Kent State establishes teaching program in Italy

Amanda Garrett

Tomatoes ripening in the summer sun. Gorgeous artwork on the walls of some of the world’s most beautiful buildings.

For centuries, Italy has been known for “la dolce vita.” For the second year in a row, Kent State students are going to experience the good life the Italian way.

As part of the Art and Culture Program in Italy, sociology professor Bruce Friesen and art history professor Gustav Medicus are taking a group of 17 students to Florence, Italy, from May 20 to June 25.

While in Florence, students will be able to take courses in sociology, art history and Italian history, Friesen said.

“I look at the courses as being an LER plus or LER capstone,” he said. “It gives students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines an opportunity to learn about a new culture.”

One of the highlights of the course is Italy’s unparalleled art treasures, Friesen said.

“One of the great things about the program is Gus’ art history class,” he said. “Students get a chance to explore original artworks that were designed to be in the settings that they are in.”

Friesen’s global sociology class will focus on changes in Italian society.

“Italy is a great living laboratory to study the effects of globalization on human communities,” he said. “When you take the tour of the grand canal in Venice, among all the beautiful buildings, you see three McDonald’s signs. It looks totally out of place, but those kinds of contrasts highlight the changes in Italy.”

Traditional Italian culture is based around family, but that has been changing in recent years, Friesen said.

“Generally speaking, Italian culture values family and relationships more than American culture,” he said. “It is often said that Americans live in order to work, while Italians work in order to live. Their greatest joy comes from relationships.”

In recent years, as the dominance of the Catholic Church over Italian life has faded, women’s roles are changing, Friesen said.

“Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe,” he said. “As Italians are having smaller families, traditional notions of gender are changing, and more Italian women are entering the workforce.”

One part of Italian life that hasn’t changed is good food, Friesen said.

“The food is incredible in Italy,” he said. “In Italy, they use the freshest ingredients for their food. In America, we are used to going to the grocery store and buying tomatoes that then sit and rot in the freezer. Italians go to the market every day to get their fruits and vegetables.”

Total expenses for the trip are $3,727, which includes round-trip airfare and an apartment in Florence.

The program will be primarily based in Florence, where classes will be taught at a medieval palace. The Palazzo dei Cerchi was once owned by a powerful Florentine family and it is well-known for its 13th Century frescos.

While in Italy, students will take two weekend trips to Rome and Venice and several day trips to historic Tuscan villages such as Assisi and San Gimigano, Friesen said.

More than the culture, the art or the pizza, Italy is wonderful because of its people, Friesen said.

“The Italian people are so friendly and happy and generous,” he said. “They live so well among great historical places.”

Contact news correspondent Amanda Garrett at [email protected].