The Charger Blog

Students Reflect on Studying at University’s Campus in Italy

As part of the University’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Department’s study abroad program, several students spent a month in Tuscany, Italy. In their travel blogs, they discuss their research and their own experiences exploring the country and the culture.

July 19, 2022

By Sydney Robbins ’24, Sadie Fraser-Read ’24, Alex Vendola ’23, Rachel Swartz ’23, Hannah Faddah ’24, and Jason Wu ’23

Kevin Murphy, Ph.D. (center, back), took students on a tour.
Kevin Murphy, Ph.D. (center, back), took students on a tour.

After the spring semester ended, nearly a dozen students of diverse majors headed to the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, as part of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department’s month-long study abroad program.

As part of “A Taste and Tour of Italy,” the students created travel blogs documenting their experiences and what they learned. While none of them had ever used ArcGIS or WordPress software before, they learned how to create an engaging online travel blog while exploring a new country and immersing themselves in the culture.

Jan Jones, Ph.D., a lecturer and coordinator for hospitality and tourism management and the students’ professor, says she was very impressed by their “high-quality work."

“This is the first time I introduced travel blogging into the study abroad course,” she continued. “It was a challenge to introduce students to a new technology in such a quick-paced course, but I thought it was the best way for them to explore different tourism themes. I also wanted them to have something that they could share with family and friends when they returned. I absolutely loved reading these assignments and seeing them get better each week!”

‘How hospitality industries in Italy are coping’

As part of their assignment, students focused on a specific theme – a niche market – and developed a blog that included research and related it to their own experiences in Italy. Because of the pandemic, this was the first time the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department hosted the trip since 2019.

“After two long years of not being able to run summer study abroad programs, this was an exciting opportunity to return to some type of normalcy in international travel,” said Dr. Jones. “For some students, it was an opportunity to partake in missed opportunities they had planned to take abroad.

“What really made it special was the chance to be able to go behind the scenes and see how hospitality industries in Italy are coping with re-building during post-pandemic times,” she continued. “You could see just how excited they are to share their craft and have tourists back again. This alone made this particular experience special.”

Below, six of the students reflect on their experiences abroad as part of their travel blogs, discussing everything from food to coffee to art.

Sydney Robbins ’24
Experience in Pompeii

I had really enjoyed my time in Pompeii, and I was very interested in learning about all the remains of history left in the archeological museum. Walking on the same roads that citizens had once walked on and seeing the art that had remained was fascinating as well. Although I loved to learn about history and walk through museums, the part that entertained me the most was the shopping. There was a line of street vendors following the entrance to the museum all selling mainly the same products. I tend to like these kinds of shops rather than going into a store and just picking something out and paying at checkout.

Students wrote travel blogs about their experiences exploring Italy.
Students wrote travel blogs about their experiences exploring Italy.

Throughout my time in Italy, I was able to have genuine conversations with the vendors about the city and even about the U.S. A woman told me that the bracelets they sell were designed with volcanic rock that was special to Pompeii, and of course, this resulted in me buying a few. There were many products tied to religion, which I thought was very interesting.

In the city of Pompeii, archaeologists have found the first evidence of streets lined with permanent shopfronts – as distinct from temporary market stalls dating back to 200 B.C. Developments in Roman societies included a city lined with street shops, and it was said that wealthy Pompeiians would build four or five shops on the ground level in front of their homes.

The shops sold products including pots and pans, cushions and other textiles, bread, wine, fast-food snacks, fruits, and vegetables. Discovery of equipment used to make, measure, or store products is how archaeologists determine the type of shop.

Rachel Swartz ’23
Traditional Italian Food- Liguria Region

The Liguria region of Italy (home to the Cinque Terre) is known for a few traditional Italian foods that are popular throughout the country: focaccia, pesto, and anchovies. When I visited Cinque Terre, I made it my mission to eat my way around the cities and try all of these traditional foods before heading back to campus.

