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Auburn Abroad in Italy program immerses students in country's history, culture with lectures and field trips

 

Auburn Abroad in Italy

On a field trip to the Umbria region, students experienced St. Patrick's well, which was completed in 1537 and features a unique double helix design.

The Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program is designed to give Auburn University students the opportunity to participate in a 21st century Grand Tour.

Executive Director Linda Ruth considers the structure of the 12-week program to be a modern equivalent to the Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries, when educated European men and women would end their formal education with a trip around Europe, spending months, sometimes years, visiting the places and sites they had studied.

For three months, Auburn students typically have lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays that cover what Ruth calls "Italy ology" – all aspects of the Italian culture, including its language, music, art, history, architecture and cuisine. They live in the Palazzo Chigi (pronounced key-gee), a historical feature of Ariccia, Italy, immersing themselves in the local community.

Field trips around the country typically occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week to visit what they discuss in class. Such trips include a leather school in Florence, a pottery factory and wood workshop in Orvieto, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and tours in Rome and Pompeii.

The schedule has been so full, Caroline Stephens, a junior in political science and psychology, admitted she didn't have time to think about being homesick.

Auburn Abroad in Italy

A portion of the Palazzo Chigi was remodeled to accommodate the Auburn program and includes a kitchen where students eat and learn to cook.

When Libby Woodruff was an art major at Auburn, she said she studied Italy intensely and even did a full analysis on Michelangelo's David. She has since changed her major to apparel merchandising, design and production management, but was finally able to see the famous statue and sketch it when the summer Auburn Abroad in Italy class traveled to Florence during one of the 12 weeks.

Since 2002 when the College of Human Sciences and the city of Ariccia agreed to offer a unique educational opportunity for American college students, the people of Ariccia have become accustomed to the influx and welcome a new group of Auburn students three times a year.

Kathryn Davis, a senior in interior design, said one of her favorite things to do is visit the grocery store down the corso (main street) where the husband and wife owners recognize her as a student and willingly help her practice her language skills. A class called "Survival Italian" is meant to give students enough understanding of the language to ‘survive' for three months.

"I think Auburn purposefully put us in Ariccia so this community could help us grow and really become cultured," said Davis.

The Chigi Palace, where students live and attend class, is easily recognizable in Ariccia, not only for its enormous size, but it is located along the main road between the neighboring cities of Albano and Genzano. It is famous throughout Italy as the prominent Italian artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini was responsible for its design. Bernini's work is all over Italy and around Ariccia, including the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta across the street from the palace.

"I think Auburn purposefully put us in Ariccia so this community could help us grow and really become cultured."

— Kathryn Davis

The noble Chigi family inhabited the residence for centuries, including when Cardinal Fabio Chigi was elected head of the Catholic Church in 1655. Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII, was responsible for commissioning Bernini to design St. Peter's Square in Rome. The colossal colonnades that surround the square like arms stretching out from St. Peter's Basilica bear the pope's name as well as the Chigi family symbol, which can be found throughout Rome and Ariccia.

After the Chigi family gave the home and all its contents to the city in 1988, it became a public museum and location for special events including concerts and weddings. Many of the furnishings are the same as they were four centuries ago.

The section of the palace used by Auburn University was renovated in 2009 to create a gathering space, kitchen, classroom and living quarters to accommodate 20 students. Another classroom was made in a different part of the palace.

Auburn Abroad in Italy

Rome (St. Peter’s Square, pictured) is one of the cities visited during the week, but because of its close proximity to Ariccia, students can easily return on the weekend.

Classes are taught by Ruth, an architect and former associate professor in the McWhorter School of Building Science, and many local experts. Francesco Petrucci, for instance, who is known throughout Europe for his knowledge of Bernini and Baroque art, teaches the History of Architecture. He is also the museum's director.

Mary Lou Gray, a South African native whose husband, Marco Antonini, helped bring Auburn to Ariccia in 2002, teaches Italian Cooking. When she was unable to cook this summer, Ruth arranged for a local chef to step in. The instructor for Survival Italian is Lanie Dakin. She participated in the Auburn Abroad program when she was a graduate student in the College of Human Sciences and moved to Italy a year after earning her degree.

Mary Lou and Marco's son, Maurizio Antonini, is also involved as the resident director. He works closely with Ruth to ensure each week is a culturally enriching experience. Maurizio and his wife, Rossella de Venuto, also serve as lecturers. Cinzia Bracalente is the "big sister" to the students, chaperoning field trips and even taking them to the doctor when needed. Roberta Londi, a former docent at the museum, is the program coordinator.

Although Auburn Abroad in Italy is offered through the College of Human Sciences, all majors are eligible to apply. The trip is one of two ways to earn an international minor in human sciences at Auburn.

"I've become even more convinced through the years that an international experience is absolutely critical for all students," said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. "It's a life changing experience. These students come back different people and the great part is that they are more competitive in the workforce. Employers come after these students because they know they are apt to be calculated risk takers, self-starters and see day-to-day issues in a big picture context."

Ruth prefers to have different academic backgrounds represented in Italy because it creates a rich interdisciplinary experience for all.

"The level of discussion becomes completely different than it would be if we had a group of students all from one major," she said. "But with different majors, the fashion design student will see one thing at a particular site, the hotel and restaurant management student will see one thing and the finance student will see something else, making the discussion much more informative and insightful. I think it is one of the best aspects of this program."

The summer term marked the first time a student from outside Auburn University participated.

Even if Elle Darby, a sophomore majoring in apparel design at the University of Alabama, was a little bit worried about participating when she didn't know anyone, she said it was outweighed by her desire to have an academically focused study abroad experience based in Italy with lots of travel opportunities.

Auburn Abroad in Italy

The Survival Italian course is meant to provide students enough language skills to converse with Italians, especially the people of Ariccia.

The summer 2013 class had many world travelers and a few who had never left North America. The only student familiar with Ariccia was Margaret Anne Albritton, Ruth's graduate teaching assistant, who completed the program as an undergraduate two years ago.

Every student takes full advantage of the proximity to the rest of Europe and numerous three-day weekends. The Auburn Abroad program offers optional trips that are pre-planned to Italian cities such as Venice, Cinque Terre and Positano. Otherwise, students can travel on their own beyond Italy to places such as Paris, London, Dublin, Barcelona and Amsterdam.

"I think in 20 years (what) I'm going to remember most from this experience is just learning for the first time that I can really be independent," admitted Stephens. "Being in college you are on your own, but not really in this sense. Being placed in a foreign country you can learn a lot about yourself, and I think I've just learned that I can be on my own. I can live in a city by myself. I can get around a city by myself and take care of myself."

By Amy Weaver, Office of Communications & Marketing

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Last Updated: Aug. 5, 2013

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