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St. Cloud State Scholarship Winner Saby L. Labor Blog - May 2016

Reflecting on My Journey to Macerata

I spent two weeks in Macerata, Italy and learned so much from this experience. The people there and the pace of life are the two most memorable aspects. Taking time out of the day for food, family and friends sounds like a good priority to me. As someone who entered a new environment and particularly as a student in another country, I added some important pieces of context to my lens as an educator.

Little things like doing laundry, charging electronic devices, and norms around eating are some daily practices that students arriving to a new country may have questions about and might miss the familiarity of their routine. University programs to orient international students should be thorough and with the aim of providing a community of support for the student. I stayed fairly close to my fellow students while traveling and this made me feel safe and secure while navigating this new environment together.

There are elements of the Italian higher education system we should take into consideration here in the U.S. They have a dual reporting line for their universities and this results in two people as final decision makers at the institution. One of my peers asked if this system is closer to a shared governance model than we might currently practice in our state and I am left wondering about this question. Regardless, their process for university presidential selection involves an election by faculty and staff, and I think there are elements of accountability and relevance a president could bring to an institution if they had to be elected by a majority vote of their peers.

One new partnership initiative that I hope to enact in the community college system is the University of Macerata’s Industrial Doctorate program. This program is a partnership with three constituents: the university, the Marche region, and an enterprise (company). Students apply to the program by presenting a project proposal and interviews with a committee before selected for admission to the program. Each constituent provides one-third of a student’s stipend and the student works for the company and maintains their course load at the university.

The projects, mentioned in a previous post, were innovative and tackled issues impacting the region. It is a great partnership project and I was very impressed by the students in this program.

Lastly, my internship was a continuation of work we are doing regarding digital badges for professional development. We were able to gather feedback and cultural context around some of the concepts we were hoping to implement. The time spent in Macerata was well spent to cultivate interest in the project.

All in all, the trip was memorable and I learned a lot. Many questions and connections are still ruminating, but I look forward to integrating my learnings into my work now and in the future. Grazie mille!

Day 14 & 15: The End of the Journey (for now at least)

Cooking Class

We had a phenomenal experience learning how to cook several Italian dishes at a local restaurant, Un Punto Macriobiotico. Even Professoressa Nicolini jumped in to slice up some cucumbers with a new special cutting method she learned. Here are some photos of all the fun! We finished off the evening with a fantastic meal. I have never tasted a seitan dish and pasta with mussels so delicious!!!



We visited the seaside city of Senigallia and the water was gorgeous! The weather was fantastic with the warmth of the sun and a slight breeze accompanying us that day. We started in the main piazza and visited shops during the morning. We walked to lunch at a restaurant that was right on the beach front. I had the most amazing seafood lunch of my life. Fresh clams, prawns, fish, and vegetables with pasta and more pasta. Dessert and cappuccino topped off a phenomenal meal.

We concluded our day with a walking tour of Senigallia. We saw a medieval castle, Rocco Reveresca, and captured an amazing view of the city and coastal line.

We saw churches and landmarks around the quiet town, because everyone was off spending personal time in these early afternoon hours. Seeing the coastline again was a nice end to our time in the Marche region. Tomorrow, we travel back to the States and say goodbye to Macerata for now. Ciao!


Day 12 & 13: Fattoria Forano and Ceramiche F.lli Testa

We visited a fantastic vineyard, Fattoria Forano. Chiara, the owner, was one of several generations of family members to run the vineyard and the first woman! She gave us a tour of the cellar and explained the process in which they pick the grapes and proceed to ferment the wine, producing both red and white wines. We walked through a tunnel way, which was lit (yet, still too dark for my delicate tendencies). Local families and businesses can purchase bulk wine for their meals at a very affordable cost. We were able to sample Le Piagge and Occhio di Gallo wines, coupled with terrillos, local breaded snacks (delicious!).

