Some time ago I wrote a post about leading study abroad programs called “My Semi-Corrupt Bargain.” I’m unable to search out the link for it because my internet connection is spotty, and my internet connection is spotty because once again I’m leading a study abroad program in Cortona, Italy, teaching two courses: “English and American Writers in Italy” and “Travel Writing.”
This is the most beautiful place I have ever had the pleasure of living, beautifuller, certainly, than New Rochelle, N.Y.; New Haven, CT; New York City; Hopewell, N.J.; Philadelphia; or Swarthmore PA—that’s the full roster. Internet willing, you’re looking at the view from the window out of which I will look right after typing this period. (For a more extensive view of Cortona, see the film “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which was largely shot here but otherwise bears no relation to reality.)
I hope I’m not being seduced by all this beauty when I say I’ve revised my assessment: now I think the bargain is only one-quarter corrupt.
In the earlier post, I expressed two misgivings, specifically relating to the five-week summer and winter sessions programs that I’ve participated in and that are popular at my school, the U. of Delaware. First, study abroad (like unpaid internships, which I’ve also posted about) is a great opportunity that less-well-off students pretty much get shut out of. Their financial aid packages don’t extend to program costs, and, for the most part, they can’t really justify taking out even more loans to fly off to Italy.
Second, UD requires that faculty offer and students take two classes during the session, and I argued that in one of these sessions, which are geared to a broad range of students, and in which students will naturally spend a fair amount of time traveling and doing other kinds of life-experiencing, you can’t really teach two whole courses worth of material. The “corrupt” part is that faculty—and by that I mean me—don’t make such objections out loud, because being paid for two courses is better than being paid for one course.
I’m still not happy about the de facto class discrimination in the program; I’m also not sure what can be done about it. But based on a comment by Gigi, I’ve come around on the pedogical issue. This is just an amazing experience for these students, some of whom have never been out of the country before. So far they have seen Rome and Florence; tomorrow we go to Venice for the weekend, and we have trips planned to the hill towns of Pienza and Montepulciano, and to Siena, for the centuries-old Palio horse race. Even better than that, they have come to think of this amazing town as home, absorbing its rhythms and some of its customs and culture.
Their youthfulness and cheerfulness is a kind of passport, and they have made friends, or at least the acquaintance of, an impressive variety of expats and natives. Through one of them, they’ve made their way to the commercial bakery that, between 1 and 6 AM every day, bakes the bread for Cortona’s restaurants and groceries. I get the sense that when they arrive at this place, they knock on the door and give the password, and are handed some warm pane, straight out of the oven.
Surely that’s worth a couple of course credits right there.