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St. Cloud State 2017 Scholarship Winner - Jessica Gehrke

Ciao! My name is Jessica Gehrke, and I am in my first year in the Higher Education Administration  doctorate program at St. Cloud State University. I am very grateful to the Italian Cultural Center for their  2017 scholarship to study at the University of Macerata for two weeks as part of my doctorate program. This  is my first opportunity to travel overseas, and I am thankful for their support to help make a life-long dream  to visit Italy a reality. I look forward to not just seeing, but experiencing Italy through this immersive course,  and growing personally and professionally as is only possible through an opportunity like this.

I have been fascinated by Italy since I first learned about the country and the Italian composer Vivaldi as a child through a musical tape. (His music is still among my favorites!) I have learned more about Italy throughout my education, often through music classes, and through friends who have traveled there, hearing wonderful things about the culture, sights, and food. I am excited about this opportunity to now travel to Macerata, experience Italian culture, and learn about Italian higher education. 

I currently work for the 360 Manufacturing & Applied Engineering Center of Excellence at Bemidji State University as the Communications Specialist. 360 collaborates with educators and industry to recruit, educate, and train workers in advanced manufacturing. which is a statewide consortium of colleges. Prior to working at Bemidji State, I worked for a non-profit organization in marketing communications and completed my Master’s degree in Communication at Washington State University. I look forward to applying what I learn about Italian culture and higher education as I complete my degree and continue my career in higher education.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you through my upcoming blog this May and a presentation after I return!

May 15, 2017

Buona sera or good evening as I am settling into my first evening here in Macerata. We arrived in Rome this morning, then rode in a van to Marcerta, arriving this afternoon. After a short rest, Dr. Imbra gave us a tour of the town, and I had my first taste of Italian food and wine!

We saw the clock tower in the piazza, where we will often meet during our time here. 


We also walked by several university buildings. The University of Macerata does not have a campus, as is typical in the United States. Rather, they have buildings around town and designate the university's buildings, as pictured above.



Finally, we had antipasto, or apptizers with vino (wine), then a supper of pizza, and finished it off with gelato--a great taste of Italy for my first evening.

May 16, 2017

I had many wonderful experiences today, but I will start by explaining the title of this post; Parlo poco italiana  means "I speak a little Italian." We had a short class in Italian to learn some basics to help us through our time here in Italy, including:

- Parli inglese? Do you speak English?
- Mi chiamo: Jessica: My name is Jessica.
- Piacere::  Pleased to meet you.
- Vorrei una coppa...gelato:: I would a cup of gelato.
- Vorrei un pezzo di pizza: I would like a piece of pizza.

Our Italian class was fun and informative. Besides learning how to order gelato and pizza, we also practice formal and informal greetings, how to introduce ourselves, and say we are students.

a heart in the foam of the cappachinoMy roommate and I having a cappachino

This morning my roommate and I went to find coffee. We both ordered cappuccinos, which were delicious. In Italy, you can order a cappuccino in the morning, but generally not after 11 a.m. We also both enjoyed the lovely artwork made with the foam.

When we went for coffee, we saw the faculty who are part of this trip. We had a few minutes, so they showed us the local teatro, or theater. Each town has its own community theater. It was beautiful!

Ceiling of the theaterThe balconies

Finally, today we met our internship advisors. I will be at the University Press. Some my projects may include proofreading, working with InDesign, and helping with their social media. My internship supervisor showed me me the office and then gave me a tour of Macerata. We stopped at her favorite building, which used to be a house, probably for a rich family, but is now a museum. I took a picture of the statues. 

Statues in an ancient Italian house

And with that, as it is time for me to go to bed, I bid you buona notte (good night)!

May 17, 2017

If you have never been to Italy, I would tell you to come so you can experience the wonderful food! During our history class today, our professore (professor) talked about how important food is in Italian culture. Many people work close to their home, so they go home at lunch to eat lunch with their family, and supper is a long affair with your family, with at least three courses. It appears keeping those connections seems to be very important in their culture.

