Gabriel DeRosa recently completed a UConn study abroad experience at the International Studies Institute at Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, Italy. He participated in the College’s Sustainable Food and Environmental Systems Program where students learn about European agriculture, economy and society, gaining additional perspectives to compare and contrast with their American experiences.
The program, which occurs in the fall semester, allows students to spend fourteen weeks earning fourteen credits overseas. It features classroom instruction and study tours and internships. Throughout the immersive experience, they learn how food is produced, transformed, distributed, prepared and consumed in Italy. The particular areas of focus are determined by the three CAHNR faculty members that accompany students, tailoring each excursion into a unique experience based on their expertise. Typically, the cost for Connecticut residents is slightly more than attending UConn for a typical fall semester and in the case of out-of-state students, the cost for the program may be lower than that for a typical fall semester. Financial assistance may be available for qualified students. For more information, please email John.Volin@uconn.edu, Hedley.Freake@uconn.edu or Steven.Rackliffe@uconn.edu or go to abroad.uconn.edu.
What is your major, and why did you choose it?
I’m a horticulture major. Growing up I spent a lot of time near farms. I always had friends that had farms or lots of land, and so I was around a lot of animals and livestock. I found I was interested in farming but realized that I wanted to focus on plants. I started looking around for community agricultural projects and different organic farms in my area to get involved in. Once I started working, I knew I had discovered something I really enjoyed doing. Then I found that UConn has a great program for plant science.
What attracted you to the Sustainable Food and Environmental Systems Program?
I live at Spring Valley Student Farm now, but even before I moved there I was hanging out with two people who were there and they told me the Florence study abroad was the best experience of their lives and not to miss out on it. The program was perfect for everything I’m interested in.
I’m also Italian and I wanted to study in Italy since I had never seen my home country. It was a win-win all around for me to see Italy, study sustainable agriculture, experience the food culture of Europe and travel for four months.
I also received the Marc and Lois Tartaglia Memorial Scholarship to finance my trip and I’m so grateful for that help. It made all of this possible for me.
What part of the Florence program was the most memorable? Why?
The study tours were incredible. They were not only educational but very meaningful for me since I’m passionate about farming. Many of the farms we saw weren’t places you’d normally see, especially American students. They were off the beaten path, in the countryside, and we’d visit with a farmer and see this land that’s been tended to by his family for generation after generation. These farms felt like well kept secrets, just really unique locations, and we were encouraged to ask any questions we could think of.
That was a lot of the program, getting on buses, going out into the beautiful Tuscan countryside and seeing these amazing farms. At the end of the day, we’d eat, drink wine, talk and enjoy ourselves.
Name two other experiences you had there that will enrich your studies.
We had our weekends free and were able to travel to other parts of Europe. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was able to take short trips with other students to all kinds of places. We went to the Netherlands, Germany and Croatia. Travel in Europe is really cheap and convenient once you’re over there.
Oktoberfest was pretty incredible, but Croatia blew my mind. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but a group wanted to go and we get there and it’s these gorgeous beaches and awesome seafood. The weather was perfect and we got on a boat to cruise around the Adriatic Sea. It was unbelievable.
What was the biggest challenge in your Florence experience?
It was staying organized. You want to be sure to finish all your work and you also want to get out and experience as much as you can while you are there. The nightlife doesn’t get started there until late and then you’d have classes early the next morning. Once you start planning out other trips or exploring, you realize that you need to figure out a way to balance it all.
What effect do you think your experience in Florence will have on your plans for the future?
I definitely want to go back to Europe!
The experience made me realize that I don’t have to approach farming a particular way and made me contemplate the changes I’d like to see in American food culture. Seeing these other ways of doing things makes you think about what you’ve become accustomed to. For example, no one over there would consider buying frozen vegetables because you can get fresh ones grown locally. They don’t give it a second thought. It feels like everyone is on the same page over there in wanting to always get fresh, local food. Overall, it made me change my outlook quite a bit.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about your experience in Florence?
The people were the most amazing part of it. The professors were top-notch. They taught us a lot and recognized that we were under some stress, being in a different country and knowing we wanted to explore and have other experiences, and made us feel comfortable. The other UConn students that I met, and students from other universities, were great and now I have all these resources and friendships from this shared experience. They went because they were passionate about the same things so you get to make connections with people who share your interests.