Elena Giel spent 5 weeks living on the island of Ortigia, off the coast of Sicily. During her stay in Italy, Elena was able to spend most of her time perfecting her Italian with biweekly lessons from her advisor as well as befriending locals, which enabled her to become highly conversational. She put these skills to good use while being exposed to local cultural events, such as going to the Greek Theater, learning to make ricotta cheese, and becoming a wine connoisseur through various tastings. Whenever she was not working on her language skills, Elena was volunteering at the local refugee shelter in the nearby city of Syracuse where she was able to teach English to refugees as well as provide moral support during their difficult transitions. Their stories, as well as the knowledge she gained from her course The History and Political Science of the Mafia, allowed Elena to write a research paper examining the economy of Italy with respect to the influences of the mafia and immigrants. Her findings supported her initial theory that high immigration becomes the scapegoat for the failing economy while protecting the mafia, which acts as a financial parasite of the state and locals through fear tactics. The conclusion to her research was to suggest a viable solution, which was to empower the locals into acting as a unified force (such as through AddioPizzo) to stop paying the mafia, thereby taking away all of their financial support and power. Elena’s increased knowledge of the Italian and Sicilian economy and culture will aide her in completing her finance major, economics minor, Italian minor, and international business certificate, all of which she ultimately hopes to use towards a career in international consulting and becoming the CEO of a global firm.
CEE Title: Bridging the GAP
For her CEE, Elena helped to design Bridging the GAP, a program designed for students in the tenth grade to gain a sense of global awareness and openness. That, in turn, would allow them to have a greater curiosity and acceptance of different cultures and values. She and her team volunteered at the Obama Academy for International Studies for five days, with each day relating to a different aspect of their goal.