For many students, reading week is an opportunity to trade the woes of writing and arithmetic with the pleasure of rest and relaxation. Often however, our days are spent sleeping rather than studying. While being true for many, this was not the case for 11 ITA235 students who spent the week in Italy. In visiting Bologna, Florence, and Rome, the students were able to immerse themselves in the culture of each region and learn about the rich history of the country through their taste buds.
When asked about the design of the Italian History and Culture Through Food course, specifically the decision to add a component that could be completed abroad, professor Teresa Lobalsamo stressed the value of experiential learning. Her main objective was to “heighten learning by heightening the students’ sensory experiences.” She explained the best way to do that was to “take history and culture lessons out of the classroom and into the streets.” Being able to see, smell and taste the foods being discussed in lecture “undoubtedly made information easier to retain, but it also allowed students to further note the relevance of their studies.”
The first day of the trip was one filled with authentic tastes, as the group visited parmigiano reggiano, balsamic vinegar, and prosciutto factories in Modena. Not only were students shown the process from beginning to end, but they were also given some alarming facts regarding the products sold at home. One that stood out, as noted by many students on the trip, was the fact that parmesan cheese sold in Canada can contain up to 14% woodchips. As professor Lobalsamo explained, this experience didn’t only expose students to authentic Italian cuisine, but it also “encouraged introspective analyses of our individual relationship with food.” Angela Roldan, a fifth year ITA235 student, agreed with this point, noting that the factories made her “more conscious about the Italian food that is presented to [her] in Canada.”
In Florence, the students enjoyed some free time, which was mostly spent seeing the sights and eating as much gelato as they could possibly stomach. Students had the chance to try a Tuscan specialty, namely bistecca alla florentina, otherwise known as a thick-cut steak cooked ever so slightly, to the point of still being bloody. Just outside of Florence, in the town of Testaccio, students also had the opportunity to visit Giulio the Truffle Hunter. They were taught about the different types of truffles and how they could be hunted. Many of the students note that this day contained their favourite meal from the trip, as Giulio introduced them to a variety of authentic truffle-based foods served right from his own kitchen.
Students then stopped in Rome, where they partook in a secret food tour, which, as noted by ITA235 student Amber Shoebridge, truly is Rome’s best kept secret. Shoebridge enjoyed the cannoli and the espresso, gushing that this tour “turned a tea drinker into a coffee drinker.”
Melissa Chua, a third-year ITA235 student, noted that “some of the best foods we tried could have been easily missed if we were there as tourists.” She agreed with Shoebridge on the quality of the coffee, crowning the cappuccino as the best she’s ever tasted.
Lubna Ahmad, another student enrolled in the course, spoke about how much she missed the pizza and the cheese, appreciating the quality of real ingredients.
By the end of the trip, Lobalsamo insisted, “Participants came to better understand the inextricable link between Italy’s rich past and its collective identity around the table.” She notes that the success of the trip was largely “thanks to the students who embarked on the journey” and that “they are to be commended for their academic knowledge, their enthusiasm, their kindness and respect.”
Andrea Carter, assistant dean of Student Wellness, Support & Success, described to The Medium that she shared this same sense of pride in UTM students, as she was able to see each student “grow and flourish” while “finding ways to overcome personal challenges.”
Both the students and the faculty look forward to participating in other UTM Abroad experiences in the future. After all, when in Rome it is best to do as the Romans do. Or in this case, eat as the Romans eat.