Students Return to Ariccia after a Year of Adapting the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy Program

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

After an abrupt exit from Auburn’s only overseas campus, art exhibits, live cooking demonstrations, and a virtual class took the place of the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program last year. Now that students have returned to Italy, College of Human Sciences staff and students reflect on what it took to bring the JSB experience to Auburn.

Last spring, JSB Executive Director Lacey Armstrong and Global Studies in Human Sciences faculty coordinated the safe return of all JSB students in Ariccia within a period of just twelve hours after the U.S. Department of State declared Italy as an unsafe travel destination due to the COVID-19 health emergency. The Chigi Palace in Ariccia, where JSB students live for the three month program, has since been silent.

“We are so excited to have students back living and learning in Ariccia,” Armstrong said. “The city is abuzz with a renewed energy since our students returned to the Chigi Palace. The townspeople are truly excited, and several have mentioned to our team that their presence feels like hope for a future beyond COVID-19.”

Kim Nothdurft, spring 2021 graduate of the Global Studies in Human Sciences program and former study abroad ambassador, was one of the students called home halfway through last spring’s JSB program. She and her friends had just arrived in Copenhagen for their spring break trip when they had to book a return flight to Auburn.

Nothdurft became a study abroad ambassador in the fall of 2020. Amid strict travel restrictions and uncertainty about the coming semesters, Nothdurft said she and fellow ambassadors focused on marketing the experience to underclassmen.

“We were mostly focused on keeping the idea of studying abroad alive and keeping it in the back of freshmen’s minds because they have four years to get to do this experience. We wanted them to know that they’re still going to get the college experience and the study abroad experience that they came for,” Nothdurft said. “It’s really great for people to see how big the JSB program is to Auburn and what it means to its students through bringing it to Auburn in some form or fashion because not everyone’s going to get to go, but I think they do a really good job of bringing some of Ariccia to Auburn.”

To reminisce and celebrate her own JSB experience, Nothdurft and her friends participated in the Science of Great Taste series through the College of Human Sciences Facebook. These live cooking lessons and wine tastings, led by the staff of the JSB program, sought to highlight Italian culture to more of the Auburn community through technology. The lessons included cooking Amatriciana and Pasta Carbona, and a live wine tasting with Maurizio Antonini, Cinzia Bracalente, Roberta Londi, Mary Lou Gray and Lacey Armstrong, familiar faces for JSB alumni.

In addition to the Science of Great Taste, “Chigi babies” – the nickname for those who participated in the JSB program – and other parties interested in the one-of-a-kind study abroad experience could see artwork straight from the Chigi Palace on display at the Jule Collins Museum of Fine Art in Auburn. The “Bernini and the Roman Baroque: Masterpieces from Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia ” exhibition, on display in the U.S. for the first time, opened on Feb. 9. Ada Folmar, fall 2019 JSB alumna and senior in Hospitality Management, is a visitor services student worker at the Jule Collins Smith Museum and was there when the exhibit was unveiled.

“It’s amazing that Auburn was the place for it to be debuted. Seeing a little glimpse of Italy in Auburn was exciting because I wanted everyone I knew to come check it out because it meant so much to me and my time there,” Folmar said. “I got to meet so many other Chigi babies. A few of them really wanted to come back to Auburn to show their parents the exhibit. Auburn University has this special connection to Italy, and it was so cool to see how excited people got talking about it.”

Every student in the Global Studies in Human Sciences program at Auburn must complete a study abroad program before graduation. To satisfy this requirement through remote delivery, the Office of Global Education offered a Virtual Study Abroad in Italy class this spring. The highly interactive class featured films and popular media, readings, cooking classes, lectures and discussions, with lessons focused on Italian culture and cultural intelligence (CQ). Students were challenged to dig beyond the touristic façade of Italy and explore the issues facing the Italian Republic, her citizens, and visitors.

William Hinkle, senior in the GSHS program, was on the JSB list for fall 2020, but when the abroad program was cancelled due to COVID-19, participated in the virtual class. Hinkle said the virtual course departed useful information on the Italian culture, but, unsurprisingly, lacked the immersive element that the program is known for. Still, Hinkle said he would recommend it if a student was unable to participate in person.

“You’ll still learn how to make great Italian food, like a delicious Caprese cake. Unfortunately, there was no real language utilization or the typical travel skills you would list for a résumé,” Hinkle said. “Overall, if you have the money and time, I would still recommend the in-person option. If you have extraneous circumstances that prevent that option, however, then the online option is a good substitute to keep your degree pursuit on track.” The Virtual Study Abroad in Italy course will be offered throughout the coming academic year.

“The virtual study abroad course is a great opportunity for students to learn about regional and historical influences on the Italian culture and lifestyle, and develop their cultural intelligence before ever stepping foot on foreign soil,” Armstrong said. “I would also recommend the course to anyone who has considered studying abroad, but is not yet ready or able to commit.”

The first group that returned to Italy after the COVID-19 global health emergency is under more specific instructions when traveling and studying abroad. “Current Auburn University and host nation restrictions have given us the opportunity to rethink what had become the status quo for the JSB experience. For example, public transportation is off the table for the foreseeable future, so we are taking advantage of private bus services to visit off-the-beaten path attractions and places where students can get up close and personal with sustainability, nature, and the traditional Italian lifestyle. Students are also traveling only to places within Italy during their long weekends, so they will truly be immersed in the Italian culture as they explore lesser-known corners of this beautiful nation,” Armstrong said. “We are excited about the forced opportunity to change. We truly feel the program will be a better learning experience for our students and we hope to keep many of the changes in the future.”

The summer 2021 Joseph S. Bruno Abroad in Italy class arrived in Ariccia on May 20. Follow their progress on Facebook and Instagram .