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Through Service & Recreation, OU in Arezzo Students Connect with Locals

One of the best reasons to study abroad at the University of Oklahoma’s study center in Arezzo, Italy is the plethora of opportunities to engage with the local community. Each semester, OU in Arezzo (OUA) students, faculty and staff organize unique service projects and events to beautify local schools and public spaces, support nonprofit organizations and foster a stronger connection with locals. On April 6th and 7th, OUA continued this tradition with its two biggest community events of the spring: the Big Event day of service and the 5k Fun Run.

OU’s Big Event, a day dedicated to community service, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and OUA has maintained its own version since 2012. For last spring’s OUA project, students gathered to paint a local elementary school; this year brought perhaps a bigger challenge: beautifying Parcheggio Baldaccio, a drab parking garage near the University of Siena’s (UNISI) Arezzo branch.

Together with students from UNISI and members of the surrounding community, OUA student volunteers spent Saturday, April 6 painting murals on the structure’s blank walls, adding a flash of unexpected brightness to a small slice of the city. “When I first walked into the parking garage, I felt like we were in over our heads,” noted OUA student Lauren Hansen. “[But] by the end, we were able to create something beautiful.”

Dawson Putney, another OUA student volunteer, viewed the day’s work as an opportunity to help the city of Arezzo. “It was amazing to contribute to something bigger than myself,” he said. Another spring semester student, Quinn Anderson, agreed that “it was great to get out and serve a community that is home to us for four months.”

The students’ weekend plans didn’t end there. On Sunday, April 7, OUA began a new spring tradition: a community-wide 5k Fun Run, beginning at Arezzo’s Pionta Park and snaking through the medieval city’s streets. Because running events are not very common in Italy, the 5K extended a novel opportunity to locals while also raising money for two local nonprofits, Pronto Donna and Oxfam Italia. These organizations, with which OUA has collaborated in the past, both raise awareness of sexual violence against women.

For OUA student participants, the Fun Run exceeded expectations. “I had such a great time running the 5k with my friends and people from the Arezzo community,” said Jacob Gill. “Even though I was exhausted at the end, hearing everyone’s cheers at the finish line helped me finish strong!”

As is customary for OUA events, after the 5K all participants were invited back to the Kathleen and Francis Rooney Residential Family Learning Center for a barbecue. The crowd included not only OU students and Italians from Arezzo, but also students from the University of Georgia, who had come from a program in nearby Cortona to join the run and meet new people. “The 5k had a great turnout and was an awesome way to meet people from the community,” said OUA student Sarah Power.

All in all, the weekend was inspiring to students who felt proud to give back to the community of Arezzo. Though they are only here for a short time, many OUA students feel a strong connection to the city that they won’t soon forget. As Lauren Hansen said of the weekends’ events, “It was very fulfilling to see us all come together and leave a lasting impact on a city that has given us so much.”

Are you interested in studying abroad with OU in Arezzo for spring or summer 2020? Visit the OUA website or contact Kaydee Dyer to learn more!

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