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Professors, AKA Tour Guides and Top Chefs: Active Learning in Rome

Let's be honest: they might call it study abroad but no one really goes abroad to study. Studying is exactly the same no matter where you are; it's just the same old lectures and textbook and exams. The real reason we want to study abroad is because of the abroad part. Fortunately, the program that CEA's professors have developed for us here in Rome is uniquely adapted to take advantage of the students' passion for their new environment, bringing together the study and the abroad in a way that truly enhances our experience this semester.

When I was prompted to write about active learning, the first thing that came to mind was the multitude of site visits I've been on since I've been in Rome. Every little kid (including the one inside each college student) dreams of being able to go on this many field trips and, thanks to my very thoughtful professors, I am living that dream. My art history class, for instance, is almost always held on-site. Each class, we meet at a particular monument or piazza and spend the following two and half hours walking down side streets, under churches, and through museums in order to see the art that we are discussing first hand. Rome is particularly suited to this unique brand of learning because most of its rich, historically significant artwork and architecture still exists in the city center today as ruins, archeaological sites, or museum pieces. In the first half of the semester, alone, we have trekked from the Colosseum to the Pantheon, through the Capitoline Museums, and down through the four layers of San Clemente. What better way to experience the art of Rome than on a weekly guided tour?! The best part is that these tours ARE the class (and, for those of us trying to work off all the gelato we've been eating, a dependable weekly workout).

The sociology professor at CEA Rome has also used the city to his advantage in planning out the semester. Two weeks ago we took a very engaging trip to the Jewish Ghetto, which I will be featuring as a photo diary in a later post, and this past week we went to visit the cultural center for immigration in the city. In both instances, we were given the chance to experience a completely different side of Rome. I can't accurately describe how different it is to stand on the site of a terrorist bombing, to see the plaque bearing the name of the boy who died as a result, rather than to hear about the event in lecture or read it in a textbook. For me, it was a truly moving experience.

On a much more sumptuous note, the Food and Wine class CEA offers each semester is another one of the most pleasurable instances of active learning the program affords its students. Here's a fun fact I've learned this semester: Italian food as we know it in the States is not really Italian. In fact, there's really no such thing as "Italian food!" Italy is characterized its varied regions, each of which has its own very unique culinary tradition. While it would normally be difficult (and expensive!) to travel across to entire country in order to sample each tradition, the amazing chef who works with our Food and Wine class has brought all of Italy together right in the GC where she cooks for us each Tuesday afternoon. Just today, we sampled fare from Tuscany including a particulary scrumptous chicken dish in a savory vegetable and meat broth. We also recieved our next big assignment this afternoon: cook a full meal based on a particular regional tradition and serve it to a small group of friends who will rate it. Never would I have expected to be graded on my abilities (or lack  there of) as an Italian chef but thanks to CEA Rome's dedication to active learning, it's not such a far-fetched idea anymore. I'll leave it to my taste testers to decide whether or not that's a good thing.

A presto!

Caitlin Smith
University of Maryland, Baltimore Country

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