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Participants Reflections

My Experience in the Immersion Program in Italy

by Sam Toppa, Summer 2015

Buona sera a tutti! Hello, my name is Sam Toppa and I was one of the lucky participants in this year’s CCRI study abroad trip to Central Italy. This trip really taught me how valuable a full immersion learning experience is. In this setting, new information surrounded us at every moment. Although this felt intimidating and overwhelming at first, those feelings were counteracted by the beauty and intrigue that also surrounded us. These elements, along with the excellent leadership and structure provided by Professor Mansella, served to keep me motivated to try and absorb as much information as I could.

Because I work two jobs during the summer, it was very difficult to get two entire weeks off, and trying to get three weeks off would have been impossible. I am very glad that this trip offers the flexibility of allowing students to go for one, two, or three weeks. This flexibility was essential to my ability to go. Although two weeks seemed initially as if it would not be enough time to see everything I wanted to see, I learned that this was far from the truth.

On any given day we would wake up early, go out to have a cappuccino and cornetto for breakfast before having class. We would learn about cultural information that had to do with the excursion that would happen later in the day. Then we would separate to explore the town, shop, get lunch, and enjoy the scenery. When we all regrouped, we would go on an excursion. Sometimes we would go to a school in town, as was the case in Recanati, or we would go to nearby towns to see historic sites, museums, and landmarks. We would spend hours on these excursions, learning from Professor Mansella, tour guides, and other teachers. After an excursion we would go back to our hotel to relax and unwind before dinner together. Our dinners were long and full of great conversation and reflection of the day’s events. In taking advantage of every minute in a day we made the most of this trip.

In order to organize and document all of this new information, I kept this small notebook, which Professor Mansella had given me, in my pocket everywhere I went. I took this out many times each day and in it I wrote down loads of new vocabulary words, cultural contrasts and comparisons, interesting historical facts, and bullets noting what we did on a given day.

Included in my note book, for example, are detailed instructions on how to make pasta from scratch. I wrote those down on the day we had a cooking class in Recanati; I also have several pages detailing the different Italian hand gestures and there meanings, which we learned during a seminar on the topic. And one of my favorite sections is the one about our venture into the Orvieto underground. The tight, winding passages that seemed to go down forever were like nothing I had ever seen before.

Reading over these notes transports me back to all my favorite parts of this trip. From looking up in awe at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, to breathing in the awesome sights of the Coliseum in Rome, and the Duomo in Orvieto; When I read about our day in Florence, I can feel the powerful sensation of standing before the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli; when I see the word “girasole”, I immediately see all the rolling hills covered in sunflower fields which had surrounded us during our travels.

I think this little tool had a huge impact on my overall experience in Italy. It allowed me to get the absolute most out of the two weeks I was there and now serves as a priceless souvenir. I want to thank Professor Mansella and everyone else involved in making this trip happen. I am deeply grateful for having had such a wonderful experience. Thank you. Mille grazie!