Bethany Welch in Florence, Italy, Summer 2014

Bethany spent Summer 2014 in Italy.

This summer I spent a month in Italy taking a course titled, Food, Culture and Society in Italy. The first week I participated in a "cultural introduction" to Italy through a week-long bus trip through the regions of Lazio and Tuscany. During that trip, we visited Palaces, Gardens, a marble quarry and studio, a hazelnut farm, a winery, the Colosseum and many more places.

After that week, we arrived in Florence, where we spent the next three weeks. During my Food, Culture and Society in Italy course we went on day field trips such as to the market in Florence to learn about the way people shop, how they get their food and prepare it, we also visited different gelaterias, and a chocolate cafe. We also sampled truffles and truffle oils, partook in wine, olive oil and honey tastings and learned about each of our tastings and field trips. We went on a day long field trip to the region of Emilia-Romagna where we visited Parma and Modena. There we saw the entire process of producing Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Parma Ham which are all protected by the Italian Denominazione di origine protetta and are important products in Italy. The class consisted of lectures, small field trips, four days of actually cooking important dishes in the cooking lab and the day long field trip.

During my free time (afternoons and weekends), I explored Florence, visited the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, Santa Croce and many important sites in Florence. I also took day trips to Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Venice and Spello.

I am very interested in Food Studies and loved learning not only about iconic foods, traditions and customs in Italy but why they are important, and how they came to be. Food is important to people, it shows so much about their culture and their lives. Being in Italy and taking field trips to gelaterias, to the balsamic vinegar estate and the markets was much more effective at learning the importance and impact of these foods and places then reading or being lectured about these cultural foods.

Some of my favorite memories and experiences of my trip were during my free time when I could explore and meet other people. I loved mastering the trains and the buses, and even the streets of Florence. I also loved trying the all the different foods-- which Italy is known for. One of my favorite things to do was "hiking" through the city and across the Arno, up to Piazza Michelangelo, with a picnic and a bottle of wine, and sitting on the packed and lively steps, listening to the musicians and watching the sun set over the Duomo and all of Florence.

My advice for fellow students is of course that you need to study abroad. Even if you have bad experiences (like almost missing the last bus back to Florence, dragging ridiculously heavy suitcases a hour through the busy, cobbled streets of Florence cause you can't call a taxi, or missing your train stop) those experiences challenge you, and teach you and force you to grow. Those trips show you  that your life is minuscule, and that while you sit on your couch and watch tv that there are so so many people to meet, and places to experience and so much else going on in the world.