Ciao, Italia: Olivet Students Immerse Themselves in Italian Culture

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This spring, two groups of students traveled to Italy for transformative, eye-opening experiences. One of Olivet’s many unique travel experiences, the trips to Italy offered students educational, enjoyable adventures.

Popes, Saints and Sinners

Dustin Byrd, Ph.D., associate professor of humanities, led a group of students on a two-week trip to Venice, Florence, Assisi and Rome for the course “Popes, Saints and Sinners: Renaissance Christianity in Italy.” Students studied influential popes as well as St. Francis and St. Clare, among others. The trip allowed students to dive into the history of these religious figures and experience a new culture. Professor Byrd believes that the experience allows students to expand their horizons and look closer at the world around them.

“This trip exposes the students to another culture, society, history and way of being in the world,” Professor Byrd said. “Upon reflection on these other cultures, the students learn a lot about themselves and their own culture and society. It also gets people out of their comfort zone and forces them to interact with others who do not necessarily share their own views or live the way we do. We cannot comprehend adequately the civilization of others if we do not understand our own.”

Rising senior Ashton Osborne traveled with the group. She not only enjoyed learning about the Italian culture but also liked watching history books come to life.

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to learn about a country while getting to see it with my own eyes,” Ashton said. “You can learn about a place or thing and see the picture in a book or online, but it causes more of an impact to see and experience it firsthand.”

Professor Byrd believes that while the students engaged with a different culture, they were able to appreciate the works of those who came before.

“Students learned the importance of history, how it impinges on us today, how the works of these popes, saints and sinners appear before us in our daily lives, even though we are often oblivious to it. By taking students to places such as these four cities in Italy, I hope to impress upon the students the importance of not taking for granted our cultural inheritance, so they do not abandon the substantial works of those who came before us. I hope to inspire in them the desire to be civilization builders, not just civilization consumers.”

Ashton recommends that students take any opportunity to travel abroad.

“Travel opportunities like these make students realize that the world is more than just Olivet,” she said. “These trips give students the opportunity to have an awareness about a different culture and expand their boundaries. The trips are also a great way to get to know students that you may not know well. They are such an eye-opening experience and a great way to get out there into the world.”

Art in the Early Renaissance

Professor Byrd’s class crossed paths in Assisi with Gary Wertheimer, professor of art, and his student group. Professor Wertheimer’s class focused on early renaissance art. Their two-week trip led them to the Tuscany, Umbria and Marche regions, with specific stops in Florence, Assisi and Sienna.

Professor Wertheimer is well-versed in Italian culture. He has led the trip nine times but says it’s still like the first time every time he travels to Italy. He delights in watching students grow as they experience a different culture.

“The world becomes something a lot bigger than where they grew up,” Professor Wertheimer said. “I observe them observing the culture and seeing and celebrating the differences. They become aware of their own culture by going somewhere else to experience a different culture. It opens their eyes to the world and makes them understand that the world is a really big place. It allows them to question their own culture, and that is important to me.”

Rising senior Katie Priest enjoyed learning about the Italian culture and language as well as the art. She believes Olivet’s travel opportunities make a huge difference in students’ educational experience.

“I loved seeing art that I have been studying the past few years in person,” Katie said. “It really puts everything into perspective when you are actually standing in front of the piece and admiring what the artists created.

“I think it is important that Olivet offers these travel opportunities because it goes beyond teaching the subject in a classroom. Traveling allows individuals to apply what they have learned, have thoughtful discussions on the subject matter, and immerse themselves in the culture.”

Professor Wertheimer found the trip rewarding for both him and his students.

“My favorite part of the trip is watching the students finally experience what we’ve been talking about for a year ahead of time,” he said. “I enjoy watching them in real time experiencing all the things we addressed academically in the classroom and seeing their physical and emotional reactions. It’s a thrill being able to share that with them. I had a mentor do that for me, and I’m happy to be able to guide these students as he did for me.”

To learn more about The University of Olivet’s unique travel opportunities, contact the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or admissions@uolivet.edu.


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