Alumni Spotlight: Tarra Dahlke


Tarra Dahlke is from Charlotte, North Carolina and about to graduate in May 2013 from the University of South Carolina with a double major in finance and marketing with a minor in fashion merchandising. After graduation she will be returning to Charlotte to pursue her career as a Buyer for Belk. Her passions include yoga, cooking, travelling, photography, food, blogging, running, and most importantly, loving the journey of life!

What city did you study abroad in and for how long?

Tarra: I was tremendously blessed to be able to call myself a temporary Italian resident during the summer of 2012. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy for five weeks, and I couldn’t have chosen a better place. Florence was my destination of choice because it is a mezza where art, history, fashion, food and culture all came together. I knew I wanted to take a fashion class to count towards my fashion merchandising minor as well a cooking/wine class to count for the social science credit a needed. In order to graduate on time, I needed two summer classes abroad that would count for my international requirements. I had many friends that had studied in Florence the previous summer and raved about it, encouraging me to follow in their footsteps.

Why did you decide to study with API?

Tarra: My parents, friends, study abroad advisors and anyone who follows me on twitter, can vouch for how tough of a decision it was for me to choose a program. USC does not pair with a specific partner program for studying abroad, rather they offer over 30 programs that I then had to pick from. It was a very long narrowing down process, comparing the program, but I always kept leaning towards API, and now I see why. Not only was the program manager extremely friendly and helpful, but many of the course offerings appealed to my needs and the program dates worked great with my summer schedule (along with no Friday classes)!

API also offered a meal plan option and multiple scholarships were available to reduce costs. The most important factor that drew me to API was the excursions that were included in the program cost, such as Rome, Cinque Terre, Venice, Verona and Padova. API also did such a wonderful job planning cultural and welcome activities to get their students accustomed to the Italian lifestyle. This was so valuable to me, especially since my friends that went the previous summer didn’t have any travel options or activities provided by their programs, they were on their own completely.

What made this experience unique and special?

Tarra: Those moments when I would have to blink twice to make sure I wasn’t really dreaming were the most cherished during my time in Italy. Prior to my studies in Florence, my father and I spent a week in the Amalfi Coast, where I became accustomed to Italian culture and traditions and learned quite a bit of the language. One thing that made my time in Italy so special was that I always went out of my way to find the most authentic local spot around rather than eating at restaurants around the main piazzas with the rest of the group. I made friends with the chef at our daily caffe down the street and spoke in Italian to the locals as much as possible. Florence definitely surprised me though with the amount of tourists and how much English was spoken. I always wanted to practice my Italian around the city, but Italians would want to practice their English with me instead.

During my six weeks in Italy, I met some of the most special people that impacted my life and I will never forget. I kept a blog during my travels so that family and friends at home could stay up to date with my trip and I would have something to look back on. Many of my peers told me they wish they’d done this, so even though it takes a little time, I definitely recommend it! The staff at API and Lorenzo de’ Medici were incredibly helpful at all times of the day and enhanced my trip tremendously (they even inspired me to look into careers with API for after graduation).

How has this experience impacted your future?

Tarra: I am so incredibly blessed that I got to experience this once in a lifetime trip, and everyday I think back to it, I have a hard time believing it was real! It took me three semesters/summers when I thought I was going abroad but it always fell through, until the third time was the charm, and it was something I will never forget. Before the trip even began, I knew I wanted to move to Italy after graduation and be a buyer. Not only did the trip make this dream of mine that much more desirable, I now will move to Italy and do anything; I’ll scrub floors for a living if that’s what it takes. The way of life and the value Italians put behind its meaning is something Americans need to adapt. La Vita e Bella (life is beautiful) became my motto after living in the unique culture of Italy and taking it all in as much as possible everyday.

I can honestly say that my pairing food and wine class at Lorenzo de’ Medici has been the most beneficial class I’ve ever taken in my 16 years of schooling. Our teacher Marco had such a passion for what he was teaching and instructed us cooking four courses and pairing them with four wines daily. We also went on class visits to the central market, gelato shops, a historical wine cellar, and my favorite, a vineyard in San Gimignano! Since returning home, I have used our cookbooks from class to impress family and friends with authentic meals, giving them a little taste of Italy. My study abroad experience has given my the life skills to not only cook, but adapt to new cultures, manage time and money, plan travels to foreign places with various currencies, communicate in another language and have a completely new outlook on life and the world itself.