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Italy Maymester 2011

Course Details


The Italy Maymester course started in January, meeting at two different times each Thursday.  The course had two main components involving learning about the culture and history of Italy and preparing for travel in Italy.  To meet the desired ends of the travel portion of the course each student had to successfully complete language lessons from and Pimsleur’s auditory language acquisition system.  To demonstrate the completion of learning of these Italian language lessons the students were each given 8 different auditory and spoken quizzes involving basic phrases, the asking of specific questions, and the ability to use the language in a conversation that was completely in Italian.  Next, each student was required to completely plan an excursion day for the entire group.  These plans included but were not limited to figuring out and mapping the drive from the hotel/villa to the main attractions, estimated mileage and fuel cost, places to eat, where to park, cost of parking, tickets for museums/castles/tours, etc.  Students would often have to speak to local Italians to get further and more specific directions as signs were not always clear or available.  While traveling in Italy students were forced to problem solve on the spot, as their mapping and our traveling didn’t always go exactly as planned.  These detours actually allowed them to have a great many learning experiences that they wouldn’t have had otherwise and from these experiences the students developed a Maymester motto of “I would rather be lost in Italy than found in America”.  We all still chuckle about this as we fondly remember the places and people we met as a result of a missed sign (or no sign where there should have been one!) or a map that was off a bit.


For the purpose of developing richer understandings of Italian culture and history the students read the course text book, A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge by Christopher Duggan), which explores the rich and complex history of the Italian peninsula and the circumstances which led to its unification, the cost of unification, and the political manifestations that developed as a result of its long an arduous striving for unification.  Students also did research on ancient Rome, geography, Italian music, architecture, and art.  Lastly, each student researched Italian cuisine and was put in charge of choosing two authentic Italian meals to make and serve the group at the villa.  Each student chose their meals and developed a list of ingredients that they then had to sequester at the local markets in Italy.  This endeavor proved in some cases to be difficult as the students had to think through conversions with Italian merchants. Furthermore, some of the markets didn't have all the ingredients students might have needed so they had to ask how to improvise the meal.  When it was all said and done each student cooked two meals for the group that was tasty and authentically Italian.

With the travel preparations, culture, and history learning complete, the group set out for Italy on May 11th.  The group stopped over in Tulsa for a night of rest before we got up at 3am and headed to the Tulsa International Airport.  We flew to Chicago, then on to New York LaGuardia Airport.  The flight to Italy actually left from JFK so we had to transfer our luggage from LaGuardia to JFK.  Once we arrived at JFK we got our new tickets and checked our luggage for the flight to Rome.  This left us with about 7 hours of lay over.  Dr. Matney took the group on the subway to visit Times Square and Central Park during the wait.  This was several students first time on a subway and first experience of NYC. The students experienced New York style pizza at Famous Ray’s and enjoyed a time of leisure in the park.  Once in Rome we experienced some difficulty securing our reserved vehicle but in the end Dr. Matney was able to find a company that had a vehicle and would rent it to him.  From there we used the student maps to make our way to the EuroStar Roma hotel and relax for an hour before embarking on our walk to see the Coliseum and eat at a local restaurant that viewed the coliseum and its lights at night.  The group got quite a treat that night in Rome for there was a fabulous showing of Italian cars driving around the Coliseum by police escort.  A long parade (a couple hours worth) of classic Italian cars drove right by our table by the street (just outside the restaurant) circling the Coliseum a couple times then making way for the next group of cars.  This continued throughout our entire dinner.

The next day we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon (and a plethora of shopping and other smaller sites in between).  We took a taxi back to the hotel and left for Modigliana, Italy.  The trip to Modigliana amazed us as all along the Autostrada students saw city after city completely overtaking the tops of the large hills. The many castles gave opportunities for us to marvel at historic Italy and the way they have lived for hundreds of years.  It was very late when we made it to Modigliana so Dr. Matney asked the local associate of EmmaVilla’s, Fabrizio, to take the group to a local eating establishment.  The group met many local Italians and got to practice their basic conversation skills as well as eat some good local food. 

The next day the group rested up and tried to acclimate to the new time zone as well as prepared for the week ahead by going to a very small local market to gather food for the meals they would make the first part of the week as well as to pack lunches for the excursions. 

