Meet Italian Studies Major Isabel Kaplan

Originally from Seattle, Washington, student Isabel Kaplan is an Italian Studies major and a Psychology minor. Before coming to JCU, Isabel spent a year of high school in Caserta, a small city near Naples. She is a familiar face on TikTok, where she has over 86K followers, and posts videos about her experiences living and studying in Italy.

Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Seattle. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel with my family starting at a young age and be exposed to different cultures and languages. In middle school and high school, I studied French and discovered my passion for learning languages.

Isabel Kaplan
Isabel Kaplan

What made you decide to spend a year as an exchange student in Italy during high school? What was it like to live and study in Caserta?
At my high school in Seattle, every year there were exchange students coming from abroad and one day during sophomore year I thought to myself, “What if I became an exchange student?” Making this decision was bold for me since I was pretty shy and at the time could not imagine myself being so far away from home. I had visited Italy with my family for vacation and I was intrigued by the culture and impressed by how warm and welcoming the people were, which is what led me to choose it for my exchange year.

I was placed with a family in Caserta, where I had the most wonderful experience and made so many friends. Everyone was so welcoming, and I had a very immersive experience in Italian culture. The lifestyle was completely different from what I was used to, especially when it came to school and learning the language. In Caserta, people often speak in dialect and since I didn’t know any Italian when I arrived, it was a complicated process that took a lot of patience. I learned that immersing yourself is the best way to learn the language and true values of another culture. I also learned that I had this other side to me that was outgoing. Since everyone was so kind and encouraging, it made me more excited to interact with those around me.

What made you decide to come to JCU?
I always knew I wanted to come back to Italy after my exchange. However, after looking at Italian universities, I realized I preferred the American school system. JCU seemed like the perfect balance of what I was looking for. I still wanted to be immersed in the culture and language, but I wanted to study at an American university. I liked the idea that I could study in both English and Italian in a beautiful city with lots to discover. Now that I’m comfortable with the language and have gotten over the culture shocks, I’m happy with my decision.

What made you choose an Italian Studies major and a Psychology minor?
I love learning Italian and studying linguistics, which is why I chose Italian Studies for my major. I have taken many interesting and challenging classes about literature, translation, and culture. I’m able to deepen my knowledge of the culture and language in an academic setting, which I then can apply outside the classroom. In the future, I would like to become a language teacher which is why I chose psychology as a minor. I think it’s important to be able to understand people, relationships, and emotions in order to be a good teacher.

You have become somewhat of a celebrity on TikTok. How did you get started doing videos comparing American and Italian culture? Why do you think your videos are so successful?
Originally, I started making videos on TikTok for fun during my exchange in the hopes of inspiring other Americans to go abroad. I could never have imagined what it would turn into, especially because I’m shy and don’t like speaking in front of a lot of people. My videos started getting more views over time… but only from Italians. They were so shocked to see an American who came to Italy for exchange since usually it’s Italians who go to the U.S. I believe my videos were successful due to the fact that it is rare for Americans to do exchange years, especially in Italy. Then of course the fact that I was in Caserta, not one of the cities you first think of in Italy. In my experience, Italians are very happy when foreigners learn their language, so when I started doing my videos in Italian, I was overwhelmed with positive comments.

What are your plans for the future?
I would like to do a semester abroad next year through JCU, probably in Spain. I love learning languages and experiencing other cultures so I think it would be another great opportunity. I know from my past experiences how important these opportunities are and how much you can learn if you fully surround yourself with the new language. After I graduate, I plan on becoming an English teacher in Italy. I like to work with kids, and share my culture with others, and I hope to inspire young people to explore the world and go out of their comfort zone.

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering JCU?
Most of the time JCU is advertised as an “American experience” but I want people to know that you can make it what you want. If you choose to surround yourself with Italians and speak the language on a daily basis, it can become an “Italian experience.” My friends are Italian, most of my classes are in Italian, and on a day-to-day basis I speak almost only in Italian. For those students who want to take advantage of being in a foreign country and fully immerse themselves, I would highly recommend JCU.