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Joseph Smith ‘23, Explores Italy, Independence and Self-Expression

Joseph Smith is pictured in the center of a mountainous landscape. Dressed in a red, purple and green floral shirt, Joseph is smiling among a backdrop of scattered white square houses mixed in with trees. The town sits at the base of a mountain, with ridges visible towards the top of the photo. Trees grow at the base of the mountain, and get more scarce as the mountain rises in elevation. There is a small space of sky peeking out from around the top-righthand corner of the photo. 

Program and Location:

Spring, Lorenzo de’ Medici; Florence, Italy


Major: Fashion and Textile ManagementFashion Development and Product Management

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I’ve always had an interest in studying history and other cultures, so it felt like the perfect opportunity to understand and experience different customs abroad. It also seemed like a great chance for me to work on self-discovery and self-reliance.

What did you learn about yourself?

One thing I learned is that I am much more capable on my own than I had given myself credit for in the past. I was able to form an entirely new social circle on a different continent, which seemed like a daunting task, but was an immensely rewarding experience. 

I also made a lot of progress in understanding and owning my identity. As a nonbinary and gay person, I have struggled with fully embracing my identity throughout my life. Traveling abroad gave me the opportunity to invest in the person I was becoming and embrace the entire range of gender that I feel internally.

Joseph Smith is photographed above a view of the ocean. Standing on an overlook leaning against a stone railing to the right of the center, Joseph is smiling with the backdrop of the ocean, and in the distance is a mountain with clouds collecting along the top of the mountain. To the right of Joseph, another mountain is in closer view with trees along the top of the view. 

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

Experiencing and learning the culture and history of Europe. Growing up in the U.S., it can be difficult to understand the true depth of tangible history abroad. While I was staying in Italy, it was impossible not to recognize its complex past seen in all your surroundings.

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

Don’t limit yourself based on outdated beliefs both internally and externally. Allow yourself to grow and embrace change as it comes throughout this experience. 

Another big piece of advice is to not always rely on others! It’s very important to have a community and safe space with others, but make sure you are not limiting your own goals/destinations based on whether or not people will be joining you.

Six people sit in an inflatable raft, with three on each side of the boat. Each person is dressed in black wetsuits, yellow life vests and white safety helmets. The boat is centered in the photo, sitting on green water with trees and mountains rising on the left and right sides of the boat. 

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

Classes abroad were quite different than I expected, and I actually preferred the instruction method in Italy. Rather than having classes spaced out across the week, you typically only met once a week for a class. In return, the classes were typically two-and-a-half to three hours long. This type of schedule allowed me to condense my schooling to two days a week. This gave me five days with the opportunity for traveling, exploring my city and socializing! Additionally, the courses had much smaller classes that allowed a greater ability of forming a personal relationship with your instructors.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

I identify as both nonbinary and gay, so studying abroad was a great opportunity for me to get in touch with any parts of my inner identity that were difficult to express at home. Given this chance, I worked on empowering myself in this new environment through embracing my gender identity in the way I dressed and presented myself. I no longer felt confined by the social box I was restricted to my entire life at home, and I was fortunately able to bring this confidence back with me.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

Take this time to get to know yourself. Forget the social norms you brought from home and take the opportunity to make the changes you want to see for your future self. Also remember it’s not a rush and identity can be fluid. It is alright if your feelings change. The beautiful part of learning your identity is the journey and experiences that bring you to find yourself.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

I found great support through my friends and roommates. I was very fortunate to become close friends with each person I lived with. This made my home life very enjoyable and comfortable. The dynamic in our household made it clear that we were there for one another should we ever need it. This also helped form relationships with more depth.

Would you do it again?


This story was originally published by the NC State Study Abroad Office.