After our visit to the vineyard, we jumped in the vans for our next stop – Ceramica F.lli Testa. This family-owned ceramics store is currently run by Giuseppe, a very happy and photo-loving local of the region. The shop had cups, bowls, and other containers with beautifully mixed shapes, color variations, and sizes. Giuseppe is the last in his family to run the shop, as his children will not be taking over the family business after he is done with his life’s work. He has been doing this for over 70 years and whipped up a few pieces while he talked with us at his work station, smiling the entire time! He was more than happy to take a photo with our group after he showed off  his ceramics skills. What an honor it was to visit local artisans in the Marche region.


Day 11: Biblioteca Comunale di Macerata

Our new friends, Ph.D students from the University of Macerata, gave us a tour of the community library, or Biblioteca Comunale di Macerata. Within these walls, there is another library that houses the city's ancient manuscripts, even original versions of the Bible and original frescos on the ceilings that have never been touched up (the colors are so vibrant that you might think the paint is still drying from the previous day). Thanks to the students, they were able to arrange a guided tour by one of the librarians who has helped maintain this collection for more than 30 years and Federica translated his presentation to English.



Day 11: Language (Opportunities and Barriers)

I would like to take a moment to speak to folks that help to orient newcomers, whether they are new students, visitors in hospitality and other service sectors, or just new folks visiting our various neighborhoods. I will speak only from my experience here. This is my first venture overseas into international territories (I am 32 years old). I practiced some Italian words before arriving, took a brief class on conversational Italian language and customs, and yet, sometimes my mind goes blank to say “buongorno”, “grazie”, and other single words I have acquired.

I am able to travel in a group of students that are also navigating this environment, and our hosts from the university whom are invested in us having a welcoming experience. The people in this town have been friendly and open to trying hand gestures, or calling on their friend or colleague who speaks more english. My observations are these:

1.   Their openness to communicate with any available means (hand gestures, body language, asking for assistance) is often more than we might do in the U.S. I have worked in educational environments in the U.S. where “English only” is enforced for newly arriving students, and I would like to continue shifting this single-language, English-only culture in my own practices as an educator and future administrator.

2.   Many of the students have been exposed to some degree of English language learning in their formal schooling (recent years from my limited inquiries). I can not say the same about my own exposure to Italian language. Now, I acknowledge the language has not been spoken frequently in my own experience growing up, but I am troubled by this nonetheless.

In some of the higher education environments I have worked in, colleagues have struggled with outreach materials that are translated for the native language of students and their family members (parents in particular). I believe many colleges in the U.S. are innovating these multilingual practices and I would be interested to see this more widespread in our practices, as well as our cultural practices. For instance, in my next post I will highlight how our favorite friendly restaurant staff member, Sylvia, goes above and beyond when confronted with our bumbling Italian skills.

As mentioned in my previous post, we encountered many helpful folks while in Macerata and other areas of the Marche and Tuscany region. Sylvia was one notable Macerata restaurant server who went above and beyond to communicate with our group. Here are some simple strategies and tools Sylvia used when confronted with a large group of English-speaking adults.

1. Google Translate: Sylvia used her smartphone to access Google Translate while translating Italian words to communicate with us in English.

2. Google Images: The menus in Italy are much more robust than we were used to, with special preparation, seasoning, and vegetables in which many of us were unfamiliar. She would search words in Google Images to pull up a picture and we would all nod at our recognition.

3. Show example and associate word spelling and pronunciation: Twice, Sylvia asked the chef for food items to display in small quantity on a plate so that we could associate the food item with the Italian word and pronunciation. She must be an educator at heart with her mixed use of visual and auditory learning strategies.

4. Asked a friend/colleague for assistance: When in doubt, she asked others around her, and we tried using our handouts and smartphone apps as well.

All these strategies and tools were simple to use and made a profound impact on our experience. I hope to model this welcoming environment when interacting with folks in which we are proficient in different languages. Grazie mille Sylvia!

Day 10: Doppiozero LAB

Let me take a moment to highlight this fun, friendly, and innovative eatery in Macerata. In pairs, small groups, and large groups, we have visited for pranzo (lunch), aperitivo, and cena (dinner). The small staff has been so friendly, always smiling and welcoming us to their cafe. The food has been stellar! Today, for instance, Laura (GVSU student) and I went for lunch at Doppiozero LAB. At first, we looked at their chalkboard menu which highlights the days specialties. The person behind the counter pointed to a meal another customer was eating, with fried goodies on it. I said “Si! Per favore!” Little did I know the treat that I was about to consume.

