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Eastern students explore culture and writing in Italy

Published on August 29, 2022

Eastern students explore culture and writing in Italy

Students after hiking to Piazzale Michaelangelo in Florence, Italy.

Vernazza, a small town in Cinque Terre. Photo by Giovanni Torockio.

Florence, Italy. Photo by Giovanni Torockio.

Venice, Italy. Photo by Olivia Melillo.

Seventeen Eastern Connecticut State University students experienced the trip of a lifetime over the summer: six weeks in Florence, Italy, studying creative writing. Led by seasoned Italian visitor and professor Christopher Torockio, the Creative Writing Abroad course allowed students to explore Italian culture while writing a short story and completing a workshop with peers.  

Partnering with Florence University of the Arts (FUA), students were given the opportunity to live among locals in classic Italian apartments, explore Tuscany through several day trips, and receive guided tours of Florence through different lenses, including vintage fashion, food and wine, and architecture.  

Samantha Vertucci '25.
Samantha Vertucci '25.

Our students fully embraced the lively atmosphere and immersed themselves in the Italian culture and Florence's stunning Renaissance art,” said Torockio. “The result was not only an unforgettable international experience, but the complete cultural immersion provided inspiration for some of the most accomplished, innovative, and life-affirming works of fiction ever to emerge from this course and trip, making for some truly lively workshop discussions.”  

Samantha Vertucci, a sophomore English major, found that the location inspired creative writing and feedback from the class. “One of the highlights of this trip was getting to give and receive feedback from my peers in such a unique setting. It was just so interesting to see how we all interpreted our new setting in different ways into the plots of our stories. I always looked forward to reading a new one.”  

Students also found themselves gaining a sense of independence from the trip. “For many of us, this was the first time that we have been removed from a familiar setting for such an extended period of time,” explained Vertucci. “You really had to learn how to be self-reliant and coexist with other people in very close quarters with people you did not know before the trip.” 

Sunset in Florence, Italy. Photo by Olivia Melillo.

Students in their classroom at FUA.

Italian countryside. Photo by Giovanni Torockio.

Students Kai-li Davey (left) and Erin Raymond (right) at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. Photo by Giovanni Torockio.

While many of the students found themselves new acquaintances, there were many opportunities to bond. The class took group trips to Pienza, Montepulcino and Venice, as well as met for classes twice a week and caught up over weekly family dinners, either at a local Italian eatery or hosted by the Torockios. “This tradition is meant to bring all the students closer together and create a fun environment for them to learn about my family as well,” explained sophomore Giovanni Torockio, who attended the trip on independent study. “Usually, the family dinners are some of the students' favorite days.” 

Olivia Melillo '25.
Olivia Melillo '25.

Olivia Melillo, a sophomore English major, found many facets of Italian culture to be new and exciting. From eating cow stomach to hanging clothes outside to dry, students discovered new aspects of Italian culture every day. “It was an impactful learning experience because I also had to learn to be on my own in a foreign country and learn how to communicate with people who didn’t speak the same language I do,” said Melillo.  

Students were provided with the freedom to explore Italy however they chose, with many students taking personal trips to Tuscan towns such as Lucca, Siena and Pisa. The class also took a three-day trip to Cinque Terre, a collection of five small towns on the Italian Riviera coastline. Built into the mountains, the towns provide opportunities to explore local cuisine, swim and hike.  

While students reaped the expected outcomes of studying abroad, such as independence and exploring a new culture, many found themselves coming home with connections they never expected. Through experiences such as family dinners hosted by Torockio and his family, and cultivating friendships with locals, students returned with memories and relationships that will stay with them for years to come.  

Written by Molly Boucher

Categories: English, Study Abroad