OU in Arezzo Spring Students Build Community in Italy Through Events
The University of Oklahoma's study center in Arezzo, Italy is one of OU's signature study abroad programs, offering short-term summer programs as well as immersive year- and semester-long experiences. Much of OU in Arezzo's appeal to students is its location – the rolling green hills and historic piazzas of Tuscany, a stone's throw from Florence's art and culture – but another key feature is OUA's unique blend of the new and the familiar. OUA semester students live with their classmates in the Rooney Family Residential Learning Center, a combination of living spaces and classrooms in a renovated monastery, which offers a home base of support from which to explore the surrounding culture. In addition to taking classes, completing internships and traveling throughout Italy, students participate in events throughout the semester that are organized by OUA's staff and Student Activities Council. The aim of these events is to create a bond and a feeling of home among students, and also to foster a deeper connection between OUA and the wider Arezzo community.
This spring's cohort has participated in a range of such experiences. First up was the pottery program, held in January just a short time after new spring students arrived. Students enrolled in a two-session course with Andrea, a ceramics Instructor from Arezzo, and made their own creations. Some students made animals, others mugs and vases, and one even made a jewelry tray. "The students had so much forming and painting their creations," said Graduate Resident Director Gineka Ferguson, who organized the program. "This is one of the most amazing parts of OUA, taking a leap and creating something beautiful within the experience."
In February, the group ventured out into the community with a special Valentine's Day event, "Buon Valentino." For the holiday, OUA students wrote "love letters" to a retirement home in Arezzo, the Casa Di Riposo Vittorio Fossombroni. Students then delivered the letters (along with treats) to the home, engaging with the residents and practicing their Italian language skills. It was a great opportunity for cultural exchange between the students and the seniors. "To me it was a really friendly space and it seemed like all of the folks there were really happy to see us. It was super nice just to be there and to be able to brighten people's day," student Matthew Rooms said. "I did feel like we made a difference, and we made a positive impact on the day for the folks there. It felt good to be able to come into a space and bring joy to people."
The Valentine's Day event was organized by the Student Activities Council (SAC), a group of current OUA students that is tasked each semester with planning events for the group. Through programing, advocacy and service, the members of SAC enhance the experience of the OUA community and foster connections among students, staff and the community at large. The SAC allows students to be involved in planning their own activities, and makes the study abroad experience more complete and supportive for all.
This spring, there is never a dull moment with the SAC's planned events, including movie nights, a "gelato crawl" introducing students to the finest desserts in Arezzo, hikes in the surrounding hills, a Carnivale dinner, a painting event, and an Easter egg hunt. In addition, other staff-planned events included a pasta making session and a pizza cook-off. The pizza cook-off is particularly special, as it brings students from the nearby University of Siena (UNISI) to the Rooney Family Center to engage in some friendly cooking competition with OUA students. UNISI and OU in Arezzo have strong ties through the UNISI internship program, which gives a few Italian students the opportunity to intern and live at the Rooney Family Center each year, making friends across cultural barriers. Read our 2021 post on the UNISI internships to learn more.
Lastly, one of the biggest and most fun community events of the spring for OUA students is The Big Event, OU's annual day of community service. This year's event, scheduled for April 15th, is a collaboration between OUA and the Quartiere di Porta del Foro, the local community center. OU in Arezzo students will revamp the community center's headquarters with paint and decorations, though it won't be all work: the group will be allowed to visit the community's historical seat in a medieval tower, plus all the volunteers – students and locals – will enjoy a BBQ dinner on site. The Big Event, like the other events OUA has held this spring, is above all an opportunity to forge connections – with classmates and with locals in Arezzo who are trying to make their community a better place. These events are one of the many reasons Arezzo remains in students' hearts long after their study abroad experience has passed.