This plate, which I believe is called Fritto Misto, is an assortment of fried foods, including zucchini, artichoke, olive stuffed with meat, potato, and fried chicken pieces. In the middle of the plate, there was a sort of mayonaise (but maybe more of a sour cream aftertaste) and a slice of lime. This.meal.was.deliziozo! The fried food here is NOT the same as in the U.S. They use olive oil for anything and everything (and their ancestors really got it right). It was a meal that I cannot even describe. I did not “feel” as though I just consumed a plate of fried foods; usually, I feel greasy fried foods in each and every joint in my body (and that is not a good thing). This was different. I have not seen many fried foods here, so this plate was a pleasant surprise.

As Laura and I devoured our meals, we contemplated whether we would finish off our sitting with a dolci (sweets/dessert). Lining the bakery display just within arms reach of our table, we could see pizzas, cupcakes, brownies, sweet tarts, and …you get the idea (desserts I never knew existed). Directly behind the counter was a small chalkboard with only the speciality coffee drinks of the day.

We weighed the pros and cons of coffee versus gelato, the philosophy behind both, and the impact it might have on our schedule (okay, it was not this extensive, but we thought pretty hard about this decision). We ultimately decided to get the Doppiozero coffee and it was delectable! The cup is lined with chocolate, then coffee is added, with creme on top, and a drizzle of more chocolate on top. The creme was not sweet, more bitter, and this mixture balanced the other elements just perfectly. I felt it was essential to spend a bit of time to highlight this artisan cafe with local ingredients and friendly faces. Each time we have visited, it has just made our day!


Day 9: Ancona

Ancona is a gorgeous seaside community on the Adriatic Sea. The sun was shining and the winds were just right on the day we toured the coastline. There were two levels to be seated once we boarded, with lawn chair options on the top level and chairs on the lower level. Our group gravitated upstairs and we found ourselves in these fancy lawn chairs with sun visors to control the amount of direct sunlight exposure to our faces. There were about 40 people aboard.


The chef, Mateo, a fourth year university student, led his team on the lower level as they prepared the food for the aperitivo and our lunch. We traveled up the coastline for over an hour, and returned South where we docked and were served a complex and delicious lunch. They served us as if we were in a fine restaurant, with plates, wine glasses, and linens. We were amazed at the care and attention to this meal, given that it was prepared in a small kitchen aboard a boat. The seafood was fresh, and the ingredients were well paired. We drank white wine from the region and finished our meal with an assortment of dolci (desserts). We stepped back onto land with full bellies and sun tans to match.

Grazie, Ancona!

Day 7 & 8: Camerino and Florence

We visited the cities of Camerino and Florence, a stark contrast to one another.


From the mountainside roads, Camerino sat atop a hill and for those of us that do not bask in the beauty of ancient ruins daily, it looked like something out of a dream. Past the fog of the periodic rain hugging the mountains, sat this tiny castle, which grew larger as we neared. As we proceeded up the narrow cobblestone streets of the town of Camerino, folks glanced at our van (very large in comparison to the tiny vehicles everyday people use) as they stepped into doorways and other inlets that would allow both the vehicle and their body to co-exist in this delicate transit ecosystem of pedestrian and driver.


We were dropped off the city center, a Piazza that was bustling with activity due to a festival scheduled to begin that afternoon. (Side note: imagine a medieval or Renaissance Festival in an actual ancient structure within a medieval town. The U.S. can try their best to imitate and show tribute, but this is the real deal).

Dottoressa Clementina (in Italy, you would refer to a woman who has a masters degree as Dottoressa), a librarian at the University of Camerino (Università Di Camerino). She led us on a tour of the biblioteche, through ancient manuscript collections (manuscripts dated until 1830), as well as caves that have been converted into reading rooms and special lecture auditoriums. Their Aula Magna (grand classroom) was spectacular. It boasted red velvet chairs facing a large stage, and tall windows facing trees over 30 meters tall and a beautiful green hillside.


