WORCESTER – Students and staff at Assumption University lived and studied at Villino Dufault, the university’s Rome campus, for an entire semester during which they were immersed in cuisine, art and culture Italian.
The small group of students and staff, which returned to the United States last week, were the first group to spend a semester abroad in more than a year.
“With the pandemic, many students had not been on the Assumption campus the year before, and so many students wanted to be back in Worcester and so it really took, I think, a special group to want to go to Rome, ”said Maryanne Leone. , professor at the Assumption and one of the staff who joined the students in Rome this year.
“I think most of the students … hadn’t been to the Assumption campus in Worcester last year, so they delayed their return again … and decided to go to Rome,” he said. she declared. “So I think it was a really unique group, you know, everyone wanted to be there.”
Rebecca Jalbert, a junior at Assumption who studies finance and data analytics, was one of seven students who attended campus this year.
She said she had been trying to go since her sophomore year, first in the fall semester and then in the spring, but both times the pandemic kept her from happening.
“It was the first semester they were leaving people, so I was good to go,” Jalbert said. “I waited, so so excited to finally go.”
The Rome campus, which opened in the spring of 2013, temporarily suspended operations last year due to mounting concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jaylin LaCasse, a second-year Assumption political science student and one of seven students who participated this year, said she was hesitant to travel to Rome at first.
“I was a little hesitant at first, just because I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I had dragged my roommate to Assumption on the Worcester campus with me, and I said, ‘No, we are,’ so that ended up being the best decision I could have made.”
A variety of courses
The students took courses in different subjects, including business in Italian tourism, Renaissance art and architecture, and Italian language courses.
“For art, we would go on site visits, which could be either a church, or specific sculptures, or specific places in Rome that we were studying in art by day,” said LaCasse.
The experiences not only in the classroom but also in Rome itself gave them a real world experience and also had some impact on what students eventually want to do after graduation.
“I think it was a bit of a break for me from my main courses, but the business of the Italian tourism course, this one was definitely the most related to my main courses,” Jalbert said. “This one was interesting because I had no idea how much economic activity the tourism industry has created until I took this course. And I didn’t realize the effects either. positives and negatives of the tourism industry. “
She said the experience prompted her to think about finding a job outside of the United States, not only in Italy but in other countries as well.
Meeting with the mayor
The students also made tours of sites around Rome, including a meeting with the mayor, a moment that marked LaCasse.
“I was able to compare what I saw in Italy with what I saw in America and relate them to each other. We have done that a lot,” she said. “Throughout our Encounters with Rome course, we have been able to compare and try to relate our home country to our host country, which is great in some ways and some not.”
Leone explained that part of the Encounters with Rome course involved a unit examining the Constitution of Italy.
“We look at the US Constitution and compare them and they were to do a project where they were to give examples of how they saw the Constitution as lived in Rome by noticing, observing the city,” she said. “And it could have been the education system or health care or politics… the mayoral race was going on when we were there.”
The students also took a course on the environmental cultures of Europe, a course designed by Leone.
“It was based on research that I did and a book project that I have in the process of reviewing, so it was a unique opportunity to turn that into an ongoing process,” Leone said. “I had to modify this for a course and then use Rome as part of my class for that. “
She explained that the course was designed to engage students with “pressing ecological issues”, which are also “cultural issues”.
“So we studied current ideas in the humanities regarding nature and culture, and human and non-human relationships through literature and film,” Leone said.
They looked at the slow food movement in Italy, in search of sustainable food choices, taking care of the Earth and other topics as well.
Students had Friday through Sunday to themselves, using the long weekends to take day trips to places like Lake Como, or weekend trips to visit other areas. from Italy, Jalbert said.
Travel limited to Italy
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, students and staff were not allowed to leave Italy and visit other European countries.
“I found it positive because it gave us an even deeper experience of Italy itself,” said Jalbert. “I gave the metaphor that …” We could have had an appetizer from each country but instead we had a full meal from Italy “and I enjoyed that. It was a different experience d ‘a normal study abroad, you think you go all over Europe, but we got to really experience Italy on a very deep level. “
The campus is located in a residential area of Rome, allowing students to experience the city outside of its tourist attractions – although there have been plenty of opportunities to do these things as well.
“We were able to experience the Sistine Chapel with a very small number of tourists, which I found incredible,” said LaCasse.
Leone explained that the number of people allowed at the sites was limited.
“I have been to the Sistine Chapel several times and normally you can’t come, but they haven’t allowed so many people at once,” she said.
Students and staff were also able to start developing daily routines, such as going to the gym together in the morning or having coffee in the afternoon.
“Every afternoon around 2:30 or 3 p.m. I had a caffè macchiato and a cookie,” Leone said. “And I was chatting with people at the local cafe or trying different cafes. I had my favorites.”
Although the students and staff also dined out, they mostly ate on campus as they received meals from “Chef Monica, the sweetest Italian lady ever,” Jalbert said.
“We were able to develop a relationship with some of the priests because we got together with them for dinner a few times,” Leone said. “Father Jérôme was our priest who gave us Mass every Sunday and came to dinner with us after Mass, so it was a unique opportunity to also get to know these priests who come from different parts of the world.”
Father Jérôme, she explained, was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while some of the other priests were from France.
Living in a residential area rather than in the center of Rome made it possible for students and staff to feel involved in Italian culture.
“We had our must-see cafes in our neighborhood and a deli, where we got paninis,” Jalbert said. “So we only had regulars and people recognized us in our neighborhood. So it made us more intimate. “
LaCasse said that while the decision to go on the trip was a great one, she is excited to return to the Worcester campus as she had only experienced half a semester before the pandemic brought her to a halt.
“I can’t wait to go back to the Worcester campus and experience it,” she said. “I think starting with Rome really opened my eyes. It was a game changer.”