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La Vita È Bella: My Italian Journey

La Vita È Bella: My Italian Journey
By Caitlyn Marie Moro, sophomore CHP student in kinesiology

Mamma mia! Where do I begin? Studying abroad in Urbino, Italy, this past summer was by far the best decision I have made in college. The experience was truly life-changing and felt movie-like the entire time.

Urbino possesses a rich Renaissance history, with winding cobblestone streets that make you feel as if you are walking through medieval times. The walled city is in central northern Italy, and its main attraction is the Palazzo Ducale, built by Duke Federico da Montefeltro. The duke brought many painters, architects, and sculptors to the city. His palace even housed the work of the great Raffaello Sanzio (also known as Raphael), who was born in Urbino and is known for his paintings The School of Athens and The Transfiguration. Since Urbino remains under the radar for most tourists, it is easy to navigate and feels classic and homey.

Caitlyn and professor Sal DiMaria in Urbino, Italy

Before making the trip, I studied the beautiful Italian language for two semesters at UT with one of my all-time favorite professors, Salvatore “Sal” DiMaria. Because the program was faculty-led, I had the privilege of building strong relationships with Sal and other professors, which can be difficult on such a large campus. I have fond memories of eating gelato with Sal while wandering the moonlit streets of Florence.He was eager to hear of the sights I had seen, the new cuisine I had tried, and how I was growing from the new cultural experience.



UTK in Urbino students at the beach in Pesaro, Italy

Traveling with 30 other UT students meant I never had to say goodbye to the wonderful friends I met on the trip. After navigating from city to city by train together, spending most weekdays relaxing on a beach after class, and dancing all night long together at discotecas, we formed a unique bond. We walked many miles together, sometimes irritable with one another due to our lack of sleep and frustration with getting lost for the umpteenth time, but we also laughed together. As we attempted to communicate in our broken Italian, protected each other as we explored foreign cities, and shed a few tears in awe of the beauty surrounding us, we forged real friendships. Seeing my classmates around campus never ceases to bring back the fond memories that we made.

One thing that I had heard about Italian natives before going was that they are incredibly friendly, but being informed about something and experiencing it are two different things. The barista that served us a cream-filled pastry and latte every morning before class teared up as we said our parting words. Both parties were equally influenced by the other—something you can’t quite experience in America from a Starbucks barista. Luca, the barista, knew all our names by the time we left and anticipated our orders each morning before class. He was so friendly and helpful when it came to sharing information about his beloved city that it greatly enhanced our time there. He also informed us about himself and his family. Luca left us with a greater idea of the Italian way of life—and a few extra pounds due to his delicious pastries.

On a gondola in Venice, Italy

Another aspect of the culture I appreciated was the slower pace of life. I am normally not one to take my time and stroll to class. We had the privilege of studying at the University of Urbino, founded in the early 1500s, while still being able to venture out to more populated cities such as Florence, Rome, Bologna, and Venice. I was able to further my prior knowledge of art history by viewing the famous David sculpture in Florence, the majestic architecture of the Colosseum, The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo in Vatican City, and many more hidden treasures around every street corner. I did everything from going cliff-jumping in the Mediterranean Sea to eating my weight in gelato daily to wandering in on a Catholic mass in an ornate cathedral one Sunday morning.

With all the duties and obligations we have as engaged CHP students, I often forget to relax and admire the sites and experiences that surround us. We, too, walk past breath-taking artwork, interesting people with stories to share, and yummy coffee shops in Knoxville. While going overseas seemed a lot more dreamy and appealing, it also reminded me not to neglect the fact that our country and our city provide wonderful experiences and beauty as well.

Looking out over the countryside in San Marino, Italy

Coming to college, many students plan on or dream of studying abroad, but unfortunately, not all of them end up seeing that plan through. I am grateful that the Chancellor’s Honors Program not only encourages students to study abroad in order to fulfill the Ready for the World requirement but also assists financially through Ready for the World grants.

I clearly understand why the CHP encourages students to spend time overseas after witnessing my own growth associated with this travel. I grew personally by being forced to navigate and plan trips in a foreign country, and the immersion into the new culture and language increased my global awareness.

Cultural experience is necessary for almost every occupation, and since I plan on working in the health field as a physical therapist, I know that I will be working closely with people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

I gained a tolerance for ambiguity, adaptability, Italian language skills, and self-confidence thanks to the Urbino program. I am beyond thankful for those who encouraged and assisted me in studying abroad, and I recommend that every college student take advantage of this unique opportunity.