Roberta Sgariglia: Exchanging Cultures and Perspectives

Name: Roberta Sgariglia

Major: Economics

Hometown: Milan, Italy

University: Bocconi University

Exploration and personal growth is a life-long practice of encountering new situations, meeting new people, and learning how to adapt. For Roberta Sgariglia, traveling and participating in the UCEAP (U.C. Exchange and Abroad Program) has been an experience that encapsulates just that. This week, I had the chance to meet up and talk with Roberta, a third year Economics major from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Not only was the experience eye-opening, but it helped me gain a bit of insight into the cultural differences and similarities between our two countries.

When I asked Roberta if she could select three words to describe her experience as a foreign exchange student at UCI, she replied: discovery, excitement, and personal growth.

“Definitely discovery, because I came to UCI after a very hard period for me. So coming to UCI I was actually able discover a lot of things and a lot of passions that were dormant, but I wanted to try out. So I decided to try out a lot of things that, out of context, I would have considered to be very useless or unproductive or what not. And so I explored that a lot, and I’m really happy about that.”

With no routine, “excitement” was a natural description of her experience. “The novelty of all of it, even finding new things is always very exciting.” Personal growth was yet another aspect of this experience that Roberta highlighted. “Being in a different environment with very different people with very different cultures, you really start to notice a lot of things about yourself and your own culture. And interestingly enough, the more [I] travel… the more I learned I am Italian or European in a broader sense. The more you develop a sense of identity. And when you’re back and you go back to your normal life, you notice all the changes that have occurred.”

Without a doubt, there are a variety of differences between life in UC Irvine and Bocconi University. For Roberta, some of the most notable differences included the variety of degree programs, classes, and relaxed atmosphere at UC Irvine.

“There are a lot differences. One thing that I really, really, really appreciate about UCI is that it’s a generalist university. They’re so many degree programs. People can really space out their classes and declare their major really late they can take courses in anything. You can just wake up and take classes in I don’t know, philosophy or CS. And that’s something that at my university, we can’t really do. It’s very specialized in economics and business. So you get to meet a lot of people with very different mentalities and are very different from you.”

The external pressure within Bocconi University and diversity of the UC student population were also differences that she noted. “In Italy, there are also a lot of international students, but a majority is still European, and Italian. Here you have everything. There are lots of differences in culture.”

As we talked, Roberta continued on to describe her observations and thoughts about her perception of Irvine. Her keen observations of societal dynamics and cultural differences between Irvine and her hometown of Milan were not only insightful, but really brought the picture into economic lenses.

“Irvine is kind of a special place. The University of Irvine is the center of Irvine. Outside, you don’t get much else, except for shopping malls. The university in Milan is built to function for the city. So it’s like the opposite relationship, and Milan was already a pretty big economic center. There’s a lot of life. It’s a very big city in Italy. My university, Bocconi, falls in that environment. Here, it’s interesting. I’ve never been in a place that is conceived around a university. It’s so funny.”

With her quarter abroad slowly coming to a grand finale, I wanted to ask Roberta about her most memorable experiences. This was a question that I knew would be interesting, given that I had already known Roberta to be a very adventurous explorer.

“Now I’m a bit bias, because I just ran a marathon. But I’m definitely going to say that. Because I think it’s really unforgettable. It’s something that I will keep thinking about. It’s something that will give me strength when I’m going through moments when I’m a bit uncertain or when I lack motivation…but then I can think about how I ran for 5 hours and say ‘I can do this!’” Roberta admitted that she definitely did not “properly” prepare for the marathon, but she found an “innate instinct and willpower to do it.” It was worth the glorious moment of crossing the finish line.

Roberta’s main takeaway from this grand experience was a new and profound understanding of her own and other people’s mindset and culture. In America, she noticed “how open and liberal people are here. Every culture, every nationality is welcomed. You can feel very welcomed by the UC staff.” This was something that she values and emphasized, would not be taken for granted.

Coming at a dynamic time with fervent social, economic, and political upturn, Roberta also saw “how strong and deeply rooted feminism here. It’s so beautiful, like when you had the LA march. When I went to San Francisco by accident, I walked into a feminist meeting. And there was this 80-year old woman. She was sitting there talking about how she would protest on the 8 of March. I just found it so heartwarming. It’s not something considered alternative or marginal.”

Finally, I asked her if she had any advice for anyone thinking about studying abroad. Her response? “Just go study abroad. Because I’m sure that wherever you go, at least in 99% of the cases, you have a great time. And if you don’t, you learn so much. Even if you end up in Southern Burundi, you will have a great time. Everything is so new to you, precisely because you learn a lot. You’re going to be around people who think like you …so you will definitely find people of your own dimension within a different culture for sure. If you’re worried you’re not the kind of person that can handle the situation and meeting new people that’s an even stronger reason to go because you will find out for yourself.”

Fun Questions

Hidden talents: drawing, writing. She used to write stories and poems

Hobbies: hiking (how we met), trekking, in general being in nature, exploring nature, running, skiing, going to museums and art exhibitions, and traveling.

Favorite food in home: A tie between pizza and gelato, which in her own words are “so Italian!”

Favorite food in America: Yogurt from Yogurtland

Sadly, our interview came to an end, but the advice Roberta imparted upon me and hopefully all of our readers is unforgettable. As a 21 year old student, she has so much waiting in store, and we are grateful to have been in a chapter of Roberta’s story.