I visited La Spezia, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Sadly, I did not have enough time to visit Corniglia or Manarola during my travels and only saw both cities from the water when I took the ferry between cities.

Pesto alla Genovese

The Liguria region is the birthplace of the modern pesto sauce with Pesto alla Genovese created in Genoa. The first pesto-like paste (moretum) in Italy has its roots in Rome, and the dish is made from cheese, pine nuts, oil, and herbs.

In the Middle Ages, this sauce eventually evolved into a garlic-sauce (agliata) made from garlic and walnuts in Genoa. This sauce was created because sailors thought garlic would prevent illness at sea. However, the pesto sauce as we know it was created in Genoa, spreading through word of mouth until Giovanni Battista Ratto published the recipe in 1865, making Pesto alla Genovese a staple of Italian cuisine.

Using a mortar and pestle, basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and salt are mixed into a smooth paste, creating the famous Pesto alla Genovese. The modern pesto is now served as a part of many traditional Italian dishes such as pastas, gnocchi, and risottos.
Fun fact: The popular Pixar movie Luca set in the fictional town of Pontorosso, Italy (based on Cinque Terre) features a traditional Ligurian pasta dish made with pesto known as Trenette al Pesto.

Students were excited to spend a month studying in Italy.
Students were excited to spend a month studying in Italy.
Jason Wu ’23
Lucca a.k.a Cattedrale di San Martino, Chiesa di San Michele e Piazza dell’Anfiteatro
(The Cathedral of San Martino, Church of San Michele and the Amphitheater Square)

We went on a day trip to Lucca, where Dr. Kevin Murphy gave us an excellent tour of the city.

Our first stop was the Cathedral of San Martino, and while we never got an internal perspective, we got a fantastic view of the external façade. Dedicated to San Martino, the cathedral features “breaking of the symmetry” of the façade, one of the main reasons for its unusual beauty.

From there, we continued through the small town, making our way to the Church of San Michele, where up until the late 13th century, it was the seat of the Major Council, the commune’s most important assembly. The church was actually first mentioned in 795 AD, where it was rebuilt by the will of Pope Alexander II in 1070. A large number of sculptures and inlays were first carved and placed in the church in the 13th century, and it was later restored in the 19th century.

On the summit, or top, are three angels, two nameless, standing on either side of Michael the Archangel. According to legend, there was a massive diamond on the angel’s finger.
After our walking tour, we made it to the local amphitheater, once capable of seating up to 20,000, now maybe a couple hundred, due to the renovations of restaurants in the square.

Despite the modernization of the stage, the general shape and entrances were kept, with the tunnels into the amphitheater painted in graffiti, much like the ancient days, in my imagination. Before breaking for lunch, Dr. Murphy gave us a quick tour of the amphitheater, from where the fighters would get in to where spectators would sit, and he even showed us a minor recreation of a fight.

Alex Vendola ’23

Whether you are traveling to Lucca for the famous Duomo, seeing the medieval city walls that successfully protected the city for a very long time, dining out in the amphitheater, or taking a lovely bike ride around those walls (which were all things I had the pleasure of doing myself) Lucca has a lot to offer! This includes exploring the art of Lucca.

Although this city is not as open to new initiatives involving public art, this can make the challenge of finding them more fun! I’ll give you a little guide to help you explore these overlooked works.

A great find is a piece depicting Puccini’s “Women” that was created in June of 2021, featuring the symbolic women of Puccini’s operatic works. Giacomo Puccini was one of the famous and greatest Italian composers of operatic realism during the late Baroque era. Throughout Lucca, you can find endless opera performances and opera houses, and the theme of this project fit perfectly with the aesthetics and history of Lucca. Twelve of Puccini’s women painted in the city center are meant to represent the character of his work. What’s even cooler about these paintings is that six third and fourth graders assisted six well-known street artists in creating the piece.

