Q&A with Addison Allen
OU in Arezzo Homestay Student, Fall 2015
I was in the fall 2015 semester at OU in Arezzo. I am from Ada, Ok and I graduated OU undergrad in December 2017 with a major in Biology and minors in Chemistry and International Area Studies. I just finished my Masters (May 2021) in wildfire and mammal research in Yellowstone.
What have you been doing since you left OUA?
After my OU in Arezzo experience, I returned to Norman and applied to a ton of OU undergrad positions because the restaurant I previously waitressed at had burned down (not my fault). I got one call for an interview from my ~20 applications and it was the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. This was a position in their genomic resources transferring their tissue collection to the new liquid nitrogen systems. The next 3 years spiraled into me getting involved in multiple things at the museum: trapping mammals for research, preparing/skinning mammal specimens, museum collection organization, identifying skulls, and volunteering in weekend research camping trips for herpetology and entomology. In 2018 I visited my Italian homestay family again and then in the fall, I started my master's with the Sam Noble Mammalogy curator Dr. Hayley Lanier, where I worked on how wildfire timelines affect small mammals in Yellowstone. I successfully defended my master's in May 2021 and I have now moved to Indiana to pursue a Ph.D. in forestry and natural resources.
Tell us about your overall experience at OUA.
Literally a dream. I was so scared and anxious to leave my "support system" of family and friends in Oklahoma. But I nervously stepped out of the Arezzo train station and found my homestay family in the parking lot, and from then on I only felt excited and ready to take on adventures. My homestay family was so enthusiastic to live life with me (even four year old Sofia who I think cussed at me in Italian sometimes). They were also supportive of my career goals.
NOTE: I took the blind confidence from my homestay family which led to me having a big head in, especially in my Italian language weakness and/or encounters with Italian teens blatantly making fun of me for tripping on brick roads or struggling to read train schedules. I honestly and confidently thought these kids were jealous of the important and successful woman I had become- at least they didn't have TikTok then.
What was your favorite part of OUA?
The Art history trips with Kirk and the natural history trips with Dr. Ola Fincke. Florence is my favorite Italian city and also harbors my favorite art museums (Uffizi is amazing but Accademia remains my favorite in Florence). One late night in Florence, me and a few other students stubbled into a random free art gallery in Florence that happened to have an original Picasso (how casual).
Also, this was sort of my "natural history awakening" in terms of my career. I was pre-med when I arrived to Arezzo, but technically I was a confused 20-year old girl who found new prospective careers every month and thought, "Wow! THAT is something I can definitely spend the rest of my life doing! I love this murder podcast!" Anyways, in Arezzo I took Dr. Ola Fincke's natural history course where we traveled to local parks and famous fossil locations (ex: Gubbio, Italy). We kept a natural history journal in that class and it excited my natural curiosity and my obsession with note taking in the most serious form (field note guidelines).
Tell us about your homestay experience and do you keep in touch with your "family?"
My homestay experience exceeded my expectations. I opted for living with a homestay family and before I arrived, I was worried that I would have to bike 30 minutes to the Arezzo town center. When I got there, I realized I would be biking because we were living high up in the Tuscan hills with a breathtaking view from my bedroom next to a ranch where they trained horses for jousting.... and then I felt like the luckiest abroad student alive. During the joust, I met some Italian college students who (weirdly) happened to live in the same province as my homestay family and I caught a ride home with them. I ended up becoming best friends with this specific group and I still have regular communication with them and my homestay family today.
I returned to Arezzo in the summer of 2018 for two weeks, where I stayed with my homestay family and two other families that lived in the same neighborhood outside of Arezzo. My relationship with my homestay family during this time picked up like we hadn't missed a beat (though my Italian was suffering - I was basically fluent when living with them in Fall 2015 after five semesters of Italian).
How do you feel your experience at OUA shaped who you are now and your future?
It made me a lot more resilient to change and embracing the "now" of situations, which have fed into big life lessons for me. Living life with my homestay family taught me the importance of spending quality time with each other at dinner, the importance of siblings (even from different languages!), and the importance of pulling confidence from positive sources. I truly believe I excelled because of the healthy support and experiences I had with my homestay family during OU in Arezzo. This all goes to say, my international experiences played a role in shaping me into who I am today, and it carried me over personal setbacks that I thought I wouldn't recover from.