With my departure just 7 days away (see the countdown on the right?), it’s time to look at the top five things I’m most definitely looking froward to come January 7. For starters, the appeal of experiencing a new culture and a new dynamic is both shocking and exciting. My heart races when I think of the luxury I’m being afforded for the next five months.
I get to study abroad in a brand new culture that is going to test my resiliency, confidence, and will to embrace change. I will do what only 14 percent of American college students do – study in another country. Beyond that, I am going to the second most popular country. According to the annual Open Doors report, which is produced with support from the U.S. Department of State, 11.1 percent of the nearly 274,000 college students choose Italy as their study abroad destination.
Let’s take a look why…
1. Italian History
The name “Italy” (Italia) can be traced back to ancient times for the peninsula, though it was initially designated for the region of the lower part of Southern Italy by Greek settlers. Mythological roots of the name mention a legendary ancient king named ‘Italus’, though a more likely origin may be from ancient Oscan VÍTELIÚ, meaning “land of young cattle,” since Italy was a rich agricultural country since ancient times.
The name Italia was imposed upon the Roman Republic much later by the conquering Italic tribes of the contemporary Abruzzo region (where my ancestors are from), centering in the area of Corfinium. Coins bearing the name Italia were minted by an alliance of Italic tribes (Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians and others) competing with Rome in the 1st century BC. By the time of Emperor Augustus, present-day Italy was included in the Roman Italy (Italia) as a province of the Empire. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Lombard invasions, Italia gradually became the collective name for diverse sovereign entities appearing on the peninsula.
2. Italian Cuisine
Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BCE. Italian cuisine interestingly takes heavy influences from Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish civilizations. The introduction of new foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and corn are now central to the cuisine but weren’t introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world.
Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. The cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. However, ingredients and dishes may vary by region. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated with variations throughout the country. For example, cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, with many variations and regulated appellation laws. Coffee, specifically espresso, has also become important in Italian cuisine. Ever since reading the book, Heat by Bill Buford — which tells the story of a former writer with the New Yorker who began training with Mario Batali, a famous Italian Chef — I have wanted to experience the cuisine as a tourist and as a cook. SPOLIER ALERT: I would love to shadow an Italian chef for a day.
3. Italian Monuments & Architecture
Who wouldn’t want to experience the marvelous historical sites in Italy. One of the primary factors of my decision to study in Italy was because of its grand history and insatiable infrastructure. Some of the places that are already on my bucket list include: the Colosseum (Rome), the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Doge’s Palace, Venice, St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome), Vatican Museums (Rome), Duomo di Monreale, Florence Cathedral, Ducal Palace (Venice), St Mark’s Basilica (Venice), Siena Cathedral, Ponte Vecchio (Florence), the Almalfi Coast, Lake Cuomo, and La Speccola, a wax musuem in Florence.
To my surprise, I discovered that the choice of Viterbo as the site for the University is linked to the history and cultural traditions of the town. In the mid 13th century itinerant students were already present, where they taught the “trivium” (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the “quadrivium” (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) arts, according to the Medieval teaching system. In the 15th century an interest in the humanities encouraged the emergence of personalities as Annio and Egidio of Viterbo. In 1546 a “Studium” was founded on the request of the Pope Paul III. This studium, which established professorships in Logic, Philosophy, Civil Institutions and Medicine, was based at the Priori Palace and struggled on until 1581, when the town council requested its closure.
In 1969, a private university was set up in Viterbo, the Free University of Tuscia. The university included the faculties of Pedagogy, Economics and Business, and Political Science, but was closed in 1979 with the advent of the State University in Viterbo. Tuscia University is a relatively young university — the 7th of July 1981 was the first academic year that Tuscia University was officially inaugurated. So as its written, there is much to be said and much to learn about the history of the very university where I’ll be studying for the next five months. I truly cannot wait.
5. Abruzzo & Sciliy
My grandmother on my mother’s side has ties to Abruzzi. Her father, Joseph Altobelli, came from the Abruzzo region to American way back when. My grandfather on my mother’s side has ties to Sicily. His mother — we called her Nonni (Italian for grandparents), came from Sicily. Abruzzo is located in central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea, on a mainly mountainous and wild land. The mountainous inland is occupied by a vast plateau whose highest peaks are the Gran Sasso and Mount Majella. On the other hand, Sicily is located in the central Mediterranean. It extends from the tip of the Apennine peninsula from which it is separated only by the narrow Strait of Messina, towards the North African coast. Its most prominent landmark is Mount Etna, which is at 3,320 m (10,890 ft) the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world.
But I’m not planning on visiting these places because of a Volcano or a mountain, I’m going because I want to see, feel, and live in the region where my ancestors came from. I want to see with my own eyes things that I have only seen in pictures. I want to hear with my own ears the dozens of interactions in small markets or the waves crashing against the island of Sicily instead of relying on a movie or Travel network episode. I want to feel the small communities of people and history come to life. I don’t want to forget anything about these areas by the time I’m ready to leave.
So there you have it. The top five things i’m looking forward too experiencing. On Friday, I’ll be posting my class schedule, complete with all the classes I am planning on taking, maybe even a little more.