University News

Student Experiences Italian Classroom Life

April 6, 2015

PERUGIA, Italy — There is no better way to experience a culture than to be immersed in it – just ask Denison University student Tawnee GreenRiver ’16, who’s studying human development as it relates to interactions across cultures in Italy this semester. GreenRiver, who hails from Heath, Ohio, is taking the “Human Development in Culture” class at the Umbra Institute, a study abroad program in Perugia, Italy. The course includes a service-learning project focused on engagement with two different Italian schools.

Led by Professor Christian Tarchi, the class combines theory and practice with a hands-on project that places students in the heart of Perugia’s community. Through visits to two separate Italian schools, Umbra students acted as both observers and participants in the classroom.

First, the class visited a Montessori elementary school to observe student and teacher interactions, classroom organization and teaching styles. These observations will be used in an ethnographic research project on the implicit school curriculum. In a visit to a second school the students led English-language activities with the Italian students to research the interactions within the space.

“We went over what memes are in a cultural sense, messages that are transmitted over time and the different forms these messages come in,” said GreenRiver. “One example is the image of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka making a snarky, smart comment about how you just graduated from a four year college while he gives you his Starbucks order.”

The Italian students were equally enthusiastic about meeting new American friends. The collaboration gives local children a unique opportunity to practice English with native speakers.

The Umbra Institute is an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Often called a “big university town in a small Italian city,” Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with fine arts, business, and liberal arts courses. It also offers a wide range of service-learning offerings including academic internships and community-based courses.

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