During the spring 2013 semester, Professor of Business Daniel Moore accompanied a group of PSU students on an unforgettable study abroad trip to Sorrento, Italy, that mixed academics with adventure. What follows are some of his experiences and insights from the trip.
In searching for a way to structure my narrative, I decided to use a framework developed by one of our students, Elliot Esposito, during his internship project. It poses three basic questions: Why Italy? Why Sorrento? Why Sant’Anna Institute?
My answers differ from his in that my perspective is definitely that of a faculty member’s while his lens is a student’s. Also, he chose to communicate through a terrific video that I encourage you to watch.
One moves easily, every day, through many eras of art, culture, and style in Italy. On the same day you tour a set of 3000-year-old Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, you can shop for high-end merchandise in the Vulcano Buono, a hyper-modern mall in Nola. None of this appears to be contradictory, as it just all fits together in some fashion.
Italy also offers a sustenance second to none. Not a bad meal during my entire stay in Italy. Whether nicking into a café or salumeria for a sandwich or enjoying multiple-coursed ristorante fare, serious care was evident in ingredient choice, preparation, and presentation. Also, as you move through Italy, tastes and cuisines change to reflect local conditions and traditions.
Academically, Italy offers field sites for near every discipline. The subduction of the African tectonic plate along the Adriatic Coast gives geologists live volcanoes to investigate; the presence of human civilization for 4000+ years affords archeologists, anthropologists, and historians near-endless opportunities for social science and humanities research; and in business, my field of study, the existence of both extensive multigenerational local proprietorships and giant multinational corporations provides unique possibilities for understanding the milieu our world’s current commercial and productive activities.
Perched north of the Mediterranean on the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is a small and ancient city that serves as a ferry port for Capri, Naples, and towns along the Amalfi Coast. The hills push upward from the city center to the ridge of the Sorrento Peninsula. Over the ridge is the Bay of Salerno. Just off the cape is the Isle of Capri. It’s an hour away from Naples by train and two and half hours from Rome.
Being a tourist destination spot, Sorrento is crowded with hotels, restaurants, and tchotchke shops. Because of tourism, English is spoken everywhere, as almost all Asians and Europeans know enough English that menus are written and waitstaff communicate in English. This is not to say that Italians have abandoned their language, as exampled by the two women working at a bakery I frequented. Once they realized that I was staying longer than a few days, they nudged me to use speak Italian when ordering or conversing, and assisted and challenged me to expand my vocabulary. By the end of my stay, I had developed many such relationships with people in Sorrento.
I think the scale of Sorrento is enticing, as one can walk the entire city in several hours. The surrounding towns are approachable on footpaths. In town, there is a wide variety of architecture: ancient Roman, Medieval, Baroque, and modern. Many of the piazzi are crowded with people in the evenings, and as the tourist season began, the main street of Corso Italia would close to traffic at around seven o’clock, and people would meander along chattering, shopping, and taking their evening gelato. As the students told me, they enjoyed visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, but felt good about coming “home” to Sorrento. They really liked “being from” Sorrento.
Why Sant’Anna Institute?
The answer is easy: the staff at the Sant’Anna Institute (SAI). Much of what was positive about my teaching experience came from the care and support that they provided. First, I had an office on campus that allowed students to find me with ease during office hours. The SAI staff introduced me to SAI faculty members and Alfred State College (ASC) SUNY System faculty members that were also in residence (ASC conducts a study abroad program that is much like PSU’s). After numerous conversations over coffee and some long lunches, several of the SAI and ASC faculty members and I figured that we were doing things in our courses that could be pulled together in a joint module that would include most non-architecture study abroad students in a challenging research project focusing on sustainable tourism in Sorrento. Through the design and execution of this module, I developed a great respect for my colleagues and their knowledge of content and skill in teaching as well as a respect for our students and their sense of curiosity and ability to work together and deliver a coherent research project.
Because I was teaching a newly designed special topics course in business history with an emphasis on Italy, I wanted to take students to visit Italian businesses. SAI staff organized everything: entrance to the companies, transportation, translation support, and they even rearranged class schedules to ensure that my students would not miss content material or time in class if our site visits overlapped with any of their other course meetings. The SAI staff’s assistance made the course much more rewarding for students and effective for me.
Lastly, the SAI staff working with the ASC student intern hosted a mixer early on in the semester. Mixer means a social event in which SAI invited all of the study abroad students, and because there are many 18- to 22-year-old local Italians taking English language courses at SAI to improve their language skills for employment with the tourist trade, they made sure that these Italians and their friends were also invited to the event. The mixer, an alcohol-free event, was held in one of the nightclubs in Sorrento and included a DJ and karaoke. From that day on I would hear from students about their Italian friends. As a example of the connections made, on the day we (the PSU students and myself) left Sorrento—well, it was more like night as we were stuffing luggage in vans at three in the morning in order to travel to Naples for our flight back to Boston—a group of the Italians showed up to say arrivederci. The conversations were quite lively, with the Americans speaking Italian and the Italians speaking English, and all expressing sadness around departing and planning a reunion five years out.