Grad student Sara Jane McCaffrey had traveled to Italy five times, but no visit could top her recent trip to Milan.

“MISTI allowed me to go to Italy as a professional,” she says. “I mean, I was not a tourist. I was not a student. I was actually a colleague, and that was wonderful.”

McCaffrey, who earned a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and is now studying at MIT for a Ph.D. in political science, plans to teach in a U.S. university. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to write my dissertation unless I could get people to talk to me,” says McCaffrey, who is studying how globalization affects international labor. “MISTI got my foot in the door.”

For three months, she conducted research at the Center for the Study of Work at the University of Milan. She interviewed dozens of firm managers, union leaders, training coordinators, and designt eachers. She toured factories and attended industry conventions.

She developed great research strategies and great contacts. “At first, I was meek about asking people to meet with me. I felt these people are busy and important. Why would they want to talk to me?

“But when they realized I spoke Italian and had a deep knowledge of the Italian political economy — thanks to some expert MIT professors — they were very excited to talk. They gave me specific information. They spent time with me. And they introduced me to others.

“I came back with such confidence in myself and my work. I’ve been on other student exchange programs before, but MISTI integrates you into the international work environment and that’s invaluable.”