Dominican students tough it out in Florence
Robin Curran of River Forest sketches in Florence, Italy, during a Dominican University abroad studies program.
Updated: August 6, 2012 12:05PM
RIVER FOREST — The idea of college students spending six weeks in Florence might sound like a cakewalk, but the life in the historic center of Renaissance culture has it’s challenges.
There’s Stendhal Syndrome, for one, a well-documented psychosomatic illness comparable to a panic attack, occasionally experienced by tourists overwhelmed by an overdose of art and beauty. And that too-much-of-a-good thing reaction can also extend to the sensory overload of Florentine life in general.
“It’s very busy, there’s lots of traffic with groups of tourists, people on Segways and bicycles, lots of noises with church bells ringing and sirens going off,” said Tonia Triggiano of River Grove, an associate professor of Italian at Dominican University in River Forest. She recently returned from Florence with a group of students.
“When a typical student, who comes from the suburbs and is used to our way of life, is thrown into that kind of chaos, along with the heat, without air conditioning, they can become a little unbalanced.”
Of course, that’s where the real learning is, Triggiano said, adding that in the four years she has been leading these study abroad programs in Florence, only one student has asked to go home.
“Grappling with the difficulties you run into when you’re living in a foreign place, when you’re not just a tourist, is part of the point,” she said, noting that she had observed her son Antonio, a senior at Fenwick who tagged along on the trip, working through the usual process.
“Normally, students are on a high the first week, By the second, they’ve start running into little glitches and they’re feeling frustrated, but by week five they don’t want to go home.”
The part about not wanting to go home, at least, turned out to be the case for Robin Curran of River Forest, an Italian major at Dominican who specifically chose the Florence program because it involved living in the city for six weeks as opposed to a 10-day trip to Rome.
“I wanted the experience of living in an Italian city, so I could become more fluent and see what it’s like to be part of another culture,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed by it, but I was always aware of how effortlessly beautiful Florence is. Life there is very different from Chicago, or American cities in general, but being in Italy has allowed me to see things in a new light. It’s given me the chance to learn more about myself and another place and another people at the same time. I could have stayed all summer.”
Curran, whose parents own Curran Glass Studio in Berwyn, said she particularly enjoyed taking daily drawing classes as part of the program, a feature that encouraged close observation of the Florence’s art and architecture. Michaelangelo Square, with its panoramic view of the city was a particular favorite place to sketch, as was the Villa Schifanoia, a stately home in a suburb of Florence where Dominican students lived and studied in the past.
As much as she appreciated the more rarified pleasures of life in Florence, however, there was another aspect of Italian culture she enjoyed even more.
“The food was my favorite part,” she said with a laugh. “Definitely the food.”