The next day was Monday and the group got up early and left for Venice.  In Venice the group spent several hours meandering through the various streets looking at the many, many churches and local goods and cuisine.  The group took an historical gondola tour which featured the Mansion of Casa Nova and Marco Polo’s Palace.  Lastly, the group visited the Bridge of Sighs, the Bridge of Love, and La Piazza San Marco and its church.  The next day was a rest day and students spent several hours that day writing reflections about their experiences in Italy (Rome, Modigliana, Venice) as well as rest (many still suffered from jet lag) at the villa, sun bathing, playing tennis, swimming, hiking in the local mountains, playing ping pong, etc.  That evening Dr. Matney started a fire in the Villa fireplace and asked each student to share their favorite experience of Italy up to that point. 

On Wednesday we visited Florence, specifically, we visited the Duomo, went up in it to see the interior and exterior of Brunelleschi’s dome (which was one of our post test questions) as well as the Uffizi art gallery in Florence where students got to see many pieces of art they had previously only encountered in text books, including, da Vinci’s The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi, Botticelli’s Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch and Pope Leo X and many, many others.   

On Thursday the students reflected on Florence and we took a restful drive to visit Revenna and Fano, two towns on the Adriatic side of Italy.  We observed the coast and prepared for the next few days.

Friday morning we got up early as we had to take one of the longest drives of the trip from the Villa in Modigliana to Pisa and Lucca on the other side of the peninsula.  In Pisa the students saw the leaning tower, the church, and its famous Baptistery.  From there we left for Lucca to go to the Museo Nationale di Villa Guinigi which holds much art and religious artifacts.  Lucca is a well preserved Renaissance town and is surrounded by large city walls and has been left pretty much as it was hundreds of years ago.  In addition to the museum students got to observe the inside and the outside of the Guinigi Tower which was the central tower responsible for the cities defense and community notification with the bells.  Lastly, the group ate a meal before returning to Modigliana.

Saturday morning the group got up and packed up for the transfer from Modigliana to Ficulle (Orvieto).  We checked out of our villa, drove a few hours and checked into our new Villa.  The group went to the Market and got some of the food for the week.

Monday the group awoke early and went on the longest excursion day of the trip, Pompeii and Naples.  Pompeii’s ancient ruins took up a major portion of the day.  Then the students ate at Da Michele, where they have stuck to the tradition of Neapolitan pizza making (and was featured in the film Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts).  After dinner the group took out on foot around Naples, seeing the National Museum, Piazza del Plebiscito, and the Maschio Angioino castle.  It was very late when the group left Naples and as such we did not return to the villa until well after midnight.

Tuesday was a rest day and was well needed after the long excursion day and late night getting back from Pompeii/Naples.  Students rested, reflected, made authentic meals in the villa, and relaxed at the villa.

Wednesday we went to be a part of the Pope’s audience and hear a major world leader give a speech.  After that we toured the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Square, the Castle San Angelo, the Spanish Steps, and the Trinita dei Monti church.  On the way back to the Van the students stopped at the world famous Gelateria Giolitti to have some of their wonderfully rich and smooth gelato.  Upon our return to the villa we stopped off in a quaint little town called Orvieto and meandered about the village area and had dinner.

On Thursday the group reflected together on the Italy experience, cleaned up, packed, and loaded up early the next morning for the Flight back home. Friday we turned in the van, flew back from Rome to Chicago.  In Chicago Dr. Matney took advantage of the 6 hour layover and took the group to have Giordano’s Chicago style deep dish pizza.  This was pre-planned on his part so that the group could then vote on who had the best pizza (New York’s Famous Ray’s, Napoli (Italy) Da Michele’s, or Chicago’s Giordano’s).  The group voted and it was a tie between Napoli and Chicago’s style of pizza, 4 for Chicago and 4 for Napoli. It is worthy to note that everyone's second choice was New York.

The plane arrived in Tulsa around midnight and Dr. Matney called the shuttle to take the group to the cars.  They loaded up and reached Fort Smith around 2:30am.

What follows below is are a couple maps showing the travel around Italy that the students got to do with the blue circles around major points of interest where more time was spent.  The level of detail needed to do this required two separate files be made, one for the north part of Italy and the other of the central part of Italy.

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