Tonight, the president of the University of Macerata, another professor, administrators, and Italian students who came to St. Cloud State University hosted a welcome dinner for us. We had homemade pasta and ravoli, vegetables, potatoes, dessert, and coffee. It was a long dinner, but so much fun. And the food was delcious. When offering us more ravoli, the professoressa told us to eat as much as we would like to "feed your soul with food." Our history professor told us this type of cooking is a dying art since children do not want to learn how to make food from scratch. He also said it was likely future generations who visit Italy may not be able to have a meal like we did tonight. 

We also got to visit with the students from the University of Macerata who came to St. Cloud State University. It was great to see them and hear about how they are doing. 

In addition to feeding my soul with food, I also started working at my internship today. I proofread a research article that will be published in English by the university. Food was also involved though, as I went for lunch with my supervisors. 

Our group of students is also great, with each person bringing a unique perspective to this experience. This morning, we lingered over cappuccino talking about our experiences in higher education. 

I am excited to see what tomorrow will bring! Until then, arrivederci (good-bye)!

May 18, 2017

Tonight, one of the doctoral students led our evening salon, or discussion about our experiences in Macerata. He asked us to think about what we have experienced and how that will affect us in the future as we carry our experiences forward. We each shared where we were from, not the city or state, but rather the experiences, people, and things that have shaped us, which led me to how I wanted to write tonight’s blog.

I am from:


Scaletta, or steps in Italy

Orignally made for horses to travel up steep hills, scaletta are steep almost-steps that are close to a 45-degree angle. They are in many places in Macerata in the ancient city, and when you walk them, you definitely get a workout!

Pasta and tiramisu:

ravoli with pesto, tiramsu, and the restaurant  

Tonight our group tried a trattoria or a small, informal place to eat. We had homemade olive oil and bread, homemade pasta (I had ravioli in pesto sause), and tiramisu. Everything was delicious, and our group enjoyed good food and conversation.

Italian education:

The purpose of this class is to help us better understand Italian education. We compare and contrast it to what we know in the United States and use our international experiences to become better educators, administrators, and global citizens. Today, we toured Universita Politecnia delle Marche or the Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona. They teach in five areas: agriculture, economics, engineering, medicene, and sciences.


Macerata was founded in the Middle Ages. In our history class, we learned its ancient name is Helvia Recina. Walls surround the ancient city, the streets are narow and curve so you could easily run and change directions from an enemy attack, and has rows of connected houses to create additional barriers to protect the city from attack.

New friends:

Our group of seven students have quickly become new friends as we share our experiences, discuss higher education, and support each other through our Italian adventure!

Privileged: I am very privileged to be able to come to Macerata and experience studying aborad in a wonderful town! I know I will carry every person I have met or will meet on this trip and every experience with me. Macerata will now be part of where I am from.

May 19, 2017

Anyone who knows me knows I love books and libraries. Today a few of us went to the library. When we first went in, we saw the modern part, similar to what we see in America. We then were figuring out what to do when an employee pointed out the stairs opposite of where we went in, and we found the "real" library. 

This part of the library was beautiful, and to me, a fitting place to keep books. The paintings and murals are almost all original and have not needed to be restored.

Image of the library

Another library employee came to give us a tour. He spoke only Italian, but spoke more slowly so we were able to catch some of what he was saying. 

The library includes a orignal book written by Galileo and a complete set of a third and final edition of a series.


To me, being in the same room and viewing the works of people like Galileo is awe-inspriring. Visiting the biblioteca has been one of the highlights of this trip. 

May 20, 2017


Today we visited Firenze or Florence. Florence has so much history, which was amazing to experience. There is so much history to see and talk about I can hardly do it justice. Our day began with a guided tour about the sites in Florence.