Jan Jones, Ph.D. (far left), with students in Italy.
Jan Jones, Ph.D. (far left), with students in Italy.
Hannah Faddah ’24
Tourism in the Eyes of a Tourist

I haven’t traveled across the ocean since I was four years old, which was 16 years ago. Even if I could remember any of that trip to the Middle East, it wouldn’t even compare to my experiences in Italy. At that time, I had my father and family with me, so I didn’t have to worry about speaking Arabic to talk to people; my father would do it for me.

In Italy, I have gotten firsthand experience communicating with locals, and I now understand how difficult it can be to even just order breakfast. I can’t say this has deterred me from ever visiting a country in which a foreign language is spoken, though. Seeing how welcoming a lot of the locals have been, even without speaking the same language, has been comforting in ways I didn’t expect. This entire experience has opened my eyes to how different my culture is to others. Italy has a lot of rules about when you should and shouldn’t do certain things. In other words, Italy is very uniform.

It was a very bittersweet goodbye, having to go home. As much as you love the culture, cuisine, and people, it’s also hard to adjust to this kind of lifestyle if you’ve never experienced it before. The people here are so authentic with everything they do. The conversations I have had with locals, whether it was someone coming up to me in the middle of Florence or even just talking to the worker at my favorite breakfast café, those will be encounters I will continue to hold onto.

Being a tourist is not easy. You do, though, learn to adjust and get into a routine as you start to understand certain aspects of the Italian culture. You learn phrases and sayings from conversing with locals that stick with you. I truly do have to say that interacting with the locals and people of Italy have been among the best parts of this trip. Even without trying, they have taught me a lot more than I anticipated, and I will forever be grateful to have had these encounters.

Sadie Fraser-Read ’24

One month in Italy. Many, many cups of coffee later, and it’s time to conclude my study abroad trip in Prato, Italy. After worrying about what I would do without my large iced coffee every morning, I successfully got through the entire month trying the various Italian coffees from all over the country. Not only did I get to learn about the history and culture of the food and people, but the coffee as well!

Students share a meal together in Italy.
Students share a meal together in Italy.

As someone who is enthusiastic about coffee, this was a wonderful experience to adapt to the ways of Italian culture and find some new favorites, and even some dislikes as well. I never thought I would enjoy hot coffee. Whether it happened because I had no other choice for a month, or because I genuinely gave it a chance, I have begun enjoying hot coffee more than I ever have before. As excited as I am to return home and immediately order an iced coffee, I will always be grateful for this experience to learn and experience something completely new!

The first memory I have in Italy includes ordering the wrong coffee, and although it did not taste great, I was still able to laugh about it and have a good time. Following that memory comes the first (real) coffee I had in Prato. The classic cappuccino from Bar Magnolfi right before our tour of Prato set the tone for the perfect first full day in Italy.

A third major highlight of my trip followed these memories when we visited the first coffee house in Florence, Caffe Gilli. While visiting, we learned a lot of history of coffee and the traditions that Italians follow related to their morning routines and beverages. After this experience, I was set on going out and trying as many different coffee beverages as possible while studying here for a month in Italy.

Another highlight of my time here was traveling to France and learning about their coffee culture as well. Although it is very similar to Italy, it was different enough that it was interesting to compare. I also got the chance to try a cappuccino in Disneyland Paris, and it was not nearly as good as the coffee in Italy. The last major highlight from my time studying in Prato and traveling was getting to meet and interact with the owners of the local bars/cafes. Seeing how passionate they are for serving their community and sharing their hospitality with a smile was something that continued to make my day throughout my entire time in Italy.

I will forever be grateful for this experience and hope to return soon. Ciao!

Sydney Robbins ’24, Sadie Fraser-Read ’24, and Alex Vendola ’23 are hospitality and tourism management majors at the University of New Haven. Rachel Swartz ’23 and Hannah Faddah ’24 are psychology majors. Jason Wu ’23 is a business management major.