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English students immerse in Italian culture

Published on September 13, 2023

English students immerse in Italian culture

Seventeen Eastern students traveled to Florence, Italy, for a six-week creative writing course this past summer. During their time there, students could travel around the country, seeing beautiful views and learning the history of some of the most artistically rich cities in the world. 

The class, taught by English Professor Christopher Torockio, met twice a week for two hours at the Florence University of the Arts (FUA). The students discussed each other’s work, offering feedback and compliments to their peers. By the end of their time in Florence, students were expected to produce a rough draft of a creative piece and revise it after discussion. The main goal: to be influenced by the beauty of their surroundings. 

“Every ‘Creative Writing Abroad’ experience has its own challenges and rewards — for the students as well as for me — but this past year’s trip to Florence turned out to be one of the most fulfilling of my career,” Torockio said. “The students were focused, enthusiastic, inquisitive, open to new experiences and to each other and time and again rolled with the punches when Italy, as it occasionally does, tried to make day-to-day life difficult for us temporary residents.” 

The Duomo in Florence“They got to know each other and had each other's backs,” said Torockio, “all while writing some of the most imaginative, poignant, polished and emotionally resonant works of fiction that have ever been produced during this trip — and supporting each other through the writing and revision process. Quite frankly, they inspired me.” 

FUA supplied various walking tours and daylong field trips. The group was introduced to the history of vintage shops in the city, Italian gastronomy and the history of Roman Florence. Their day trips took them to Venice, where they could explore, and Chianti, where they learned about the process of producing olive oil. 

Many students also took advantage of the opportunity to explore the many museums and churches throughout Florence. They went to the Accademia, where they were able to see the sculpture of David, to the Duomo, where they were able to sit in on a Catholic service, and to the Uffizi Gallery, where they were able to see the art collected by the Medici family.  

"My time studying abroad in Florence, Italy, was life-changing!” said senior Lilia Burdo. “I was able to grow both as a writer and person while immersing myself in a new culture. This was a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and gain experiences beyond U.S. borders." 

During their free time, students had the opportunity to visit different areas of Italy. Many students visited Rome and Pisa, where they saw stunning buildings like the Coliseum and the leaning tower of Pisa. The entire class went to Cinque Terre, a group of five villages along the Italian Riviera coastline, for a weekend. Many took day trips back to visit the beaches. 

“Personally, I always wanted to travel abroad and see other cultures and how it's different from the U.S.," said graduate student Jenna Gannon. "I majored in history, so I liked seeing the architecture of churches and other buildings. This was my first workshop or creative writing class. I hate speaking in large groups, but Professor Torockio made the class welcoming.” 

“One thing I learned is to plan out my spending during the six weeks. Branching out can also be fun and lead to interesting experiences for the day. Many people on the trip didn't know each other, so taking day trips and other outings can help build these friendships,” Gannon said, “I definitely recommend going to the Vatican if you like art or history.” 

Some students even traveled outside of the country. One group of students spent a weekend in Portugal. A few students went north to Austria. Wherever the students chose to spend their time, they used it to guide their writing process.  

“Being as much of a homebody as I am, I thought I would really struggle to be away from what I considered my normal daily life, but when I got to Florence, I was able to make each day there feel like my normal life,” said junior Francette Donato. “This experience really taught me to be independent. I had never traveled before so anything outside of our initial travel was all new to me. I think going with a group from the school also introduced me to so many cool people I might not have gotten to know before the trip.” 

“From the amazing architecture to the talented artists in the streets, there was always something breathtaking happening around you,” Donato said. “I learned a lot about myself on this trip, and I now make sure to take in every little thing around me because Florence showed me how much beauty is really in the world. Overall, I highly suggest everyone look into an experience like this because it truly will change your life!” 

Written by Marcus Grant

Categories: Study Abroad, English