Living La Dolce Vita

Joy Brunetti '01


Attending gelato university. Making and eating pasta from scratch. Hiking the Italian Riviera. Oh, and experiencing another culture on an up close and personal basis.

It sounds like a dream, but it was reality during January 2016 Intersession, when nearly 120 USD sophomores, six experiential learning professionals (including myself) and six faculty members journeyed to Italy as part of the Second- Year Experience Abroad program. The idea? To become immersed in la dolce vita for three weeks. Students earned credits in subjects such as art history, chemistry and theology, while we guided them through immersive activities and excursions that took them far beyond their usual Stateside routines.

In preparing to experience Italian culture, students evaluated their own mindsets and how they’ve been influenced by American culture. This reflection prepared them to truly immerse themselves in multiple activities and locations, which were selected to provide variety and exposure to new experiences.

For example, students in Louis Komjathy’s Exploring Religious Meaning course were encouraged to look at the idea of gender through the prism of Italian society, art and religion. They investigated how men and women are portrayed and the ways that these constructs continue to influence Italian life and work. Many students were struck by the way that gender roles in Italy differed from those in the United States.

But of even greater lasting impact was the excitement of exploring a foreign land. “I was constantly mesmerized by the vibrancy of the colored houses in Cinque Terre, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italian fashion, the graffiti art in Florence, and the endless plates of rich pastas,” recalls sophomore Caitlan Bertram, who took Komjathy’s class as well as several side trips around the country.

An on-site cooking class at the Apicius International School of Hospitality was a highlight. There chefs led students through making — and eating — a traditional three-course meal consisting of tagliatelle with fresh tomato sauce, chicken cacciatore and a Tuscan dolce named Schiacciata Fiorentina.

Students savored this and every meal in Florence and its environs, where it’s customary to spend hours enjoying food with friends and family in between morning and evening work shifts or classes. In fact, some commented that they were committed to spending more time with family and friends and less time with their phones and computers upon returning to the United States. — Joy Brunetti ’01 

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