January 11, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Management major and Italian studies minor Claire Mulkey ’23 had always aspired to travel. After she transferred to Susquehanna University, she put her ambitions into action — and added a promise to share what she learned about making international travel a reality.

Wanting to attend a school that placed great emphasis on international study, Mulkey transferred to SU from Harrisburg Area Community College in fall 2020. When faced with the decision to apply for a semester-long program or one that ran during summer or winter break, she said that her misconceptions about affordability almost cost her her dream opportunity.

“Everyone at SU is required to study away for at least some time, so I knew I would be able to do something,” Mulkey said. “Italy was a dream destination for me because I was interested in the culture, food and familial ties. But due to financial reasons, I mistakenly assumed I could not study there for a whole semester.”

The Office of Postgraduate Fellowships encouraged her to apply for a federal grant that provides up to $5,000 toward study-abroad costs. In her application, Mulkey committed to educating community college students about her study-abroad experience — and how opportunities like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship help made it possible. And, as is the case for all other Susquehanna students who study abroad for a semester, her financial aid “followed” her to Italy.

Once abroad, Mulkey’s classes were entirely in Italian; her host family spoke the language exclusively. She and her host family used body language and gesturing to communicate more clearly during those first few weeks. However, by the end of the semester, Mulkey was able to hold multi-hour conversations in Italian with her host family and is now fluent in the language.

“I had a truly immersive experience that allowed me to feel like I was a real part of Italian culture and a member of a family unit, rather than just a visitor,” she said of her time in Italy.

Mulkey also volunteered at an Italian elementary school where she taught English, communicated with locals on her commute, explored a new city every weekend, rode through Italy’s southern coast and took a gondola ride through the Venetian canals.

Fulfilling the promise in her Gilman application, Mulkey is now an advocate for study-abroad experiences among community college students. She will host a presentation and Q&A session at HACC regarding study-abroad opportunities.

“Community college students are often in a different place in life than traditional four-year students,” Mulkey added. “This could be the result of personal or financial reasons. I wanted to promote study abroad and the Gilman program to the students who would benefit from it the most.”