We then walked around the town in small groups, adjusting to the small via ecosystem of cars and pedestrians. It was rainy, so we huddled under an umbrella and rain coats as not to get drenched. We found a beautiful garden outside the Rocca di Borgia, a castle built in 1503 and was a location occupied by German military forces and housed Jewish internment camps during World War II. This latter part of its history is not something Italian folks are proud of and did not have any say in its use as such. Many of the towns, particularly seaside areas of Italy, were occupied by German forces at this time. This castle grounds now are used as a childrens playground, a ristorante, and a historic site. We walked to the edge of the garden to capture breathtaking views of the city and could see green plots of farming land for miles.

Florence (Firenze)

Our trip to Florence the next day began with a 5 am departure. Our group members,  half wide awake and the others with one eye open, boarded two vans and were on our way. We stopped at a caffe off the freeway, which to our surprise was a convenience store, restaurant, and coffee shop. I ordered a donut with nutella inside and a cappucino latte, which was a warm glass of steamed milk, and a separate shot of espresso. I poured the espresso shot in the milk, and instantly new this was my favorite cup of coffee since I arrived to Italy. We were ready for our final leg of the drive to Florence and arrived after 9 am to meet Samantha, our tour guide.

Florence has so many historic sites and is the origin of much of the worlds knowledge, particularly during the Renaissance and Enlightenment Periods. Our 3-hour tour was extensive and likely only a fraction of the significant sites and artifacts. We happened to visit on the first weekend of their tourist season, so the streets were packed with tour groups and other visitors. We were aware of how vastly different this city environment was compared to our experiences in Macerata and Camerino. Personal space was an illusion in this city, with crowds of people paving their way through the streets, street vendors, and people capturing photographs of very large buildings and statues.


After our tour, I walked across the Fiume Arno (Arno River) after a much needed rest. I felt very small, as has been frequent in my visit here. The innovative architecture and history of this place is a reminder of place, time, and significance. Additionally, the early minds of our worlds history built these structures with much success and also some challenges created by natural elements (such as floods in this case). I ended my journey at a nice quiet park adjacent to the river, where people were sunbathing and enjoying the day before the sunset.

Tomorrow, we visit the seaside city of Ancona on a boat tour. Perfetto!
(P.S. Apostrophes are missing from this keyboard, thus may be missing from my post. Grazie!)

Day 5 & 6: Hosted by University of Macerata Scholars

The doctoral student presentations were held in UNIMC’s ancient library, which was a beautiful room adorned with gold accents and detailed wood engravings and ceilings. The view of the city and the clear blue skies was unmatched since my arrival to Macerata.


Prof. ssa and her Ph.D students, Federika, Monica, Valeria, Sara, and Mateo presented their graduate work and each student is at varying degrees of advancement in their program. They are so humble and each studying very interesting topics, such as agency in digital communities, culturally competent teaching strategies for diverse students, developmental toys and education guides for children, music education about the opera for young people, and children's food choices and the impact on the family (fantastic food education work goes on here in Macerata). Each apologized for their English language capabilities, which has been a recurring theme here and one that I find represents their humble nature rather than a realistic depiction of their skills. We took notes and asked questions of each other’s research and projects.

One strength of the university’s approach that I would love for us to commit to more fully in the United States is their approach to the purpose and impact of such a project as the graduate-level project. Their projects directly address and tangibly impact their community. Their research projects included:

● A children’s book of the opera
● an educational toy to develop children’s drawing/fine motor skills
● a curriculum for cultural competency in early education settings
● strategies for building agency through existing Internet use in Macerata
● Food education strategies to improve health indicators across families

Their efforts were remarkable and they brought forth brilliance and humility. They were fantastic hosts and offered us a delicious assortment of pizzas, fruits, and chocolates. Food seems to be interwoven into every aspect of life here in Macerata and let me tell you that they are exemplary in the area of cuisine and hospitality.

We concluded our doctoral salon and ran over to Meet Professore Rocchetti. He gave us a a tour of their Aula Magna (grand/big classroom). He noted that each university had such a room and if you want to know their history, to visit this room or their library and you can find out so much in just these two rooms. He then taught us Italian History and Culture for the next four hours. He presented us with the history of Italy, including the influence of religion and war, and covered many significant historical moments. He also spoke of cultural practices surrounding food and cinema. He provided us a history of universities in Italy and particularly the University of Macerata. We all took notes vigorously and noted many similarities in our political contexts at this moment in history and had great discussions about gay rights, especially in light of the recent civil union rights for same-sex couples across Italy.


