by Robert Privitera
In 6th grade, a twiggy-looking boy with brown curls down to his shoulders stood in Mrs. Lynch’s world history class holding a papier-mâché volcano hastily crafted the night before. “Behold Mount Vesuvius overlooking the city of Pompeii” I said. Photos of unearthed ruins littered the poster board behind me. I spoke with such certainty and passion for a land I could only imagine. My young middle-schooler mind had no way of knowing where in the world Pompeii was, or Italy for that matter, but it made no difference to me. I was a young kid freshly fascinated by the realm of culture more exotic than my own. As I type this reflection, the same Mount Vesuvius I emulated with wet newspaper and a Sprite bottle can be seen through my office window emerging through the fog that sits upon the Gulf of Naples. Compared to that 6th grade version of myself I’m a good bit taller, just as twiggy-looking, and above all still just as fascinated as I was by the world beyond my hometown.
I am currently studying abroad completing my senior level internship at Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy doing the work I feel I was born to do. My passions for psychology, teaching, and people have come together for a once in lifetime internship opportunity thousands of miles from my home and family in Niagara Falls, New York. In my junior year of college at SUNY Alfred State, I started working for a team designed to combat and respond to student mental health crises. When a student is thought to be at risk of taking their life, they get a knock on their door by me. From the time of that first knock until the student promises their safety, I am committed to making sure that someone’s son or daughter will be on this earth the next day. It’s challenging work, but it’s what I was made for.
As a relatively new and smaller organization, Sant’Anna Institute is only just beginning to explore the policies and procedures that they need to combat the epidemic of declining college student mental health. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high amongst college age individuals, and higher education institutions need to be ready to help students now more than ever. With this in mind, I find an incredible amount of purpose working for Sant’Anna and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students. I’m using my past experience in crisis intervention and peer mentoring in a way that uses my strengths to add something to my organization that has never been explored here before.
On my work days, I create trainings to educate staff on how mental health plays into a student’s life, I write protocols for helping students in need, and help coordinate professional trainings to teach my colleagues how they can save a life the same way I can. On my off days, I explore the beautiful city of Sorrento, I immerse myself in a culture I am privileged enough to experience, and I take pictures in front of the Roman Colosseum for my mom to post on Facebook.
Studying abroad is an incredibly powerful experience. I would have never thought I would be lucky enough to explore the world and my professional self in the same setting. Each day is as rewarding as the last if you take the time to appreciate what you have. The people I’ve met, the handful of Italian greetings and pleasantries I’ve learned, the pizza I’ve eaten, all of these among others have come together to create a learning experience like no other. I of course had my fears like everybody else would. What if it’s too hard not knowing the language? How can I leave all my friends back home? But what has become so incredibly apparent since trusting myself and coming to Sorrento is that there is no way I could have fulfilled my curiosity and found happiness the way I have by leaving my comfort zone. An internship studying abroad has been the professional and personal fulfillment I have been searching my entire life for.