PERUGIA, Italy — Gerard Pozzi and Eli Zupcich, of Hamilton College, are not just studying, but living abroad during their current semester at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program in Perugia, Italy. Both students recognize the importance of learning to integrate into an international community. They feel that such assimilation is made possible not only through curricula, but with complementary field trips and hands-on activities that take place out of the classroom.
Gerard and Eli’s recent field trip to visit Dario Cecchini, a world-renowned sustainable butcher, allowed them to visualize concepts discussed in their STFS 330: Sustainability and Food Production in Italy course. Dario Cecchini is a Tuscan butcher who believes that carnivores must practice responsible consumption habits, providing each animal with a dignified life and death. As a vegan, Eli confessed that the celebration of meat-eating was initially overwhelming. “I do not understand the concept of passionately killing something, but it was interesting for me to listen to Dario talk about his philosophy of using the entire animal. I was struck by the awareness Italians seem to have about what eating meat actually is and what it means to take [a] life for food.” Eli also described the importance of the brief hike through the Chianti region that accompanied the visit to Dario Cecchini as an “incredible experience that can’t be put into words,” which enabled them to observe the Chianina cattle that would one day fill Dario’s shelves as they wandered the hills and happily ate straw from students’ hands. Eli is also taking a number of courses relevant to a Major in Linguistics and a Minor in Italian Studies, all of which involve actively engaging the host community.
Gerard, as part of Umbra’s Food & Sustainability Studies Program, will be taking another field trip this weekend, through which he will learn the tradition of the Italian truffle hunt throughout the Umbrian countryside. He looks forward to this trip, among others, as they offer him the opportunity to “meet the farmers, interview them, speak to them, understand their practices, and see the final results.” Gerard is passionate about the Slow Food movement and observing food systems, topics that complement his Environmental Science Major. In addition to participating in class field trips and activities, he is also active in his ANFS 370: The Anthropology of Food course and will be assisting in the local Wednesday farmers’ market in Perugia. “I plan to sit behind the stand with the truffle maker and the Sardinian cheese maker,” he said as he expressed his excitement at the chance to observe human behaviour and psychology in the local food system. Gerard plans to use his experiences in Italy to “come up with a holistic image of what [he] learned” in order to apply it to both his academics at home and his professional future.
As part of the Sustainability course, students are also working in a local synergistic orto, or a garden that uses plants that naturally protect and nourish each other. This hands-on activity helps students apply what they learn in the classroom to the local community by assisting with seasonal tasks in horticulture. Gerard commented that his experiences in class and around Perugia “have taught [him] to branch out of [his] comfort zone and push [himself] to do things that [he] would not have otherwise had the opportunity to do.”
Not only has community involvement deepened their understanding of Italian sustainable traditions and world-wide sustainability practice, but it has helped both students feel as though they are living abroad, rather than simply studying abroad. After only a month into their semester in Perugia, Eli described the city as being full of “hills and colorful buildings, narrow streets, the feeling of intimacy, safety, and familiarity of the shopkeepers I recognize. It all feels like home already.”