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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Students spend time 'al fresco' in Italy

Italian gardens brought inspiration for eight students studying abroad over the summer semester.

Teresa Cutler-Broyles, an adjunct professor for film and peace studies, said she created a course, called Writing and History in Italian Gardens, with the help of the Umbra Institute. This was the first time UNM has participated in a faculty-lead program with the institute, she said.

“In America we have this idea that ours is really the best way, whatever the way is — to have a coffee, tea, act a certain way or think certain things,” Cutler-Broyles said. “I think getting exposed to any culture outside of that is really important if we want to understand our place in the world as individuals and as a country.”

The students visited four gardens during their time in Italy, including Villa Lante in Bagnaia, Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo, the medieval gardens outside the walls of Perugia, and the Boboli Gardens, she said.

“That is one of the more important things about going to place like Italy, a place that has been in existence continuously growing the cultures on top of each other, because you can experience it now,” Cutler-Broyles said. “We can talk about a medieval garden that was built in the ninth century and actually exist in it. I think it gives people a sense of continuity.”

Another class called Travel Writing will be offered next summer during June, she said. Some changes will be made to her approach, which includes less reading and more opportunity to travel.

“The real point is that I want to ensure that the students are able to soak in the physical experience of being in Italy, while learning as much as possible about the subject,” Cutler-Broyles said.

Maloni Fox, a junior strategic communications major, said it was her first time overseas. She called it a rewarding experience because the class and the relationship between the Umbra Institute were newly created.

“This was the first time this has ever happened — we were guinea pigs. It was basically ‘what do you want to get out of this experience?’” she said. “We just completely went in blind, not knowing what to expect. Honestly, it was great.”

During the five weeks in Perugia, Italy, the students studied works of literature or paintings inspired by gardens, Fox said. Every other week, students visited a particular garden and wrote.

“None of us knew what to expect; we just saw the title,” Fox said. “We didn’t really know what it was going to be about. But going in, we worked together as a class and discussed what we wanted to get out of it. Honestly, it was almost like therapy.”

Ben Wild, a senior electrical engineering and American studies double major, said he had researched other study abroad programs, but decided on the faculty-led program because it did not delay graduation.

“I’ve studied cultures and I’ve studied math and programming. This was a creative writing course that I’ve never actually taken in my life, and that was really eye-opening,” Wild said. “There was a big emphasis on spending time alone in the garden and writing in a journal — just random entries, free thought — and that creative aspect I was really unfamiliar with.”

Zachary Nowak, U.S. University Relations for the Umbra Institute, said Perugia is a big university town in a small Italian city. The population is 163,000, and college students account for .02 percent, he said.

“We’ve had urban design classes, we’ve definitely had creative writing classes, but the garden aspect was a first for us,” Nowak said. “It was totally unique; we were unsure if it was going to be popular but it really was.”

The Umbra Institute also has a very strong food studies program of which Nowak is the assistant director, he said. He spent 12 years in Perugia, Italy and has recently moved to Boston, Massachusetts.

“Students really like going to the same café and having somebody not only remember their name but also remembering what drink they wanted and, really, the engagement that goes beyond the Starbucks forced smile and double latte,” Nowak said. “I think that’s something that’s really cool,” he said.

Lauren Marvin is a staff writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.