by Gabrielle Comelleri
Imagine being able to explore ancient gardens, relive history at the Colosseum, and hike the hills of Cinque Terre. While this sounds like the itinerary of an Italian dream vacation for most, it was an academic reality for students taking the Cultural Introduction to Italy course in Fall 2016. Not only did they have the chance to experience these remarkable places, but experience them through dedicated coursework and receive credit for it.
Each semester FUA offers the 1-week Cultural Introduction to Italy course as a way for students to see Italy in a new light. Students arrive in Rome to begin class a week earlier than the regular semester arrival. Where the students journey after Rome depends on the semester. This fall students explored the diverse regions of Lazio, Tuscany, and Liguria before arriving in Florence. Some highlights of the fall edition of the course include Vatican City, a Tarot Garden designed by a modern artist, an Etruscan necropolis, a winery in Bolgheri, and the Cittadella del Carnevale in Viareggio where the iconic Viareggio parade floats are constructed. Summer editions of this course follow the fall itinerary, while spring students experience Orvieto, Perugia, and Assisi after Rome.
While most classes at FUA incorporate field learning into their curricula, the unique aspect of this course is full immersion. Students are able to receive on-site learning and in-depth lectures while being fully emerged in Italian culture. This creates a one of a kind educational experience which allows students to gain a deeper understanding. “It is one thing to read about a place in a textbook, but a completely different experience to learn about a place while being there and seeing it for yourself. It puts everything into perspective and makes it more meaningful,” explains student Allison Muhlbauer.
During the course course, students are exposed to a variety of cultural aspects including art, architecture, language, and history. Therefore, students are not only able to learn about Italian culture, but enrich their own personal studies. For example, art major and Fall '16 study abroad student Lydia O’Connor had a once in a lifetime experience when she was able to visit the Carrara Marble Quarry in the Apuan Alps where Michelangelo chose his marble. She states, “Going to the marble quarry was my favorite part of the trip. In art history, I have studied Michelangelo’s work in depth. Being able to see the process and receive a deeper understanding gave me a new appreciation for the material. This is valuable knowledge that I can take into my studies and career that I would have never received if not for this course.”
The two professors, Umberto Gori and Marco Di Manno, not only wish to give their students an overview of Italian culture while teaching, but introduce them to the Italian way of life. Therefore, students ate traditional foods, visited local markets, and saw sites hidden to most tourists. During the week ,students were given the opportunity to share their thoughts about the culture and reflect on it in debriefing sessions. To understand the uniqueness of Italian culture students compared Italy and their home countries. In doing this, students received a deep awareness of Italy's both historic and contemporary diversity, and discovered their own perspectives of culture.
While the course intends to teach students about the culture of Italy, it also prepares them in other ways. When asked about how this course prepared her for the rest of the semester, O’Connor stated, “The course definitely helped me to adjust to Italy. By the time I arrived in Florence I did not have the homesickness or anxiety that I first had when arriving in Rome. I had developed connections with the professors and had already made friends which made me feel comfortable with the school and city of Florence.”
Although each student enrolled in the Cultural Introduction to Italy course looking to gain something different, by the end of the class one thing was true; students received more than they could have ever imagined. It is one thing to say that the world is a classroom, but another to actually experience it.
For further details about Cultural Introduction to Italy please see the program brochure. Various sessions are offered as a pre-semester or pre-summer sesssion weeklong course.