Young Writers Inspired by Month Abroad in Italy

The Eastern group poses for a photo at Florence’s Uffizi art gallery.

Fifteen students from Eastern Connecticut State University spent the month of July in Italy, writing short stories inspired by Italian culture and history. English Professor Chris Torockio led the group of young writers through the five-week field course titled “Creative Writing Abroad.”  Based in Florence, the students met for writing workshops at Studio Arts College International (SACI) and wrote stories based on their explorations of Tuscany and beyond.

“Studying abroad in Italy for five weeks was one of the greatest experiences of my educational career,” said English major Ashlee Shafer ’19. “I worked on a short story about a college student who’s studying art history in Florence, struggling with family issues and her own sexuality. I used landmarks and scenery to describe the setting. Being able to actually live in and explore Florence helped immensely with the setting and art-history information for my story.”

The massive Duomo cathedral in Florence-- Chris Torockio
Pompeii-- Jordan Corey
Capri, Amalfi Coast-- Jordan Corey
Students tour the Uffizi-- Chris Torockio
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre-- Jordan Corey
Vernazza, Cinque Terre-- Joyce Figueroa
Piazzale Michelangelo

 

Jordan Corey, an English major and spring 2019 graduate, wrote a story centered around the historical figure Girolamo Savonarola, an Italian-Dominican monk who was executed in Florence in 1498. “I did a bit of research to produce this story,” said Corey, “from reading up on Savonarola’s extensive history to visiting his statue in person.”

Reflecting on her extended stay abroad, Corey said, “I think it’s impossible to go on a trip of this magnitude and not come back changed in some way. There’s an undeniable element of exploration attached to living in a new country for more than a month. I have a better understanding of my goals as a writer, of my connections with people, and of the steps I need to take to fulfill my plans. A momentary switch in culture does wonders for a recent college graduate.”

Art major Julianna Tigeleiro ’21 wrote a story that deals with grief and the emotional impact of travel on a person’s life. “There’s a big emphasis on how actions in the past can affect the future,” she said, “and the impact that different experiences can have on how someone perceives events in their life.”

Speaking to the writing workshops, she said, “Being in Italy with amazing writers my age who take writing seriously and care about improving their work as well as giving feedback was a great inspiration.”

The sun sets behind the mountains at Vernazza, Cinque Terre. Photo courtesy of Joyce Figueroa.

Communication and English double-major Joyce Figueroa ’21 wrote a story that follows a day in the life of a girl who lives in Cinque Terre, a string of seaside villages along Italy’s rugged northwestern coast. “We interacted with many locals who helped us to experience Vernazza authentically,” she said of her visit to one of Cinque Terre’s five villages. “The people were very inviting, pointing out fun activities and their favorite restaurants. It’s because of this experience that I chose Vernazza as the setting of my story.”

“Traveling abroad is such a valuable experience for students, especially those in creative fields,” Figueroa added. “It allows us to step out of our comfort zone and experience new things. That kind of learning is not something we get to experience in the classroom. These lessons will stay with me for years.”

Other highlights of the trip included tours of art galleries and landmarks, such as Florence’s Duomo cathedral and Uffizi art gallery, and trips to the towered Tuscan village of San Gimignano, the beachy city Viareggio and the picturesque coastal villages of Cinque Terre.  

Written by Michael Rouleau