On the edge of the dock among rows of colorful buildings in Burano, Italy, Ashley Pales felt at home. 

Lincoln Southwest High School graduate and Yale University sophomore, Pales spent five weeks exploring the country and reconnecting to her family's Italian heritage during a study abroad program last summer. 

When she got back to the U.S., she submitted two photos she'd taken in Italy to the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience to possibly be included in a 2018 calendar. In October, she found out one of her photos had made the cut.

"I've been working on my photography for a while, so it was exciting, because it felt like maybe this is good," she said. "Now other people can see the things I saw while I was there."

In high school, Pales swam competitively with Lincoln Select Swimming and qualified for the  Olympic Trials. She joined the Yale swim team during her freshman year and dove head-first into the challenges of balancing a challenging course load while competing as a NCAA Division I athlete. 

"Being a full-time student and athlete at an Ivy League school is a lot," she said. "But there's 70 people on the team and we're all kind of going through it together."

Pales, an architecture major, decided to study abroad to improve her Italian language skills. Being immersed in the language helped her catch on more quickly than she would have otherwise, she said. Although she's still learning grammatical nuances, she feels she's become conversationally fluent. 

When she arrived in Italy, Pales experienced culture shock, being outside of America for the first time.

"I was so used to all of the chains that we have here, like Starbucks and even the fast-food restaurants, so it was really weird to have that gone and get used to the food," she said. "We had a lot of cappuccinos or ate at small sandwich shops."

The longer she was in Italy, the more she came to love and appreciate the culture. The trip seemed like an escape from her everyday life.

"Family is very important to them," she said. "They really take time to spend with the people they love and sort of slow things down. In my life, I'm always so rushed to get everything done and then do something else and it was nice to slow down and appreciate the people you're with."

Pales wants to visit Italy again and is hoping to spend this summer working there as a nanny. 

She still has a few years left at Yale before graduation, but her future is wide-open.

"I'm considering going to grad school, or I might take a gap year and travel or maybe even just get a job right away and work abroad," she said. "There are so many opportunities after graduating from Yale."

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