Day six began with a cappuccino and cortino with Dr. Imbra, then a walk around the viable that surrounds the walls of ancient Macerata. The venue in the mountainside was breathtaking. You could see plots of land where families farmed and their country villas where they spent time with family throughout the year. Picture 30+ days of vacation time and 36-hour work weeks (currently for UNIMC faculty), as well as a cultural context that priorities your health and your family’s health if your work schedule conflicts with these priorities.

The day flew by and I stopped at many shops to buy local goods, enjoying more of their cuisine. I ended the evening with a wonderful dinner conversation with Bianca, a student affairs graduate student. We ate at QB, which stands for Quanto Basta (what is enough). We have visited this bar (a bar is a place to eat for breakfast, aperitivo, and dinner) a couple of times and have found the staff to be extremely helpful and welcoming. This bar is one of two in Macerata that is LGBTQ-owned, and additionally there are a handful of other locations that are welcoming to LGBTQ people.


Day 4: Doctoral Internship & Welcome Dinner

Today was full of food, new friends, and laughter. The morning began with a cappuccino sporco (very sweet!). The weather was fantastic with sunshine and clear skies. My first official task of the day was a meeting with Dr. Mills and Laura to discuss our presentation about the introductory digital badges presentation. We talked over a cup of coffee and walked over to one of the UNIMC buildings to meet a couple of Ph.D students that would assist us in locating an office where we could further work on our presentation materials. 



Afterward, I met Dr. Imbra and the other doctoral students for pranza (lunch) to discuss the salons we would be leading. We ate at the Osteria dei Fiore. The menu was one of the only ones I have seen so far with English translation underneath the Italian listing. I ordered a risotto dish with strawberry, ginger, and lemon. I don't think I would hav ordered this dish if I was at home in the U.S. I'm so glad that I did. The flavors were so full and fresh. The combination of ingredients was so unique and eating a pink rice dish was a new experience as well. I tried a bit of 
semifreddo, a delicious dessert with ice cream and a cappuccino. It was very refreshing. They are very intentional with their choice of food combinations, changing the menu in some restaurants daily to reflect seasonal vegetables and other organic regional foods.

The presentation went well, with about 18 attendees in the room, many of them Ph.d students of Professoressa Paola Nicolini. We presented in Salva Consiglia, a beautiful room at UNIMC with a gold Confuscious statue and magnificent ceilings. Each of the seats at the table was equipped with a microphone and a rolling red leather chair. Professoressa Nicolini assisted with translation to english at times; however, I have found our Italian hosts to have better English language skills than we do with the Italian language.

After the presentation, our group attended a UNIMC welcome dinner at Il Cortile restaurant, featuring their candidate for university president and St. Cloud State University faculty and administrators. We ate so much food! It was fatta a mano (handmade) and there were several courses and entrees within each course. Here is what we ate to the best of my recollection:

  • Antipasto (appetizer): olive ascolante and cremini frita and piate frite
  • Primo: fettucini carciofi salsiccia
  • Contorni: erbe misto (mixed veggies, chard and spinach)
  • Dolci: cantucci (similar to biscotti) dipped in wine

Dinner was full of laughter and gifts for our host, Professoressa Nicolini. She has been so fantastic in her abilities to match us with internship supervisors, schedule salons and activities within the Marche region, and mitigate any challenges that arise. We began our meal at 7:15pm (which is very early here) and finished after 10 pm! Our bellies were so full. We walked back to the Albergo (hotel), although the doctoral students had one last task to complete for the next day's salon with UNIMC doctoral students before heading off to bed. What a day!!

