Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Villa Offers Rewarding Experience

In 1348 the black plague descended upon Florence, Italy, decimating the population and setting back economic development for three generations. Seven hundred fifty-three years later I descended upon Florence, decimating my bank account and keeping economic development continuing for what I assume to be at least three generations. I arrived four days after Sept. 11, 2001, shaken and jet lagged, and was driven in a taxi through the ancient streets, out of town and up a hill to a Villa sitting on three acres of land containing two chefs, two housekeepers cum surrogate mothers named Roberta and three gardeners to keep the place looking beyond beautiful. Looking through the gate at Villa Le Balze, where I would spend eight months of my life, it seemed too good to be true. Maybe it was, but if so, I never woke from dreaming and have no wish to now.

Lucca, Venezia, Orvieto, Roma, Milano, Napoli, Capri, Amalfi … the list goes on. I have pictures of myself in these and so many other famous places in Italy as if to prove I was there. For me, the transition from Vermont to Italy or from Georgetown to Italy was never the hard part: It was the discrepancy between history as it is written and as it is lived and living that shook me to the core. Art that looked merely beautiful on a slide in a darkened room in Walsh conveys something that transcends vocabulary – both English and even Italian – when seen in person. The Villa presents Italy itself as something more than cultural, intellectual or even economic. The courses at the Villa are interdependent and facilitate a kind of complete and completely positive experience: Italian history, language, literature and art history become composite parts of a body of experience at once foreign and familiar to us.

The Villa, arguably like anything else, is a program where you truly get out what you put in. I have heard many people say that it was the most challenging semester or semesters of their academic career: I think that is because the totality of the learning experience of interlocking classes functions in such a multileveled, multifaceted way. Travel is encouraged, but what is expected is that international travel be balanced with domestic. In exploring Italy as you learn about it, you become something other than the dreaded tourist, a personage at once visceral and intellectual. The experience aims at totality of influence, and the expectation is that you have some desire to understand on a deeper level the Italian climate. By setting out expectations thus, the Italian faculty and people extended an invitation to not simply study, but to recreate our identity within the Italian landscape. When I left, nine months after arriving, I felt as though while within Italy’s borders I was no longer Graham – the Italians couldn’t pronounce it – I had become Filippo.

Every year hundreds of American students go to Florence to study. At the Villa, 27 of these students have an experience subtly different from their peers, and the rigor of the learning experience is not the only reason why. Upon leaving the Villa, I realized that what it really offered me was a chance to step outside of everything familiar and move into a seductive and foreign world where my identity was totally in my control. The offer has been made to you as well, and now it is just a question of whether or not you can find any reasons not to go. Talking with ichelle Siemietkowski or looking at www.villalebalze.org will convince you there are many reasons the Villa is for you. You can also check out a slide presentation in the ICC Auditorium at 5 p.m. on Nov. 5 if you are curious about the program. Good luck.

Graham Steele is a senior in the College.

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