PERUGIA, Italy — “One of the reasons I chose Notre Dame was because of their study abroad program,” shared Madeline Mask, an English Major currently studying abroad at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad provider in Perugia, Italy. Madeline recently met with Umbra staff to talk about how her classes are directly linked to her life abroad and how she plans to use what she has learned in her future career. Her goal was to test herself. She wanted to step outside of her comfort zone, and now feels as though she has by being able to “truly assimilate into the community [of Perugia] and experience Italian life and culture.”
The most important aspect of study abroad for Madeline is self-development, which she defines as the evolution of independence and confidence that an individual acquires through integration into a foreign culture. Not only does a semester abroad require course work, but it allows students to practice problem solving and critical thinking as they navigate life experiences in unfamiliar territory, including the use of foreign transportation systems and new levels of money management. “When I am home I can work and save money, but coming here, I had to learn to save and budget,” shared Madeline. She then went on to reveal that walking the streets of Perugia has become natural, “When I first traveled away from Perugia, I was so excited to come home and I equivocated home to Perugia.”
Madeline is currently enrolled in a creative writing course, as well as courses related to food and environmentally sustainable production. To inspire her creative writing works, she has toured Perugia, learning both Italian and Perugian history, not only through literary analysis but also through the exploration of Perugia’s winding medieval streets. She has walked the literary steps of Dante and has seen the view he describes in “The Divine Comedy” standing at one of Perugia’s five medieval gates, Porta Sole (Sun Gate) and facing Assisi.
Through HSIT 350: The History and Culture of Food, Madeline has been able to take a number of field trips to visit local producers and learn their sustainable efforts and production habits, as well as the historical and societal significance of the food they distribute. During her recent trip to Città di Castello, a small city near Perugia, she met with a local truffle producer and learned the art of truffle hunting. She learned about the challenges facing truffle hunters and how the foraging experience is directly linked to the ability of the forager to train the family dog, whose keen sense of smell leads a producer to hidden truffles. She also learned how spores are spread on the land to cultivate truffles, and about the land rights in Italy that allow hunters to hunt wild truffles on anyone’s property, yet prohibit them from trespassing on cultivated land. “If you live on land that is heavy with truffles, it is technically not your land,” explained Madeline. She then became quite sober as she recounted the reality of the difficulties that truffle hunters, especially those not connected to mass production, encounter. In fact, the owner of the farm that Madeline visited lost the family dog to dog food that had been poisoned by a competitor. “I was completely blown away by how competitive truffle hunting is,” Madeline stated, “and what people will do in order to get the best truffle.”
Learning producer habits and obstacles has given Madeline a new perspective. She shared that before living in Italy, “you don’t realize how much of an experience you can have by just living in another country.” Even through participation in BSFS 380: Business of Wine, a course that analyzes the business and marketing of wine, Madeline has been able to explore her interest in the sustainable side of the many levels of food production and distribution. “I enjoyed going to Terre Margaritelli to learn that they are an organic wine producer and they really care about what they are doing to the earth and the environment,” she said.
Madeline hopes to one day have a career in technical writing relative to international and renewable energy. A significant aspect of her experience abroad has been immersing herself in the culture of food production and sustainability, through field trips and personal exploration, so that she can expand her knowledge base for her future career, through a multicultural perspective.