and Azzurra for sharing their experiences — we're so grateful they've chosen to join the OUA family!

If you're interested in becoming an OUA student as well, visit arezzo.ou.edu to learn more about program options and how to apply.