On April 14th, OU celebrated its 19th annual Big Event, a day dedicated to community service in Norman and throughout the Oklahoma City metro area. But for the past six years, OU’s study center in Italy (OUA) has brought this tradition overseas as well, organizing daylong service projects in the beautiful Tuscan city of Arezzo. This year’s proposal was an ambitious one: OUA students, faculty, staff and families, joined by local volunteers, would paint and clean eight classrooms plus hallway spaces at one of the city’s elementary schools, Instituto Comprensivo Margaritone.
Leading the project were OUA Student Services Coordinator Lucio Bianchi, UNISI intern Monica Vizzini and Big Event Chair Molly Donnell, a sophomore Pre-Communication Sciences & Disorders major at OU. “Big Event 2018 was an all-out explosion of activity, service, and joy,” said Bianchi, who recalled beginning the tradition in 2012 with a mere 13 students who gathered to clean a park. This year the OU contingent included 21 students (two of whom were UNISI living experience students), Faculty-in-residence Joshua Landis and his family and visiting professor Krish Muraldihar. The local group was mainly comprised of students and families from the school. As the Margaritone principal noted in OUA’s video of the event, “This is a prime example of active citizenship.”
“Big Event was an incredible experience to gather together with our OUA community and serve our Arezzo community,” Donnell said. What makes the Big Event so special, junior Communications major Grant Posey added, is that it “allows you to love on your community and take part in something that is bigger than yourself.”
The group worked all day, breaking midway for a lunch donated by local volunteers. Their hard work resulted in a totally revamped school environment with colorful, clean classrooms, all ready for students to return the following week. “I loved how all of the volunteers within the OU community and the Arezzo community worked so hard to make the school look great,” said Simone Wallace, a senior Economics major, of the experience.
Junior Environmental Sustainability major Daniel Castaneda agreed. “Seeing all the kids and their parents wanting to help was awesome,” he said. “The whole experience was very fun and I’m proud of the outcome.”
Even once the work was completed, the fun continued: all volunteers were invited back to OUA’s Rooney Family Center for a celebratory barbecue. From 7:30 p.m. until well after 10, OUA students and community members had a great time socializing, laughing and bonding over their achievement. “It was a rewarding experience to help out a community that has welcomed all of us students,” explained Hannah Gollihar, a junior Marketing major and OUA Student Activities Council president. “We all had a great time making a difference, laughing with kids, and overcoming the language barrier!”
Service opportunities like this one, the OUA students agreed, can really enrich the study abroad experience — not just through the joy of giving back, but by forging a stronger connection to the local community and culture in which they’re living. “We laughed, learned, and served with a common goal to unite the two cultures through service,” said Donnell of the experience. “I’m proud to be a part of both communities and to ignite a desire in their hearts to go help their fellow citizens!”
For more about OUA’s 2018 Big Event, check out the highlight video on Facebook!
Interested in study abroad with OUA? Visit the OU in Arezzo page to learn more, and click here to begin the study abroad process.