By Ellis Ross
A group of 52 students from the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi recently traveled to Italy for an immersive learning experience that provided rich exposure to Italian culture and cuisine, while affording myriad opportunities to capture their experiences in written and visual formats.
The group explored Italy from May 11 to June 6.
The majority of the trip was centered in Florence, with excursions to Sorrento and Rome, the last leg of the journey. Leading the tour were professors Jason Cain, Mark Dolan, Ronnie Morgan, and Chris Sparks – all of whom teach courses in integrated marketing communications and journalism.
The students enjoyed many cultural experiences while writing in-depth features, gathering documentary photos, exploring international brands and exploring relevant topics in media studies.
With Florence being the birthplace of the Renaissance, there was history to be found everywhere, from town piazzas adorned with statues, to buildings and cobblestone streets that have remained in place for centuries.
Shared here are some student observations. We hope you enjoy.
Photographers and writers sharing their work with HottyToddy.com are Sally Anderson, Ellie Boos, Tatum Chenen, Jack Clements, Catherine Cline, Cameron Cooley, Ellie Ducharme, Ava Ferree, Addie Flasck, Olivia Flax, Claire Hendry, Kenzi Howton, Will Johnson, Hillary Kaniecki, Bella Kraft, Lexie Kratky, Lauren Lucas, Ali Mattox, Grace Mitchell, Sarah Moore, Olivia Morgan, Kaylee Plowman, Olivia Ray, Emily Reib, Ellis Ross, Laurie Sanford, Rhiannon Schaeffer, Hannah Skinner, Maggie Sligh, Ryan Strickland, and Emily Sutermeister.
By Catherine Cline
When I stepped off the plane to Italy, I saw the Tuscan mountains in the distance. The view was breathtaking and a potent reminder of why we had just spent two days flying across the globe.
Little did I know, my first few hours in Florence would be miserable.
Once we entered the Italian airport it was time to snag our bags from baggage claim. The conveyor belt jolted to life spitting bag after bag. Girls on the trip with me squealed with excitement when their bags came out of the metal door with the plastic fringe from the tarmac where the bags were being loaded on. A few bags on the belt caught my attention because they resembled mine, but none of them were.
There it is! My beautiful, glorious bag! But, wait, why was someone pulling it off? Oh, okay. Not my bag.
It became clear that no new bags were being added to the conveyor belt from the plane anymore.
After 10 minutes of staring anxiously at the now nearly empty baggage claim belt, I came to terms with the fact that my bag wasn’t on that belt.
A friend also realized her bag was also missing. After asking around, it became clear that we should have received a baggage confirmation number that would help us locate our baggage.
Then we remembered that the woman at the Memphis airport, where we started our journey, had placed these confirmation numbers on the backs of our paper boarding passes that were now lost in the Memphis airport trashcans along with our discarded Starbucks breakfast.
We looked at each other with sheer exhaustion and frustration realizing this meant it would be nearly impossible to track down our bags.
I approached the lost and found office, a small desk with a piece of plexiglass separating the two Italian women working there and the long line of angry travelers.
The line at this office was moving painfully slow and one Italian man was enraged by losing his luggage and was pacing and yelling loud enough for all of baggage claim to hear how disgruntled he was. I could not decipher much out of his Italian except that this was ‘unacceptable.’ Very unacceptable, I mentally agreed.
We spoke to a short, older lady who took our lost luggage forms. When we told her we did not have our baggage confirmation numbers she muttered under her breath that it would be very difficult to locate the bags.
After a little bit of back and forth, she told us she did not know where the bags were, but that they would be here in a couple of days.
The airline app showed that the last place my bag had been tracked was in the middle of the English Channel. Time to bust out the diving gear, I guess.
Instead of going out the first night to explore the city, I had to find the basic things I needed, like soap and underwear, all in a foreign city. I hadn’t slept, showered, or changed since leaving Oxford, Mississippi, 30 hours prior.
The next day passed with no updates to our bags. I obsessively checked the airline app and my email every time I had WiFi, but the day after at orientation I still had received no updates on my bag. My friend and I asked one of the program leaders how we would be contacted if they received the bags.
We finally learned that some luggage had arrived from the airport, but they did not know who it belonged to, yet.
We anxiously chattered about the possibility of receiving our luggage after two days without it, and I have never been quite literally on the edge of my seat like I was at that moment.
We convinced ourselves it was our baggage. It had to be ours! And after what felt like an eternity, it was confirmed that the last names on the bags matched ours.
You might think living without my suitcase and belongings for a few days taught me something about living minimally, or how material things are unfulfilling. But the real lesson I learned is never to travel without putting at least one change of clothes and my toiletries in my carry-on bag.
My friends and I had just sat down at a restaurant we happened across on while walking home. From the outside, it looked like a promising authentic Italian hole-in-the-wall.
The waiter handed us a menu, and we quickly realized the whole thing was in Italian.
“Oh, I’ll just pull up Google translate,” my friend Addie said. “Wait… I don’t have service…”
This had become a common problem for us since arriving in Florence. The ancient architecture of the buildings had a tendency to block cell reception once you were inside.
You might be thinking, “You’re in Italy, of course, the menu is in Italian!” But most of the places we had eaten in had menus in Italian and English. Consider it our American arrogance that we assumed everywhere would have a translated menu.
Looking around the restaurant, a building with cobblestone walls and two main rooms, every other person dining there looked like locals. It was clear we were the only tourists, which explains the lack of English on the menu. We felt this was a strong indication that the food would be good if we could figure out what to order.
We inspected the menu for words we knew. I recognized words like gnocchi, fusilli, and a few of the vegetables, thanks to a brief Italian course we had taken earlier that day.
I remembered I had a packet from the Italian class that had some pictures of food with the Italian words underneath. I was able to piece together that some of the dishes had pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato, or melanzana, eggplant.
I was with four other students, and we tried to recall words we had seen other places or what we learned in class.
Our waiter, a short, middle-aged Italian man with grey mutton chops framing his face, noticed we were frantically flipping through the pamphlet with pictures of food. He asked if we needed him to translate.
“Yes, please that would be amazing!” I said. This man was now our hero and our one hope to not blindly order based on the handful of Italian words we collectively recognized.
He patiently went through the entire menu with us and explained any of the dishes we didn’t understand. It was a very traditional Italian menu with primi and secondi plates that were meant to be shared with good company.
Also, the menu included things like wild boar, sardines, squid, and bass. These were all things I knew of, but was not used to eating.
My dad loves to hunt near our house in Alabama and frequently comes home with wild boar. I’ve tried it before, but typically avoid eating it. I’ve never been a fan of pork, let alone wild pork. It’s definitely a mental block because I know that eating wild meat is healthier for the animal and has fewer added hormones.
I ended up ordering the gnocchi that came with a wild boar ragu sauce because ‘when in Rome,’ or more accurately, ‘when in Florence.’
When our food came out, our waiter looked so proud. He had an apron on, so I suspect he had something to do with the creation of our meal. Italians take a deeper level of pride in the creation of food an it’s considered rude to not finish your food there because it can imply you didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t prepared well.
No worries because it was. The gnocchi was so tender and fresh and the meat sauce was perfectly seasoned.
The boar ragu exceeded my expectations, and I ate every last bite and considered licking the bowl clean. But I remembered my manners and left the remnants of the sauce lingering in the bowl.
Before leaving, we profusely thanked the man who helped us overcome the language barrier and ensured that we could have a good meal that night.