Students experience Italian culture and more during study abroad trip

Two women standing in front of a scenic background.

Olivia Miles, left, and Abby Snyder pause for a selfie at the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, as part of their study abroad trip.

Credit: Olivia Miles

YORK, Pa. — Thanksgiving Day 2023 is one that Penn State York students Olivia Miles and Abby Snyder will not forget. They spent 10 days, including Thanksgiving, in Florence, Italy, as part of a human development and family studies course, Understanding the Italian Family: Historical and Cultural Context (HDFS 499). 

Studies in Florence, as the course is commonly referred to, included weekly Zoom meetings and the 10-day trip to Italy. The course was open to any student at Penn State and was taught and organized by Robin Yaure and Robyn Chotiner, faculty members at Penn State Mont Alto. The course was offered though the Digital Learning Cooperative, which allows students to take classes online at any Penn State campus. 

Miles and Snyder, both bachelor of science in psychology majors at the time of the trip, were the only York students to participate along with 14 others from various Penn State campuses. Snyder graduated in December 2023 and Miles is a junior pursuing the psychology degree along with a minor in HDFS. 

Both students heard about the course from one of their psychology professors at the York campus, Mark Casteel, who shared the information with all the students in the psychology programs. York offers both the bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in psychology

Virtual lectures provided students with opportunities to learn the course material and interact with students from other campuses and faculty members. In addition to the coursework, students had to arrange their travel to Florence with the expectation of arriving by Nov. 17. For Miles and Snyder, it was a learning experience to coordinate travel, flying in and out of Pisa, and be ready to study in Florence, considered one of the most artistic and culturally important cities in the world. 

Once in Florence, they had a tour of the city and visited a variety of historic locations and museums as a group. They also had time to experience Italian culture on their own, which included a visit to Venice, Italy. 

Special Thanksgiving 

“Thanksgiving night, we had a Thanksgiving meal, American meets Italian, with all sorts of meats and cheeses and turkey with chestnut stuffing,” said Snyder. “We also had the opportunity to talk about what Thanksgiving meant to us.” This was one of Snyder’s favorite parts of the trip and Miles enjoyed it as well. 

For Miles, a visit with elementary students at a private school was rewarding. 

“Part of our assignment was to spend time with them, get to know them, and evaluate their ability to speak English,” she said. Miles noted that throughout the trip, the group met a variety of people and had the opportunity to learn from them and gain a real knowledge of Italian culture. 

In addition to visiting Italy, Miles and Snyder visited Ireland for four days prior to the start of the course in Florence. 

Both Miles and Snyder noted that the trip was a life-changing experience and an excellent way to learn about another culture. They shared their experiences during a study abroad program on March 14 at Penn State York and recommended the Florence course and other study abroad programs to those in attendance. 

Advice from study abroad travelers 

Miles’ advice to students considering study abroad experiences is to talk with their adviser about options that Penn State offers. 

“Getting into these courses that have an abroad portion often involves prerequisites and an application process, so it helps to prepare for it. Additionally, do your due diligence to travel with a program that is within your major or minor,” she said. “It is very achievable because Penn State does many excursions abroad and the courses are more likely to apply to your major requirements.”  

Snyder’s advice to students thinking about study abroad programs: “Take the opportunity to explore and immerse yourself into the world we live, in order to gain knowledge that can't be obtained in the classroom.” 

For more information about this three-credit course in Florence, contact Yaure at [email protected]. To learn more about study program opportunities, contact Nikki Rosario-Flores, global engagement coordinator, central regional global learning, at [email protected] or 717-771-8419. Her office is in the student affairs office at Penn State York on the second floor of the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center.