Students have opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy

Trevor Ivan

The wait may be over for students yearning to experience international culture by living and studying in a city filled with famous architecture and works of art.

Starting next semester, the university will offer students the option of taking their liberal education requirements at its campus in Florence, Italy.

Judith Carroll, program manager at the Center for International and Comparative Programs, said students have expressed a high level of interest in such a program for the past several years. Previously, the university only offered course work in Florence for specific academic programs such as architecture and fashion design.

“We’ve had inquiries from students over the past few years who have wanted to study abroad,” Carroll said. “However, we weren’t able to send them since we didn’t have the curriculum.”

Courses offered include a variety of lower and upper-division courses as well as courses in the Italian language. The upper-division courses focus on specific aspects of Italian art, history, literature and music.

Ken Cushner, director of international affairs at the university, said this program will create the opportunity for more students to study internationally.

“The LERs that are offered will meet most students’ degree needs,” Cushner said. “(The courses) are a solid array of LERs that all Kent State students can benefit from.”

The courses, while following the university’s approved course of study, will emphasize European perspectives and issues wherever possible, Cushner said.

“The LERs will be taught by faculty from the greater Florence area who have a wide range of experiences in Italian and European affairs,” he said.

While in Florence, students will study at the Palazzo dei Cerchi in the center of Florence. The facility dates back to the 13th century, according to the Center for International and Comparative Program’s Web site. The facility’s interior was recently renovated for structural reinforcements, technical repairs and artistic restoration. The exterior of the building still reflects 13th century Florentine architecture.

The building’s interior was also transformed into a modern classroom facility during the renovation, Carroll said.

“The building is fully equipped with Internet access for students and instructional media for professors to use during class,” she said about the modern technology the building is equipped with. “However, the frescoes on the inner walls were preserved.”

While studying in Florence, students will be housed in apartments chosen by the university, Carroll said.

“The apartments, as well as the classroom facility, are located in the heart of Florence,” she said. “Students are within walking distance of many of the city’s museums, restaurants and cafes.”

While in Florence, students are not left completely by themselves. University staff accompanies them, Carroll said. The staff also keeps watch over the students’ apartments to ensure their safety.

Students are able to travel to other destinations across Italy and Europe while studying in Florence. Many of these trips are tied to what the student is learning in the classroom, Carroll said.

For instance, in an architecture course, students will go out and look at various types of architecture throughout Florence and surrounding cities like Rome and Venice.

“The experience is very in your face,” Carroll said. “Students are witnessing century upon century of history right before their eyes.”

Carroll said many students who have studied in Florence say there is an indescribable difference between seeing a work of art in a book and seeing it in person.

Italian language courses are offered to students, but many people in Florence speak English as well, Carroll said.

“Florence is a very sophisticated city,” she said. “Students will find that it may be hard to speak Italian in some cases because many of the people in Florence’s cafes and stores are able to speak English.”

Studying internationally has many academic and personal benefits, Cushner said.

“Students who study internationally realize that other places around the world have people with names and faces,” he said. “Students feel a personal connection to current events taking place on the other side of the world.”

Carroll said international study allows students to see issues from different perspectives.

“This experience lets students lose some of their American centralistic thinking,” she said.

“Students often feel that other countries can’t affect the course of world events the way (the United States) can, which simply isn’t true.”

She said students start to realize that international events, like the work of the European Union, impact their lives.

Students will be taught to recognize and understand European perspectives in the classes they take in Florence, Carroll said.

Students also see how Americans are perceived in other cultures, Cushner said.

“There is a reduction in racial prejudice when these students return home,” he said. “They know what it feels like to be an outsider.”

Cushner said students also feel more confident when they return home since they have had the opportunity to be independent.

So far, there has been a high level of student interest in the program, Carroll said. Currently, 10 students are going to Florence this spring to take a semester of LERs.

There are two upcoming informational meetings for students interested in studying in Florence, Cushner said. They will be held in room 304 of the Student Center at 11 a.m. today and 1 p.m. Oct. 11.

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].