Day 3: Orientation to Italian Language and Higher Education System  

This morning, we had our internship orientation with Professoressa Paola Nicolini. She presented to us an overview of Italian higher education. The classroom we visited was decadent to say the least. The vaulted ceilings were covered in a classic mural, as were each wall in the room. The room held several tiers of long wooden benches where university students sit to receive their lecture, and there is an elevated pulpit where the teacher (insegnante) speaks from. Courses enroll more students than can fit in the room and once the door closes at the start of the lecture, you may not enter. Students need to arrive early for a chance to locate a seat. 

We each met our internship supervisors and then departed for a tour of our internship site. A couple of supervisors took students for caffe to talk, which is typical in the workday here. I met with Dr. Mills and Laura Walter. Our internship is a continuation of a project we hope to pilot with the University of Macerata regarding digital badges. The three of us will present an overview of digital badges and the pilot program tomorrow.

I had an hour of down time so I opened the shutter doors to my terrace at the Albergo (hotel) and worked on our group's presentation slides for a bit before journaling.

Pranzo (lunch) at Il Pozzo was delicious. We had a pasta called Calamarata carciofi asparagi pomodorini (thick ring pasta with artichokes, asparagus, and tomatoes) and a basket of bread for the table. The servings were quite large and the vegetables were fresh. It was a great meal!

We walked over together to our Italian language class and were cautious of the passing vehicles on the narrow streets. Even the city bus fits inside the street way along with pedestrians, although barely (in my opinion).

We spent four hours learning Italian language related to food, greetings, directions and places, as well as numbers. We practiced our Italian ordering a glass of vino at an aperitivo (like a happy hour in the U.S., except the emphasis is on eating gourmet appetizers rather than binge drinking). For Italians, this time is for strengthening relationships/friendships and dinner time is later in the evening, as early as 7:30 pm. Afterward, I was able to order a gelato in Italian from an artesian gelateria (ice cream shop). Here is a photo of myself moments before eating the gelato with benissimo and coco gusti (flavors). Yummy! 
What a fantastic day! I decided to head back to my room at the Albergo to journal and reflect on my terrace, where the sun is setting over the ancient walls of Macerata. Buona notte (good night).

(Photo credit: Chris Caulkins)

Day 1 & 2: Journey to Macerata

We arrived to Rome and everything went smoothly on the flight and at the baggage claim. Our flight was 9 hours and we were quite pampered with warm cloths, eye masks, and so much food and drink during the flight. Wow!

Thankfully, everyone’s baggage arrived and our van drivers were waiting for us with smiles and gifts of pane (bread) for each of us. The weather was warm and the sun was shining in Rome.

We were a big group, with 11 people, so we needed two vans to transport us from Rome to Macerata, a 3-hour drive. We drove very fast and the view was absolutely beautiful. The cars here are very small and there wasn’t many on the road. The first two hours was mostly flat land with slight inclines at times, but the last hour consisted of very windy roads with rain and fog coating the beautiful mountains and towns. Here is a photo of the landscape:

We arrived to Macerata Sunday at 1pm to check-in to the Albergo (hotel) and I was exhausted, so I took a shower and nap before our tour of the town. I also figured out how to turn on the lights in the room, use my electrical converter and adapter, and after much confusion learned how to flush the toilet (very different setup here). Dr. Imbra then showed us around the town, including the main piazzas (squares) and highlighted the corsos (main roads). We noted several buildings where the University of Macerata was located, as many of us would be visiting our internship department supervisors and staff (administratore dell’università). It takes about 20 minutes to walk across the town from one ancient wall to another, or inside the ancient walls (dentro le mura) before entering the modern city of Macerata (fuori le mura). The town is all cobblestone roads and scalettas (inclined stairway) and every inch of the architecture attributes to its medieval origins, with gorgeous wooden doors of all sizes with cast iron door knockers. Many buildings have window shutters and rumor has it that you can tell a lot about its occupants from the manner in which the shutters are open or closed, or whether they are too private, too public, or a bit nosy. Lining the ancient walls is the Viale, where people often jog or walk in the mornings and during the day, lined with parks and benches. I got a glimpse of amazing landscapes of rolling green hills and will have to venture out this week to see them.


We returned from our first day in Macerata pretty tired and excited from the day. I journaled for a bit and sent some last emails back home to Minnesota before going to bed early. Day 2 of 16 is already completed. Oh my!!!

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