Francesca Wojcik, B.A. '23 | November 22, 2022
It was hot. Like Dante's Inferno hot. The students’ ankles buckled at times as they navigated the ancient cobblestone streets. Traffic was loud and fast, and the pedestrians’ relationship with it seemed somewhat adversarial. They marched on the winding streets like the Roman legions before our time. Yet, their feet were traveling in the comfort of Chuck Taylor’s. And then, there it was: The Colosseum. How to describe a wonder of the world that personifies Italian culture? For the ten Marian University students and professors from the Department of Psychological Science and Counseling were tasked with the assignment of cultural immersion, and their travels were a spectacular beginning.
But for this group, the journey had really started last fall. Michael Slavkin, PhD, LMHC, NCC, director of the master’s in counseling program, presented his students with a unique opportunity. He was planning to lead a multicultural counseling course in Italy the following summer. While Marian offers many programs for students to study abroad at the undergraduate level, Dr. Slavkin's course would provide a small-group cultural immersion in a condensed timeframe. It was an appealing idea. Not only was it a two-week trip to Italy, but it would provide an intimate setting to learn and appreciate life outside of the American experience. Jeffry Kellogg, PhD, and Francis Carr, PhD, traveled along with the students and assisted in facilitating experiences in Rome, Assisi, Florence, and Venice.
The group was determined to become global citizens. For some, the trip broke down preconceived ideas and challenged personal comfort zones. Others came away with a new appreciation of Italian history from its days of glory and renowned architecture evolving to its modern-day people living in that mixture of ancient and new and carrying its legacy with them. Speaking of legacy, the Catholic Church's foundation in Vatican City provided these Marian Knights with cultural and religious experiences that introduced us to the Sistine Chapel, 2,000-year-old catacombs, and the final resting place of Saint Francis in Assisi. So many churches! So many traditions! So much to experience!
Imagine walking on stones that have been walked for generations or touching a building that has covered the heads of thousands of people. In Rome, the Colosseum and the Forum show the ancient city and all that its people accomplished. The mixture of old and new was everywhere, but the "new" was not really so new. We wondered how the locals felt about this amazing city. You walk out of the subway, and the Colosseum dominates the cityscape as it has since its completion in A.D. 80. This long history is so foreign for someone living in the United States, where so little exists from the last century, let alone two millennia ago.
Italy seems less about individual mindsets than America. You see Italians drinking and talking to each other on the streets. The amazing aqueduct system provides cold water for citizens to stop and get a drink. The sense of unity seems to infuse every aspect of life there, but none more so than the Italian people and their food. And the best way to experience that is to dig in! You don't have to be shy, but if you are, restaurant employees call to you with a friendly smile and welcoming wave. Tomatoes form the basis of much of their cuisine. They are deep red and beautiful, juicy, and full of robust flavor. They lend magic to pizza and pasta, which is likely to fulfill visiting Americans' dreams. Likewise, Italians are famous for their creamy gelato, a treat for the tastebuds that allows for a welcome break from the heat. The entire food experience is steeped in their culture. Dinners include many courses of food and usually culminate in the perfect dessert.
Meals are for more than taking-in nourishment. They are made with care with the best ingredients and provide a space and time to commune, rest, talk, catch up with family and friends and nourish the soul. Mary Timm, an undergraduate psychology student at Marian, said, “The culture prioritized things like clean water and mealtime being a core part of social engagement.”
When you travel to a new place, there is so much excitement and even some uncertainty, but overall, you’re going to this new place to experience something you cannot replicate at home. And let me tell you, Italy cannot be replicated! The comparison is hard to grasp. Besides Rome, we spent time in Florence, Tuscany, and Venice and even had a fun day at a lake. We really felt what it is like to live like the locals. Most buildings don't have air conditioning; open windows provide fresh air, along with big bugs, and sadly, restaurants serve water without ice cubes. Did I mention Italy was experiencing a heat wave?!
After experiencing a place like Italy, it was hard to tell Italians why anyone should visit a place like Indiana. The cities, the countryside, and especially the people were enchanting. All I could think was, "Do you want to see some corn?" Or basketball, have you heard of it? No offense, Indiana, but corn and basketball do not compare to the Colosseum, St. Francis' home in Assisi, the horse races in Siena, or the canals in Venice. And again, of course, the tomatoes! Fresh Italian tomatoes will turn you into an American tomato snob!
Sara Taft, a second-year graduate mental health counseling student, said, “Getting to experience a different culture and different people and a different way of life was just beautiful.”
The best way to experience Italy is by sitting on the porch of Casa Cares Villa in Tuscany, listening to music, and watching the sun go down on the olive bushes, blanketing the hills with your friends from Indiana. While our state may not have much in common with all the majesty Italy offers, we do have at our heart, amazing people, too, the key ingredient that makes everyone a part of our global community.
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