Friday, July 17, 2009

The Florence Classroom

Just think, you are walking on the same streets as Dante, Michelangelo and Galileo, our students were told on their first walking tour of Florence, Italy. Perhaps their footprints will be as famous one day.

For the time being, however, we just wanted to see their footprints safely back in Los Angeles after an educational experience of a lifetime. As the Summer International Media Institute in Florence, Italy enters its fourth year, we’ve nursed students through strep throat, bronchitis, stolen wallets and homesickness. We’ve also seen their eyes light up at the great treasures in the Uffizi and Accademia, the beauty of the Pitti Palace, the Vatican and Roman Forum and their first taste of Italian gelato. And we can’t forget how impressed last year’s students were when they were invited to the Roman villa of Gaddi Vasquez, then U. S. ambassador to the United Nations. More than one student commented how he inspired them to reach the heights of a Dante or Michelangelo in their chosen field.

The other part of the “we” is Robin Larsen, professor of communications at Cal State San Bernardino. Our sister campus joined the program a year after its inaugural trip. We’ve seen the program grow from nine students to Cal State Fullerton’s largest summer study abroad program. Even more important has been the strong friendship forged between the two of us and our knowledge of Italy which students have come to appreciate. It is truly a team effort.

And we learn just as much as the students. For example, today’s lecture at the Uffizi centered around the changing images of the Madonna by the great Italian masters. In the famed walled city of Siena, the home of the world’s most famous horserace, the Palio, we, along with the students, last Friday learned a new dimension to the city and its treasures.

On weekends, Europe becomes a playground for students. Last weekend one group headed for Venice while another decided to explore Cinqueterra and the Italian beaches to escape the brutal Florence sun. (It has hit three digits here.) We headed inland. One of us escaped the sun by heading to the mountain city of Cortona, made famous by Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun and took a hike to her treasured Bramasole again. (By the way, Mayes, one-time creative writing professor at San Francisco State, is nothing like the person portrayed by Diane Ladd.) The other headed toward Bologna.

When professors and students return at the start of the week, Florence becomes a giant laboratory for their six hours a day of class and out-of-class assignments in feature/travel writing and Italian cinema and history. Some can’t get Florence out of their system and return, such as last summer’s study abroad student Gina Baxter, a CSUF Communications major. She’ll spend the fall semester at the College of the Medici in Florence. The Summer International Media Institute in Florence is an experience of a lifetime for our students.

Tony Fellow,CSUF chair and professor, Department of Communications, and Robin Larsen, professor of Communications, CSUSB, launched the joint Florence program with the help of CSUF Professor Fred Zandpour four years ago.

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