I was excited to see Santa Croce, where Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini are buried. These are people who have contributed to knowledge and culture in so many ways, it is very special to see how they have been honored for their contributions.


We also went to the duomo, or the main church for Florence. Our tour guide told us about the Gate of Paradise, which supposedly inspired Michaelangelo, but really was the door people walked through to the church after their baptism.


We also enjoyed the beautiful views and visited the market. I was proud of myself for negotiating for some of the items I bought.

In the market, there is a statue of a boar. People rub its nose, hoping it will bring them back. I too hope I am able to return someday


May 21, 2017

Exploring Macerata

Today we had a little bit slower day, which was nice after the bustle in Florence. We started our day by discussing our experiences in Florence. It was wonderful to see another city in Italy and explore so many historic places, but I also was glad I could return to Macerata. Dr. Imbra has done a wonderful job of making sure we have an authentic Italian experience.

We had time today to explore Macerata.  We first visited the Clock Tower, though we could not climb all of the way up because of the earthquake. We were able to see, however, the mechanics that power the procession at noon and 6 p.m. As we came down, there was a choir that was singing in the square--it was beautiful! We then watched the clock procession.

We toured the Sferistero, Macerata's Opera House. As a music lover, I have been looking forward to this tour since I first heard this was on the schedule. The Sferistero is the second-largest open air theater in Italy. It was originally built for an athletic game, but the structure was converted into a theater in the 1900s. Every July and August, an opera festival is held, with people flocking to Macerata to attend.
I wandered around in the afternoon, and this evening, a high school performed a free performance of Antigone, although with their own twist as they added in other languages. I experienced how Italian time works, as the play was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., but didn't actually start until 10:15 p.m. Although I do not speak fluent Italian, it was wonderful to see a show in Macerata. Today provided more opportunities to explore the city and enjoy the culture of Macerata.

May 23, 2017

Today was a very academic day.

We began by attending a presentation about qualitative research by Dr. McCullar, Prof. Imbra, and a doctoral student from our group who has been working with Dr. McCullar. Qualitative research is still very new here, so Dr. McCullar and the student provided an overview of qualitative research, and then Prof. Imbra shared her dissertation research.

I then had lunch with Prof. Imbra, including wonderful desserts!



Tonight, the doctoral students from St. Cloud State University and the Univerity of Macerata. Professor Imbra and Dr. McCullar critiqued our resesearch projects. The Master's students from St. Cloud and other students from the University of Macerata also attended and asked us questions about our research. Italian doctoral programs focus on more practical research, with doctoral students working with a company to complete a projects . Some of their projects included introducing children to opera and designing an app. It is always interesting to learn new ideas and see how people are using their education to contribuite to our body of knowledge. 

May 24, 2017

It seems like every day is the best day we have had on our trip so far. Today started with another market day. I wandered around with my roommate and checked out a few book stores before heading to my internship. 

At my internship, I have been proofreading  articles for a historical journal that will be printed in English. Then, we went to a meeting where they unveiled a new advertising campaign, which was a collaboration between the the univerity and the opera. They have new promotional materials, giveaways, and a video to promote the opera in Macerata. The university president, a university professor, the opera director, and the graphic designer all spoke about the project. 

Then our group headed out to a family-owned vineyard. We had a short tour, including ancient tunnels, and a wine tasting.

 We then went to where an elderly gentleman runs a ceramics shop. He gave us a demonstration; it was amazing to see how fast he could create piggy banks, vases, and more from a block of clay. His shop was beautiful. 

It will be exciting to see if tomorrow can be our next "best day!"

May 25, 2017

I have only talked a little about my internship, so I thought I would share some more information about my internship today. 

I have been at the University Press, which is just over 10 years old. My supervisor has worked there for several years. They publish for the university and occasionally travel to book fairs to promote their materials. 

