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St. Cloud State 2018 Scholarship Winner - Aspen Easterling



Preparations

In seven and a half weeks I will be in Italy…

In less than a month I found out about the opportunity, applied, and was accepted. I even received a very generous scholarship from the Italian Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

The online part of the class has begun and I have started collecting items in one place. I still have a LOT to do before we leave, but it will all be worth it!

This trip and the corresponding course will provide all of the following:

  • An opportunity to learn about Italian Higher Education
  • A 2 week immersion in Italian culture
  • The final elective course for my doctoral program
  • Time to write and research for my dissertation
  • An opportunity to make connections with people who are doing similar research
  • A trip to Italy, which is a dream come true!



Italian Higher Education

The course associated with this study abroad opportunity is: Critical Issues in Italian Higher Education. The online portion of the course started a last month and one of the assignments involved reading an article about the Italian Higher Education system. I work in a higher education institution and I was surprised by the significant differences between Italian and American higher education. I work at a relatively small institution, in a P-12 education preparation program. My department is very focused on nurturing and supporting students and helping them reach their fullest potential. Our instructors get to know our students and build relationships over their time here.

In Italy, however, it appears college students have very little interaction with the campus community, including the faculty. The courses are largely lecture-based. While the article we read addressed Italian Higher Education as a whole, I am curious about their teacher preparation programs. I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity to learn more once I’m on the ground in Italy.

We also read a book this week about being a mindful and conscientious traveler. It was a great reminder to slow down and enjoy where we are, to soak in as much as we can, and to think about how we can contribute to the communities we visit (not just what we can get out of the experience).


We made it!

The last few days have been a blur. I woke up at 3:45am on Saturday (after 4 hours of sleep). I’m not sure how many hours of waiting in airports and flight-time we had. Rome customs went fairly quickly and then it was a 3+ drive through the gorgeous Italian countryside and over the Italian Alps.

First impressions? From what I have seen so far, Italy is an remarkable mixture of ancient and modern. The airport is super modern…

During the drive to Macerata we saw ancient homes, newer homes, solar panels, sheep, olive trees, vineyards, roundabouts, extremely narrow brick roads… there’s so much to see and absorb.

When we arrived in Macerata yesterday afternoon we had enough time to unpack and take a deep breath before our on-site orientation. We then spent several hours on a walking tour of Macerata and a delicious dinner. I had penne with basil pesto. Yum!  

Afterwards we went for gelato… now I know what the big deal is! It’s super creamy and the chocolate was very strong, but amazing. You can get it in a cone or in a cup and it’s thicker than American ice cream. They also encourage you to get 2 or more flavors. I had chocolate and zuppa inglese (similar to trifle – creamy with bits of red sponge cake and chocolate). 

After a glorious night’s sleep, I started the day with breakfast at the hotel. Of course I had to try a cappuccino! I need to look up synonyms for delicious. It was a lighter flavor than the espresso I have had in the U. S., but really smooth and enjoyable.

After breakfast we met with Prof.ssa Nicolini from the University of Macerata (UNIMC). She’s a lovely, tiny, Italian lady (see picture below – in front of me <the crazy tall lady>) who works at UNIMC.

We (the students) all shared our areas of interest/dissertation topics and Prof.ssa Nicolini described the Italian Higher Education system, which really is very different from the U. S. system. One example she provided: faculty at Italian universities compete for advancement opportunities with faculty from around the country. In the United States, faculty progress up the ranks through a series of steps including professional development plans and reports, service to community, research and publication, etc. In Italy, there are a limited number of full faculty positions available at each university and faculty are often required to move to another university in order to become a full professor.

Lunch involved pizza by the slice – it’s actually a small, rectangular/square pizza that they fold in half. I had an artichoke pizza… no sauce. There was a tiny bit of cheese, some artichoke, and the rest was bread/crust. No picture, sorry… I was actually on the go for that meal.

We wrapped up the day with an intensive, 5-hour Italian language course. I took a lot of notes, which is a really good thing. At some point my brain hit overload and I wasn’t absorbing much. I’ll check my notes tomorrow! We did have a short outing to order coffee and after the class we all went out to dinner with the instructor – who had us test out our new Italian phrases.

I had a cipolla e rosmarino pizza – with rosemary and onions – again, no sauce. We also shared some carciofi fritti e maionese di agrumi – fried artichoke with a mayonaise sauce and some assorted bread items. Roasted potatoes with rosemary were also on the menu – patate al forno – I will definitely be getting those again. There’s something about roasted vegetables… We finished off the meal with dessert e frutta. I had strawberries (fresh and sweet) with creme gelato and caramel sauce… to die for!

We have a trip to Florence on Wednesday!

Time for bed… 12:51am… buona notte!


Firenze!

We've learned a LOT about the Italian Higher Education system so far... We've met with administrators from the University of Macerata (UNIMC), which is the university hosting us, and on Wednesday we journeyed to Florence. WOW. So much to see and do... we barely touched the surface, yet I walked over 26,000 steps.

