This summer the Italian Studies program at Chapman University launched its first travel class in Italy. A group of nine students from majors such as Communications, Italian, Creative Writing, Vocal Performance, and more spent three weeks living with families in Taormina, taking an intensive language course, and exploring the natural, historic and cultural landscape of the Eastern side of the island.
The course was designed in collaboration with Babilonia Center for Italian Studies, one of the most vibrant and forward looking educational and cultural programs active today in Sicily and whose mission is to promote the study of the Italian language and culture and Sicilian cultural heritage in particular. This year the course aimed at providing an overall introduction to Sicily, and the coast of Etna in particular, and to understand the genesis of myth and culture rooted in the experience of natural phenomena, as well as the critical chapters of the island’s historical development.
The ambitious curriculum includedexcursions to the Alcantara River Gorge, carved out of stratified lava along the fault line between the African and Eurasian plates; the fishing village of Acitrezza where long ago the magma columns emerging from the sea inspired ancient myths and stories tied to Odysseus and the Cyclops; and Mt. Etna itself, which dominates the landscape with its regal presence. We also visited the Greek and Roman archeological sites in ancient Syracuse, once the most powerful city in the Mediterranean and the rival of Athens; and the Roman villa of Casale in the agricultural heart of the island, famous for its extensive and eloquent mosaics. While in Taormina, students met with specialists of contemporary Sicily to discuss issues such as entrepreneurship and tradition, organized crime, immigration and emigration as well as explored the popular arts, religion, cuisine, and architecture of this remarkable town.
In addition to advancing linguistic skills and cultural knowledge, students returned to the States with an increased awareness of the island’s treasures and beauty as well as its enormous social and economic challenges. Chapman Italian Studies remains committed to sustaining today’s businesses and initiatives in Sicily that deserve and need to be supported and to designing ways in which faculty and students can endeavor to become a force for positive change in Italy through academic programs and community-service projects abroad.