Virginia Commonwealth University’s efforts to “Make it Real” encourage learning during all parts of life, both in and out of the classroom, and VCU students, faculty and staff are doing just that. The “Where in the World is VCU?” blog series follows members of the VCU community across the world highlighting their interesting adventures and experiences to show just how dynamic VCU Rams really are!
Can you start by telling me your name and title?
Annie Gao, China Programs Coordinator with the Global Education Office and graduate student in the Master of Product Innovation (MPI) program with the da Vinci Center for Innovation.
Where in the world are you this summer?
Turin, Italy. I was there with other MPI students to attend the European Innovation Academy (EIA), which counts as a required course in the MPI program.
What has your experience been like? What was your favorite part? What was your biggest challenge?
It has been a very eye-opening experience. I was able to spend three weeks with over 320 ambitious college students and young professionals from over 60 countries, working on start-up business ideas to solve a variety of problems.
My favorite part is to connect with people with vastly diverse backgrounds, learning about their stories and their ways of doing business. Also, I was introduced to a lot of areas that I never heard of, such as making eco-friendly leather from an indian tea, or creating a user friendly therapy experience for kids with facial muscle problems.
While diversity is the highlight of the experience, it is also a big source of stress, especially when I had to navigate the public transportation system in a foreign language and dealing with strikes and delays in schedules. But luckily, Google was very useful, and people who I asked for help from were very eager to help.
What did you gain from this experience? Do you feel like you grew personally/professionally?
I gained a lot of leadership skills, interpersonal skills and cultural competence as I was leading an international team. I received a lot of feedback about what I did right as a team facilitator and what could be improved. Those learnings can be applied to work directly in coordinating events and interaction with students.
Also, it reveals my strength and weakness as a project manager and entrepreneur, so that I can be more cautious about developing certain skills in my graduate study.
What has it been like staying in a different area? What are some of the differences between here, and there?
It took sometime for me to get used to the schedule, such as having dinner at 9:30 p.m. and going to bed soon after that. But it was a great bonding experience when all of us were dealing with it together. We cooked together and had several family-style meals, also went out to dinner and ran in a open ground in downtown Turin at mid-night. It was very exciting.
There was a lot of differences. We had to rely on public transportation a lot, and I didn’t know where to buy bus tickets. It was hard to find ice coffee, but gelato places are everywhere (which I enjoyed very much!). People generally work less hours, shops open late and close early. People take coffee breaks during the day.
What advice would you give anyone looking for similar opportunities to study abroad?
Study abroad is a really good way to get to know the culture of a place. Once there, spend with locals, learn their ways of living, working, and relaxing, instead of running between landmarks. I personally like it [spending time with locals] over the tourist groups much more. It is the human connect one makes in those study abroad trips that makes the experience so special.