We received a fabulous tour of one building at the University of Florence. Italian Universities are not structured like American Universities - their buildings are spread throughout the towns, not on a single campus. At the University of Florence we met with a number of people and had several presentations relating to their enrollment, structure, strengths, and even some of the challenges they face. One of the presentations was by the Center for Generative Communication:

http://www.csl.unifi.it/en/

We felt so welcomed and they really did a fabulous job... plus coffee and cookies. It's true that (almost) every meeting you go to has food... I'm not complaining!

After the tour wrapped up we all went exploring. I took SO MANY pictures in Florence... I'll share a few at the end of the post. The history in Florence... the buildings, the art, the innovation... It's indescribable.

We stopped for lunch and had the most amazing lasagna (with pesto and pomodoro sauce) and bruschetta... the tomatoes here are beyond compare.


After lunch, we visited the Gallerie degli Uffizi. There must be hundreds of museums in Florence, but the Uffizi is one of the largest ones.

https://www.uffizi.it/en




We also visited the Ponte Vecchio bridge. They call it the "Gold Bridge" because it is filled with jewelry shops. I've never seen anything like it!


It was an amazing day!



Group Internships & Classes

We learned SO much in the first week of the trip! Between the group internships and classes we have covered the basics of the Italian Higher Education system, a crash course in Italian (mainly how to order food and greetings), Italian History and Culture, and the UNIMC computer information systems (technology) set-up.

The Italian History and Culture class provided a great deal of insight into the reasoning behind the layout of the cities, such as curved streets to hinder line-of-sight in case of attacks.

Over the weekend, we visited the Macerata clock tower. We were able to go about halfway up, to where the mechanisms are located. The inner-workings were non-functioning for a very long time, but were replaced with working-replicas about 10 years ago. It turns out the planetary part (below the clock) is in honor of Matteo Ricci, who was an Italian priest from Macerata who brought both Christianity and a time-measurement machine (aka clock) to China. The stairs were very narrow and uneven – to trick enemies who sought to take over the tower.



We visited Urbino (the city and the University). Urbino is built on a MASSIVE hill, in the mountains and it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site. Other than screaming calf muscles the city was beautiful. We made it to the top of the hill – on a couple of sides – and were able to see the valleys and hills below and the mountains in the distance.



Urbino


We also visited two amazing University of Urbino buildings – one is a former Pope’s palace which the University is preserving. The University of Urbino is actually purchasing and repairing old buildings around town and turning them into functioning office spaces and classrooms. Another building we visited was an old church, remodeled in the 1970’s – it also has stunning views!





I visited the home of Raphael.










You just need to watch your step in Urbino… the road will make a sudden descent (or ascent).


Y U M !

I have a whole new appreciation for authentic, hand-made food... The menu included:

  • Eggplant Parmesan (my favorite) - baked not fried
  • Vegetarian Lasagna with a white sauce
  • Lasagna with meat in a red sauce
  • Tiramisu

There were six of us, plus the chef and another cook (and a translator). It still took about 2 hours to make everything. The chef made the pasta dough (but not the noodles) and prepped the eggplant... otherwise, we made everything else with him... and then we ate it!

At one point, the chef stepped out to the garden to pick fresh thyme, basil, and rosemary. I've never experienced food like what I have in Italy... it is an EXPERIENCE. Food is grown locally and made fresh... It doesn't sit on a shelf or in a refrigerated truck... It is truly the most amazing food I've ever had... and nothing terribly difficult... I think the trick is to have the freshest ingredients and to make everything from scratch.

 

       TIPS FOR MAKING LASAGNA PASTA:

  • Have a master make the dough and roll it out impossibly thin ;)
Cut into squares
Boil squares in water for about 1 minute
Place immediately into ice to cool
Remove most of the water by hand and then place pasta in strainer (with bowl under to catch excess water)
Layer pasta in lasagna
dish and bak
e
Enjoy!







    Senigallia


    What a wonderful way to end the trip… SO relaxing! We drove to Senigallia and other than a quick look at the market and the short walk to the beach, this was my view:



    We had lunch by the sea:









    Macerata














    Reflections


    I've been back home for a week now... long enough to start processing what I learned and experienced in Italy. Here are some of my observations/things that will stick with me:

    - Beautiful buildings, artwork, and rolling hills

    - Delicious, fresh food (especially tomatoes) that is thoughtfully prepared and presented

    - Heat and humidity reminiscent of my time in Texas

    - Lanes, turn signals, and speed limits all seem to be optional

    - The 40-ish tunnels between Rome and Macerata

    - The people don't acknowledge (smile/nod/greet) each other when they pass in the street - unless they genuinely know each other

    - Once you've been introduced to someone, they are very warm, friendly and smiley

    - They were very open about their strengths and weaknesses and open to questions

    - Everything is smaller there: cars, rooms, roads, elevators, doors...

    - Maybe not everything... the hills are pretty steep

    - There's an attention to detail in everything they create (art, architecture, food) which far surpasses anything I experience on a daily basis

    - The Mediterranean sun

    - Olive trees and vineyards

    - Solar farms

    - Cities on hills with centuries of history layered on top of each other

    - The amazing group of women with whom I shared this adventure

    - The Adriatic Sea

    - The clock tower

    - The doors and door knickers

    - Our university systems and government are very different, but we have a lot of the same issues

    I learned more than I ever thought possible. I'm so appreciative of this opportunity, of the financial support I received, and for the new friends I made!


    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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