Sophomores Spend Intersession #CultureAware in Florence

Veni, Vidi, Medici. Florence, the home of the Renaissance, where the museums and art are the best and the food is even better. Can you say bruschetta? 

USD 2016 #CultureAware

This Intersession, nearly 120 USD sophomores, six experiential learning professionals (ELPs), and six faculty from the University of San Diego traveled to Florence, Italy, as part of the Second-Year Experience Abroad program to immerse themselves in la dolce vita for three weeks. Academic courses in art history, chemistry, and theology, among others, were taught, and students were guided through activities and excursions that allowed them to experience a world and culture beyond what they might currently know.

For many, this was a first-time travel experience outside of the United States. For others, this was a second or third trip that allowed them to see the country of Italy from a newer, older, and, hopefully, wiser vantage point.

The Before

To prepare to learn about a different culture, students evaluated their mindsets prior to the trip by looking at themselves and the intricacies of American culture. For example, an assignment due prior to traveling abroad was a critical self-analysis where students considered either how they have judged others based on customs and 'norms' in the United States, or how they have been stereotyped by other cultures based on their adoption of and identification with the American culture.

Interesting cultural revelations came to light through this exercise. For example, Gabriella Sardina, a student studying Behavioral Neuroscience, is of Italian descent and could never forget meeting one of her best friends who hails from India. As an Italian, Gabriella was accustomed to boisterous conversations and animated family gatherings; in meeting her new friend, she noticed how differently they were speaking. As a result she spoke much more softly, not wanting to be disrespectful.

Another student recalls observing how women walked behind men on a trip to India and, at first, felt that was disrespectful, but later came to realize it was a part of their tradition.

The During

These sorts of observations were prevalent in Italian society during the course of the experience, and activities and locations were selected with variety and exposure in mind.

Students studying in Dr. Louis Komjathy’s “Exploring Religious Meaning” course were encouraged to look at the idea of gender from aspects such as society, art, and religion and investigate how men and women are portrayed, the reasons behind it, and how these concepts continue to influence Italian life and work. For many students, a more antiquated Italy in this regard was striking.

Another exercise on-site included a cooking class at the Apicius International School of Hospitality, where chefs led students through making — and then 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 environs, where it is customary to spend hours enjoying food with friends and family in between morning and evening work shifts or classes. Students were introduced to this slower pace of life in Italy, where only the trains run like clockwork, compared to the United States where everyone is on a tight schedule.

For many this type of life was inspiring; 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.

The After

With Florence serving as the base, students also explored neighboring cities including Siena, San Gimignano, Modena, and Bologna. Standing in the shadow of some of the world’s most iconic structures, students were guided through the history and subtleties of one place to the next. In bigger cities, the calmness and quaintness of Florence gave way to the organized chaos of the speeding motorini and newer structures, at least by Italian standards.

Even in Italy there are vast differences, and after three weeks immersed in the culture, there was an even broader understanding by USD’s students that there is truly no ‘normal’ to be found.

Pictures, experiences, and other details were shared via social media throughout the trip under the hashtag #CultureAware. For more visuals, see a photo album that showcases different Italy sites and experiences during Intersession.

— Joy Brunetti ’01