Clair Moonen ’24

Program: Italy Semester & Brazil Spring Embedded

Major: Political Science

Minor: Communication and Ancient Mediterranean Studies

Athletic Team/Club: Lacrosse

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

I chose to study abroad because the world is so wide and just waiting for you to be a traveler not a tourist. The vast study abroad programs led me to pick CSB+SJU as my undergrad home, and I knew I either wanted to live a Mama Mia life or eat pasta everyday. With Greco-Roman dividing into two programs, I was torn. My family didn’t want me to miss out on the opportunity and wish I had gone years down the road. My Bennie and Johnnie cousins sat me down at Christmas and we went through all the programs and decided then and there I was going to either Athens or Rome nonnegotiable. I studied a month in Brazil and loved the experience and couldn’t get enough of seeing the world! I was between Greece and Italy and overall Italy was going to challenge me more friends and academics wise so I chose the challenge. Italy was outside of my major so much so that the classes I took even made a new minor for me that I would have never gone for on campus in the states- Ancient Mediterranean Studies. Italy felt more interconnected to the EU and I knew I wanted to explore other countries- Italy gave me easy access to that. The Italian culture is so gentle and easy going and I heard from the 2021 fall semester students how pivotal studying in Italy was for them. I am extremely involved on campus and studying abroad in Italy gave me a break from on campus commitments and a new sense of responsibility. I was no longer a senator, barista, lacrosse goalie, sorority chair or poli sci student but a student of the world. That freedom is unreal.

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your program that made a lasting impression.

A cultural experience that I had on the program was that I was one of I think 3 students who did a solo trip. I went to Berlin, Germany by myself over Thanksgiving and that taught me soooo many lessons. Having to navigate a country for a tight 48 hours where you don’t speak the language, have to figure out the train system, want to hit all the landmarks, and are trying to live on a budget was challenging.
Everyone had their families come visit and here I was having 12 hours of travel with two different layovers trying to blend in as a mysterious local in each new airport. I finally flew into Berlin at 10:30PM and didn’t get to the central station until 12:30 midnight. I wish I was kidding but it took me 30 minutes to find the exit out of this train station it had what seemed like 20 floors and no exit signs. I was googling and even texting a German student that studied at my high school in 9th grade on how to get out of this train station. After that was a 10-minute walk to my hostel through a park that, surprise, housed a graveyard. The world cup was going on and the streets were vibrant and loud. Once safely in my hostel I ate a schnitzel, turned on Greys Anatomy and tried to not be discouraged. Exploring Germany there were tears, calls to home, texts to our director and a few apps downloaded but you learn to overcome and adapt. Once the fear is gone, solo travel was full of surreal happiness. Callie, Haley and I jokingly had a saying, “if you don’t touch it, it’s not real” and the philosophy of being in the moment, taking it all in and FEELING live history was memorable. I was able to touch the Parthenon in Greece, Sagrada Familia in Spain, Big Ben in London, The original Benedictine Monastery in Subbiacco Italy, and felt history come to life. I touched the Berlin Wall and the whole time I was walking past retired tanks and army vehicles I thought- an American could not be standing here safely a few decades ago. In the United States, we don’t get to see the first-hand effects of World Wars and political unrest to the degree that you get to witness abroad. It was insane to be able to see bomb craters, the holocaust memorial and so much more. I look back and think “I did that.”
I’ll never forget learning how human nature is universal. People were so kind to help me with directions, if it was late I was asked if I was safe, especially if you make an effort to understand their culture people give you care right back. I overcame social anxieties real quick having to ask any girl my age, dad or even someone’s grandparents to take a picture of me. I almost missed the train to take me to the airport and a man literally threw his body between the closing doors while I ran at them so I would be able to hop on. My last stop before the airport I decided to visit a Christmas market and right away was swung around dancing with the town like I was a German native myself. Without the flexibility of the Italy program, I wouldn’t have been able to grow independently as I did.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

My study abroad experience was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Especially at this age, there are so many unknown variables and outcomes but the risk is worth taking. I met people on this trip that I otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths with on campus and a few I consider some of my best friends. My study abroad experiences provided independence and a unique support system of Bennies and Johnnies that had the same fears and goals as me. Not to mention the community of CSB+SJU that TRANSCENDS oceans and continents. I was able to visit Bennies and Johnnies in Greece and the United Kingdom, growing new and old relationships along the way. We got to show off our new homes away from home and confide in friends that were on different trips as well. Without this opportunity I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to travel across let alone TO Europe anytime in the near future. CSB+SJU sets you up to thrive abroad and will work with you to get to where you want to go. I rely on grants and aid to go to school and the Center for Global Education reached out various times to inform me about all the financial opportunities and scholarships available to me. As someone for whom this experience didn’t seem financially feasible until the deadline- I decided ultimately that money can be earned back but this opportunity was once in a lifetime. I was so lucky to have family, friends, and a college that supported me every step of the way. Not a lot of people can say they learned about Pompeii and the next day hike the volcano and visit the town itself. I can’t imagine being the same person I am today if I didn’t go abroad. The food, culture, sports, activities, academic opportunities, and adventures are unforgettable. My experience abroad was just like the movies- full of challenges, and scary new obstacles but always a happy ending. It was important to be to just exist, dance in the middle of a restaurant, try that weird-looking seafood, jump into that freezing cold pool, climb a literal mountain, and belt off-key karaoke every Wednesday night. Italy gave me so much and I feel like it will always have a piece of my heart.

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

Studying abroad is beneficial in so many ways because the program is so multifaceted. Personally, you learn the language and culture from people who have been living it their whole lives and truly WANT you to succeed even when you slip up and say ‘gracias’, not ‘grazie’. It makes you want to learn and prove to yourself that you are capable, which you soon realize you’re capable of so much more than you think. Academically, you aren’t in the classroom most of the time, you’re seeing, feeling, hearing, and experiencing the things you’re learning about. Not only is Rome your classroom, but the country and continent all serve as learning spaces. You find yourself reading ancient engravings, ziplining the coast of Brazil, translating Italian menus, even quoting political theorist Machiavelli to your class as you stand before his grave. It is unimaginable how much your broad worldview expands. You get to see history in real time and apply it to your life in that exact moment. What can be more beneficial learning about the Benedictine values than learning them in the caves where Saint Benedict prayed and built a foundation our college in Minnesota is structured around?

What advice can you offer for CSB+SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

The best advice that I can give to CSB+SJU students considering studying abroad is live the life you’d regret not living. Places and experiences don’t have to just be saved Pinterest boards and someday maybe’s- go out and LIVE it. Do what scares you and go outside of your comfort zone because the reward is tenfold. Always put yourself first because you are your most important asset, so protect your mind, health and body. Don’t worry if your friends are all back at campus going to tailgates and football games because they will get FOMO from you not the other way around. In four short months you’ll be back in Saint Joe so go eat all the pasta, all the gelato, walk more than you ever have in your whole live and get lost on a few trains.