It may be Europe's number one college town, but students who attend Spring Hill College's Italy Center in Bologna say their experience is not "a selfie-summer abroad." Instead, students describe it as life-changing as they immerse themselves with the Center's focus on social justice and genuinely engage in work that connects to global issues; gaining skills not taught in a classroom.
Sammy Favre is from Long Beach, Mississippi and a Spring Hill College Psychology major. His decision to attend the Italy Center was a chance to reframe his world and fully connect with new ideas and experiences. "Leading up to my departure on January 11, 2019, I had absolutely no idea what was waiting for me abroad. I have a passion for human rights and equality which is at the root of the major immigration and refugee crisis in Europe so I was excited to get a closer view of the exact situations at play and learn more about what can be done from America."
Students also develop real-world, hands-on experience through non-profit, local internships that build co-operative learning as well as vibrant friendships.
"The students are mostly Italian, but there are also students from Tunisia, the Philippines and Syria. It has been so interesting to hear the different perspectives that some of the young people of Italy have. " explained Favre. “Each one is so open to sharing their opinion honestly and each contains a spark of curiosity of American culture which is truly inspiring.”
Navigating Bologna as a Spring Hill student does have its challenges. "I think being in a foreign environment would make most people feel out of their comfort zones, but It is also a different mindset that you come into once you are actually living in a different country," said Favre. However, once students adapt, their point-of-view changes. "I have found myself seeking authentic experiences that go deeper than just ‘surviving’ in a different city. There is this craving of always wanting to meet the people around you because each person has a completely different experience than you."
Todd Waller, Director of the Italy Center, has, for ( years), seen the impact students have on the communities they serve in Bologna. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The skills gained while building friendships with Italians, arguing U.S. politics over a glass of wine late at night and learning how Europeans think are critical if one wants to work and succeed in a global market."
Waller also shared supportive testimonials from area non-profit organizations who work with the Italy Center students, including Marzia Luigin, director of the Pilastro Education Center. "The Spring Hill students bring a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement to our youth. I could go on and on about how many friendships have been formed with our teenagers who come from many parts of Africa, Asia and of course Italy. It has been really important for our youth to meet Americans; this has been a great partnership."
A new program launching at the Center in fall 2019 was created to have an international impact. "Here at the Italy Center we are working with the Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) program to establish a diploma in Innovation and Social Change for those living on the margins here in Bologna," Waller explained. With the explosion of migrants in the world - nearly 250 million compared to 150 million in 1990 and 11 million at the end of World War II - this is a unique opportunity to mobilize the Center to promote the development of a more just and humane world. "To better walk our Jesuit justice talk, so to speak," said Waller.
From helping to combat fear and hatred against marginalized communities to building a sense of purpose and real-world accomplishment, the outcomes for students are powerful. "They find how to be challenged, to make themselves uncomfortable and to grow as individuals," explained Waller.