I have been proofreading for a historical journal. The articles have been focused on Russian history. I have been proofreading slowly, wanting to make sure I am making careful suggestions for faculty members' research. I remember in high school when I had to write short papers in my my limited Spanish; I can't imagine writing an academic paper in a foreign language.

My supervisor showed me the Univerity Press website, journals and articles written in English, and several of their publications. These included translations of Emily Dickenson's poems and a book about the University of Macerata. 

She also showed me some children's books they have published that tell the stories of different operas, like Aida or Turnadot. The illustrations were done by students at the local elemenatry school.

I can hardly believe tomorrow is the last day of my internship. I am so glad to have had this opportunity!

May 27, 2017

Today we visited the town of Senigallia. Senigallia is on the Adriatic Sea, and it is very different from Macerata. Since it is by the sea, it is much more flat. We saw many people on bicycles compared to everyone walking in Macerata (plus, I cannot imagine trying to ride a bike on the scaletta here!). 

We had a tour of the town. We saw the sights around the town and toured the home of Pope Pius IX, who was the last pope who ruled over Italy (before the country unified) and the first pope to be photographed. We also saw Roman ruins that were discovered under the theater when they were renovating the building, and visited the Church of the Cross. Although it is a small church, it is very beautiful.


We then had free time to wander around Senigallia. Many of us headed to the beach. The sand is very fine and soft, and the water was beautiful shades of blue, though words cannot do it justice. 


We had a wonderful lunch of pasta and seafood before getting gelato from the store rated as having the best gelato in Italy! It was very good. 

Our day in the sun while visiting the seaside was fun, and tomorrow we will take a cruise  on the Adriatic Sea! Until then, ciao!

May 28, 2017

Today was our last day in Italy, and we relaxed by taking a cruise on the Adriatic Sea. The weather was warm and sunny, and the light breeze kept us comfortable. 

We left from Ancona and sailed past Senigallia, which is the city we visited yesterday. It was fun to see the landsape of the town from another perspective. 


The scenery was beautiful as well. The tour guide pointed out beaches where you can  access them only by boat or by walking down the very steep hill (you park at the top of the hill). The beaches looked wonderful, but I could not imagine walking the long distance to access the beach. 

We traveled to the rock formation Two Sisters, and we were served an aperitivo of meats and cheeses. After we returned, we were served a lunch of seafood. 


Tonight was our final dinner with our group, and we returned to one of favorite restaurants to enjoy pasta, wine, and tiramsu. We then enjoyed gelato before heading back to the hotel. 

This has been a wonderful trip, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to see and experience so much while here. As I mentioned before, one my of classmates always says at the end of each day, "This was the best day!" Tonight, we were joking this was the best two weeks ever! In all seriousness, though, this has been two of the best weeks.

June 3, 2017

We returned to the United States this past Monday, and this past week I have been thinking about our trip and talking about Italy to anyone who was willing (or perhaps not so willing) to listen. 

This led me to wanting to write one more post about the fantastic trip to say grazie (thank you) to those who made it possible:

  • Thank you to the Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis and St. Paul for their scholarship and support so I could have this incredible experience. 
  • Thank you to Professor Imbra for leading and designing a valuable educational experience. Thank you also to Dr. McCullar and to St. Cloud State University's Higher Education Administration program for their support. 
  • Thank you our group members. We had a wonderful time learning, laughing, and talking together. Our group is a large part of why this was such a great trip. 
  • Thank you to Prof.ssa Nicolini, Ilenia and everyone at my internship site, our professors in Italy, the Italian students, and everyone at the University of Macerata who helped plan and organize our experience so we enjoy our time in Macerata. 
  • Thank you to everyone who took time to read this blog and share in my experiences. I hope you enjoyed it!

I have caught the travel bug and would hop on a plane in a heartbeat to experience Italy again. Until then, grazie again and arrivederci (good-bye). 

The Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis/St. Paul is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization
 528 Hennepin Ave | Minneapolis, MN 55403 | (612) 295-4111 

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