Thursday, September 28, 2017

14 Days in Italy!
An Educational Experience of a Lifetime

There are lots of ways to learn, and travel is perhaps one of the best.

Just ask any of the 22 participants in Reynolds’ first Study Abroad program. The group went to Italy for fourteen days this past summer and here’s what happened: they had the educational experience of a lifetime. (See pictures below.)

Preparations for the trip involved more than packing a toothbrush and hoping on a plane. All students took an intense five week course, English 295: The American Romantics in Italy, created and taught by Reynolds Professor of English, Jane Rosecrans. The course covered 19th Century American Romantic writers, their travel to Italy, and the literature they created as a result. Additionally, Jane put together a packet of information on the language, the culture, and history designed specifically to add depth and perspective to the journey.

What does it take to make an educational experience of a lifetime? Jane will tell you: "A year of intense planning, thought and hard work." Four-year schools frequently offer these programs, but this would be a first for Reynolds, and Jane’s vision was to make it an experience of a lifetime for those who may never get this opportunity again. Guidelines and policies had to be set up. Materials had to be created. An affordable tour company had to be found that could fashion a custom tour based on Jane’s visits to Italy. And, perhaps most important, a whole new class had to be created.

Aside from the details, Jane wondered, would the group get along? Would they pull together to meet the risks and unexpected challenges of travel? This group seemed to be charmed. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 69, but having the common thread of a shared adventure, they bonded immediately.

The group stayed several days in Italy’s main cities of Rome, Venice, Sorrento and Florence. Their “education” that had began in the classroom played out each day as they ventured on excursions, walking tours, lectures and sightseeing in Verona, Bologna, Orvieto (with a visit to the organic Altarocca Winery), San Gimignano, Ravello, and Pompeii. Highlights of the trip were the rollercoaster-like ride along the Amalfi Coast, a visit to the Venice Opera, and a gondola ride that lasted almost two hours (see photos below)

Lessons learned extended beyond English literature, to economics, sociology and political science. Italy had a water shortage and a taxi strike during the trip. Yet, the students noted, in the face of shortages price gouging was never an issue among the Italians.

Student Joshua Briere had this to say about the program: “study abroad is important because it gives you a safe, educational environment in which to expose yourself to other cultures, customs, and ways of thinking. I was able to grow in my knowledge in understanding of Italian history and culture through our visit. If I met a student who was considering a study abroad trip, I would encourage them to do so, and let them know that it will certainly be an eye-opening, life-changing experience!”

Several weeks after the trip a follow up dinner was organized on Jane’s birthday. The bond formed abroad was still strong. The group laughed and joked as they remember all they had seen and learned. They concluded the trip was an experience of a lifetime, one they would never forget. The learning wasn’t over either. It had only just begun.

Gondola Ride
From left to right is Jeff Delida, Sierra Peterson, Alexis Armand, and Brandon Tsay.

Top of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice 
From left to right (roughly) is: Gabby Hernandez, Madeleine Ownby, Joshua Briere, Saba Tahir, Shana Taylor, Brandon Tsay, Lorna Thwaites, and me.

The Rollercoaster-like Ride along the
Amalfi Coast Road