EnRoute Site Visits in Italy!
On November 1st, I stepped onto a plane to embark on my first international site visit in two years! Even as I type it, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. Luckily, in the interim I’ve gotten to visit and recommend some incredible domestic gap year programming, which has offered students the opportunity to learn and grow within our own borders. Now that the world is reemerging from a lockdown mentality, gap year students are more willing to travel internationally again. That means that as we move into the coming years, there will be even more high-quality programming for gappers in the US and internationally. Good news for everyone!
As you all can imagine, I’ve been extremely eager to travel abroad again as well. I decided on Italy for my first post-pandemic site visit, due to two factors:
1. Italy has strong covid-mitigation policies (high vaccine rate, green pass to enter indoor public spaces, etc) and
2. I wanted to see the dizzying array of gap year options here in action! I could have spent months here traversing the length of the country and evaluating the numerous study abroad, language schools, art courses, agrotourismos (farm stays) and work exchanges, but sadly I only had a week, so I decided on Florence and Rome. Here’s a little about what I did in each place:
For a small city, Florence boasts a plethora of experiential opportunities to suit students who want to immerse themselves in Italian culture. I appreciated that Florence is small and very manageable in size, and therefore perfect for gappers on a first significant trip abroad. While visiting various program directors, we nearly always saw people they knew in the street. It’s one of those perfect combinations of big city-opportunities with small town feel.
My visit to Florence was a bit of speed dating to many program partners. I got to sit down with the Firenze site director of Verto Education, a first semester study abroad experience, as well as enjoy meetings with directors of several language schools and one of my favorite art programs.
I was also lucky enough to cross paths with Carpe Diem Education’s Italy/Greece traveling semester during their week in Florence. This program offers students a chance to learn about sustainability in these two culturally rich countries. I tagged along with them while they worked at an urban garden, ate lunch at a local market and visited the reforestation social enterprise Treedom.
In Rome I had a more immersive site visit experience with long-time partner Art History Abroad. One of the most special parts about this visit was the fact that three of my current students are on AHA this fall, so I got to spend time with them and their amazing group of young adults.
As their name suggests, AHA is all about art and culture. During my visit, we spent a day in the Vatican City. This involved us waking up before dawn and being among the first people to step into the Vatican Museum for the day (including a private audience in the Sistine Chapel). Fun fact – all the doors and windows in the museum are managed by a Master of the Keys, who is in charge of all 2,797 keys!
While with the group, we also saw the opera La Traviata in a historic church, visited Raphael’s frescos in Villa Farnesina, and saw subterranean Roman ruins in the San Clemente Church. My favorite part, however, was all the conversations I got to have with the students on program. It was renewing and inspiring to witness these inquisitive and enthusiastic gappers drinking in their experience, appreciating every excursion. It was simply a joy for this gap year counselor to behold!
TIPS FOR TAKING A GAP YEAR TO ITALY
* Keep in mind Italy is part of the Schengen area for Americans. This means you can go into mainland Europe visa-free for up to three months within a 180 day period. If you want to stay longer, you’ll need a student visa.
* The working language of most gap year programs is English (eg art, food courses etc) but it is helpful to learn some Italian to get the full experience.
* American gappers cannot legally work or intern in Italy without special permission (unless you are a duel citizen). If you want to come here on the cheap, consider becoming an aupair (nanny) or doing some work-exchanges like wwoofing.
* In addition to courses as mentioned in my visit description, there are also volunteer opportunities in environmental conservation and human services (eg serving the refugee population). You usually need to speak decent Italian to qualify for those opportunities.
* Come prepared to eat well – Italy is a foodie paradise!
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