Beatrice Bonfiglio, a 20-year-old international student at Auburn University, has been to at least 12 countries in Europe, plays guitar and soccer, loves learning new languages and studying literature. Bonfiglio, who goes by the nickname “Bea,” will be spending a semester at Auburn University taking classes that focus on foreign languages and literature.
Bonfiglio is from Catania, a city on the Italian island of Sicily. “It is much different,” Bonfiglio said, when comparing the U.S. to Italy. “Sicily is a really old island, so we are behind even the rest of Italy. We have old buildings. We don’t have skyscrapers.”
Catania, Italy, is approximately 3,395 miles from Auburn. One would think the cultural differences would be vast. However, in some aspects, that is not the case, “I think from many points of view, we are really similar because also in Sicily people are really friendly and really helpful and that’s why I feel at home here,” Bonfiglio said. “I’m living in a place I already know. It’s strange, but, that’s how I feel. I feel at ease.”
Bonfiglio does not find much to complain about in Auburn. “I really like the people in Auburn because they are really friendly,” Bonfiglio said. “For example, when I get on the Tiger Transit bus, they are so kind. They always say, ‘Hello, have a good day.’”
If friendliness is a quality that Bonfiglio believes Auburn students possess, then she fits in well, according to Elizabeth Givens, one of her oldest friends on campus. Bonfiglio and Givens met while Givens was studying abroad in Catania. “I would say she’s pretty outgoing, but also easygoing,” Givens said. “She’s very friendly and easy to get to know. I think she’s very herself, too. She really likes music. She just does the things that she likes.”
Bonfiglio’s friendship with Givens has been helpful for both of them. “She drove me many places,” Bonfiglio said of Givens. “She explained to me all the things to know to get around and [showed me] the best places to go.” When it comes to the benefits of already having a friend in a new country, the feeling is mutual. Bonfiglio can appreciate what Beth went through as a student in Sicily and vice versa. “She’ll help me with my Italian. She is a good teacher,” Givens said.
Bonfiglio and Givens are on an intermural soccer team. “We play soccer together. I have an intermural team,” Givens said. “It’s really fun because I was yelling, well, not yelling, but cheering for everybody and calling directions and stuff because I was playing goalie to everybody in English and then I was like, ‘Oh, I bet that’s hard because if you’re focused and playing, you’re not thinking to translate.’ So, I was like ‘Oh, I’ll start speaking to her in Italian.’ I’ve started now, I’ll just yell at her in Italian and it throws the other teams off. So, that’s kind of fun, our secret.”
Bonfiglio Discusses Cultural Differences
Inevitably, there are differences between cultures. Certain cultural norms and rules, whether they be written or unwritten, are present. “Sometimes, there are rules,” Bonfiglio said while fidgeting with her purple and pink plaid backpack. “Like when you go to a pub, and you can’t enter the pub because you are wearing a white t-shirt. There are strange rules. Here, there are restrictive rules, like you can’t drink if you’re not 21.”
An obvious cultural difference is the food. When one thinks of Italy, foods that come to mind are pizza and pasta. “Sicily is known around the world because of the food,” Bonfiglio said. “It’s one of the best places to eat. It’s really different from here because I think that the food here is not as healthy as the Mediterranean food.”
What She Hopes to Gain from Life as an International Student
Many students who study abroad have things in mind they want to achieve while abroad. Bonfiglio is no exception. “There are so many things that I expect to get from this experience, like to grow up and be more responsible,” Bonfliglio said. “I want to open my mind to new things and new people. I want to be more independent, more mature and more responsible.”
If open-mindedness is one of her goals, she is on the right track according to Elisabeth Opfermann, an international student from Germany. “I think she is a really open-minded person,” Opfermann said. “She’s really nice. She always looks out for others. She asks if she can do something or can help me. She’s somebody that I can laugh with a lot.”
This feature story was written for the JRNL3220 Magazine and Feature Writing course at Auburn University in Fall 2014.