Grapes, Wine & Design
Wine, pizza and drafting pencils- these were staples of life for 10 Texas Tech University landscape architecture students through the Fall 2011 semester. The study abroad trip led by Associate Professor John Billing to Italy proved to be a lasting cultural experience.
Home base for the group was the small Italian community of Castiglion Fiorentino, located between Florence and Rome. According to Billing, the students were housed in the Santa Chiana Study Center along with students from Texas A&M University and other institutes of higher education. Classes were taught at the center on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, the students traveled to Italian cities and towns to study the various gardens and city centers.
The trip"s main focus was urban design. Billing explained even though several of the locations studied studied were in smaller non-urban settings, each site had a unique aspect of urban design that the class observed. Although most of these trips were one day, the trips to Rome and Venice both lasted three days.
According to Stephen Evans, who participated in this study abroad experience, these field trips were more than just for study. Evans explained that on the field trips, they would study their site for a few hours then they were allowed a few hours to enjoy the culture and the people.
"They gave us the freedom to go and drink wine or eat lunch and talk with locals, visit stores, eat or do whatever," Evans said.
But the cultural experiences didn"t just happen away from Castiglion Fiorentino. The students were given many opportunities to interact with the people, where, according to Billing, many of the students were given the opportunity to dine with an Italian family.
Jenna Loa, a senior landscape architecture student, took advantage of this opportunity and described her experience saying it was like they invited their entire extended family for the meal. Loa shared the experience with a student from Texas A&M, and for the two of them, food was not in short supply.
"I can"t eat all this, but I don"t want to offend them by not eating," Loa said with a laugh, "so I forced myself to eat all their food."
Evans had a different experience. Along with several other students, he helped a local vineyard pick grapes for a day. Evans said he enjoyed picking the grapes, but got the most out of getting to know the farmer and the other students who helped.
"It was awesome," Evans said. "We were just talking and picking grapes and eating them, and they were delicious."
He said that they also were fed lunch and shown how the grapes were processed and stored for fermentation. They were given wine as a gift of appreciation for the help.
Billing explained the impact the students made when they helped the farmer. The students picked so many grapes that day that it would have taken the farmer a week and a half with hired help to harvest that amount.
The students were given a week-long fall break and dispersed all over Europe. Loa traveled to Spain and France and discovered the importance of timeliness when her group missed their return flight in Paris. According to Billing, this was the only real issue on the trip. They were able to catch a night train and ended up back in Castiglion Fiorentino in time for class to start Monday.
Evans summed up his overall experience by describing the physical beauty of the places they visited.
"What you see is what you take from the entire trip," Evans said. "It"s how you really learn."