Written by: Dr. Todd Waller, Director, Spring Hill College Italy Center

In April of 2016, the New York Times ran a misguided article that went viral within the study abroad professional network.  In the editorial piece, University of North Carolina Professor Peter Coclanis provides a list of “threats” that can “derail a study abroad experience” which includes slide courses, suds, sexual fervidity, shopping, self segregation, smartphoning and selfie-taking. The Italy Center offers a stark contrast to the off base world of study abroad portrayed in the NY Times editorial.

For example, our Fall 2017 semester begins with a ten-day Social Justice Tour allowing students to come face-to-face with refugees in efforts to better understand the complexities of migration that are changing the face of Europe.  Volunteering with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers then continues in Bologna throughout the course of the semester.

What follows are student perspectives that counter Peter Coclanis’s editorial.  The testimonies below drive home the fact that many young Americans are deeply engaged in the life lessons that a well designed study abroad experience can offer:

“The refugee crisis is something that cannot be ignored. While in Bologna I was able to work alongside African immigrants.  During our justice tour I was able to meet Syrian families fleeing the war. I know that something drastic has to be done, what exactly that is, I am not sure. I would have never had these opinions had it not been for my time at the Italy Center.”

Giovanni Rocco
Philosophy, Politics and the PublicXavier University

“Once you put a face to actual refugees, you can never return to your previous way of thinking about these issues. When you understand how terrible their lives have been and how they have crossed five countries, the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea all hoping for a better life, the old arguments no longer make sense.”

Martin JaramilloRefugees
Marketing and EconomicsSpring Hill College

“Dean Brackley S.J. often said, ‘you have to break your heart,’ meaning you need to go into this willing to be vulnerable. As we discussed in our reflection following our day working with Syrian refugees, when your heart gets broken, suddenly your healing is tied up with their healing.”

Henri Gunther
Public Health and PhilosophySaint Louis University

“Being here has helped me to gain a broader perspective about migration and my goal is to go home to America and talk about it. I am not sure if I can change the opinions of those who disagree with me, but based on my experiences with migrants I hope to plant seeds.”

John SlaughterImam
Political ScienceSpring Hill College

“I kind of intellectually knew what it was like for refugees coming into Italy.  But I think what I really did not know was how Italians interact with migrants, and what Italians actually experience in everyday life as related to migrants.”

Alessandra Testa
International StudiesThe College of New Jersey