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Students Study Abroad in Italy

Some UWG English students recently completed a Study Abroad Program in Spoleto, Italy. Here is a piece about the trip that was written by one of these students, along with some pictures from the trip. For more information about the Spoleto Program, please visit the website at http://www.westga.edu/~davidson/italystudyabroad/index.html.

Study Abroad Experience, by Jenna Harvie

The best experience of a lifetime, everyone always says; but experience is a word without any teeth. Within it resides no texture, sight, or taste. Experience cannot begin to peel the layers off of our five-week study abroad trip to Spoleto, Italy. Experience doesn’t touch the tour we took the day after we arrived, when we gasped collectively on rounding a corner and coming face to face with the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Spoleto. It doesn’t hint at all sixteen of us clinking glasses at dinner just for the opportunity to use the Italian toast—cin cin—we learned. Experience does not reflect our learning to enjoy fizzy water and skipping the bread before dinner (only tourists eat it), successfully ordering at a restaurant without needing to rely on English translations, or hearing from multiple citizens of Spoleto that the city would miss us when we left.

Mondays and Wednesdays we sat down for class. With Dr. Masters, we studied representations of Italy as written by American and English authors. In a local café, with cappuccino or espresso in front of us, we discussed Poe, Henry James, Shelley. With an undergraduate degree in English and two semesters of graduate school under my belt, I have never taken a more charged class. Every student clearly wanted to be there, every week. The seven of us interrupted each other, argued passionately, and generally tangled the text into a fifty page conundrum by the time lunch hit. In Dr. Davidson’s class, where we studied examples of travel writing and worked on our own, we wrestled with the potential pitfalls of writing about a culture as weighted in history and beauty as that of Italy. At night, long after our formal class obligations ended, we sat outside of Vincenzo, our favorite and most frequented café just one block up from our apartments, and worked through each other’s poetry drafts. The more experienced students patiently helped strip clichés and build in new, interesting images based on what the writer had already produced.

The unique experience about study abroad is the way that class expands outside of the two hour instructional time. We walked through Venice still working through Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now.” Conversations about an image in a student’s poem would erupt in the middle of dinner or during a fieldtrip to Florence. Groups of us constantly took over sections of Vincenzo, sitting bedside each other while we leaned over laptops and ran through pages of Radcliffe or tried to mold a recent hike up Monteluco into a stanza. The strength of our department right now relies heavily on the bonds between students; we talk outside of class, help plan and execute department events, and genuinely admire each other and wish for one another’s success. That dynamic and climate only intensified while in Spoleto.

On the days between classes, we boarded buses or walked down to the train station to travel to nearby cities such as Gubbio and Orvieto. Our tour guide, Daniela, led us around stone cities, past fountains and monuments, and through cathedrals honoring the ever-present Saint Francis. While there, we utilized the survival Italian we learned from Elisa, our language instructor, during the first ten days of our stay. We learned to order food politely, ask questions about train tickets, and carry on basic conversation about personal identity—name, age, nationality. The trip, however, did not consist solely of field trips and class time. What made the trip more than just an experience was the extra outings that we took as a group. We toured a local school that trained students to work in the public sector (as tour guides, bartenders, etc.)—an outing that a local newspaper covered. (We’re big in Spoleto.) We drove to the top of the mountain for a spectacular farm-to-table, three-hour meal in an old stone cottage that looked out over the entire city. We spent an evening listening to the musically-inclined students and professors play covers, and some of us even danced. During the last days, we all gathered at the city hall, beneath frescoes and vaulted ceilings, to read a selection of the creative writing we had produced in the last month.

Nine hundred seventy words could never fully document the time we spent in Spoleto, much the same as the word experience falls flat and seems unable to describe the benefits of study abroad. No amount of words might translate the way that Vincenzo became one of our comfort zones within a foreign city, a place where we learned to order coffee in multiple variations and knew the employees by name. I couldn’t describe the excitement we felt knowing that Daniela or Elisa would be joining us for an outing. I can’t begin to touch on Luca and Emanuela, the owners of the restaurant we ate at each night, the way they celebrated when we used a Spoletino phrase, or how they adopted us immediately. The dynamic found within our sixteen—as well as the vibrancy and life added by the surrogate Italian family members we collected throughout our stay—made the study abroad a five weeks that transcends description. I watched my friends employ Italian they picked up in cafés and pizzerias. I ran through rain-drenched Venice, my backpack bouncing behind me, certain my train would pull away without me. (It didn’t.) I saw Florence’s Duomo, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon. We studied Italian literature in Italy. We navigated train stations, learned to love espresso, and fell for hand-made pasta. We did everything any study abroad website might list in bullet points. The real core of our study abroad, though, was the way that it took fourteen Georgia college students and transformed them from tourists to travelers—and that is something that isn’t just experienced.

Photos: (top, l-r) A few students take in the wonderful Trevi Fountain in Rome; A few students gather on an old stone wall, far above Spoleto; Taylor Boltz loving the Forum in Rome; Tyler Key in the Forum in Rome. (bottom, l-r) MacKenzie Regier in awe of the frescoed ceiling in The Church of Saint Ignatius in Rome; Dr. Masters joins the boys for a photo inside the Coliseum in Rome; Students on a truffle hunt in the hills above Spoleto; Students get a pasta-making lesson in Spoleto.