“I have been studying Italian for a number of years. One thing that I always felt that I lacked was a true confidence while speaking,” said Max Karen ’18. “It didn’t come together until I went to Italy.”
From a young age, Karen was attracted to Italy and had the opportunity to visit family there. “Italy and its culture has been a big part of my life, and my upbringing,” he said. “I had always wanted to spend an extended period of time there.” Though, as a student-athlete, Karen feared that he would be unable to study globally, what with his rigorous practice and game schedule. He was excited when he discovered that his coach not only supported—but advocated for—the experience. “Coach encourages his athletes to go abroad.” If you want to study globally, Karen quickly learned, Gettysburg makes it happen.
Through the Center for Global Education, Karen studied globally in Ferrara, Italy, and lived in a homestay for four months. Upon arrival, Karen found his program to be intimidating because there were only 21 students. “It turned out to be a blessing. It forced us to branch out and become friends with other international students in the college, as well as local Italians.”
Ferrara quickly became a second home to Karen, much like Gettysburg College, because it maintained a sense of community. “I would always see people I knew,” he reflected. “For me, I really liked that because it still had that community feel while being in a foreign city.”
Karen was most appreciative of participating in the homestay experience, and having the opportunity to share it with his fellow classmate Harry Ligget ’18. “It was cool to learn about how they live their lives,” Karen said. “The family is so central in Italian culture. To really be immersed within a true Italian family just made the experience that much more real.”
It was during daily family dinners that Karen’s Italian language skills began to flourish. “My host mother spoke no English, and my host brother only knew a few words. I really had to use my Italian or we would be sitting there in an awkward silence.”
Karen’s confidence in his Italian language abilities came to fruition while traveling. He faced a variety of obstacles as he tried to make his train to Bologna, and just barely hopped aboard as the doors were closing. Seeing his apparent distress, an Italian woman approached him and asked, “Are you okay?” The two strangers spoke in Italian for the half-hour commute about their lives and then wished each other well as they departed.
“That was a huge turning point for me. I remember getting onto the flight and just playing over the conversation in my mind. It was when I decided to see if I could not just minor in Italian, but actually major in it.” Karen reached out to Italian Studies Prof. Alan Raymond Perry and decided to double major in Italian Studies and Organization and Management Studies.
While studying globally, Karen had the unique opportunity to travel with many of his fellow teammates. “We met up a few times in various cities like Barcelona. That was really cool because it’s such a huge city when it comes to soccer.” These group trips allowed the team to bond and view soccer from a different cultural lens.
As a soccer player and student-athlete at Gettysburg College, Karen reached out to his high school soccer coach in hopes of attaining a summer internship. He was hired as a marketing intern with the New York Cosmos, and had a wide-range of responsibilities. “They gave me the opportunity to brainstorm and make some improvements on current projects or something that I wanted to work on. They gave me the freedom to pursue what I wanted to.”
Karen was assigned to plan the Cosmos’ booth space for a tournament called “Street Soccer” in Times Square, New York. Street Soccer is a charity that hosts tournaments throughout many cities in America. The money raised is donated to underprivileged youth and empowers them to play soccer.
The combined experiences studying globally and with the New York Cosmos reignited Karen’s love for soccer. “Going to Italy gave me the opportunity to step back, and rediscover my passion for soccer. I think that translated into how I played,” he said. “I was a better athlete in my final season because of my abroad experience.”
Karen’s coaches agree that his abroad experience was represented on the field during his final season. “Max has been an integral part of the growth of our program over the last four years. He is an extremely hard worker and is dedicated to improving,” said Coach Mark Mettrick. “Max had many excellent performances his senior year which was instrumental in the successful season that we enjoyed.”
Since arriving back at Gettysburg College, Karen is grateful for the experiences that he has had within the last year and is amazed by how frequently he uses his Italian.
“When you speak to someone in their native tongue I think it really moves them, they’re impressed that you would take the time to learn their language. It makes your conversation and your meeting them that much more meaningful.”