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Fall 2006 - Italian culture

Destination Purdue > Fall 2006 - Italian culture

Trip offers a taste of Italian culture

By Mallory Tarr

Stepping off of a plane and heading to the world's largest pasta factory is one way Purdue Agriculture students traveling abroad ease into Italian culture - they're combining the familiarity of the things they learned in class with the unique flavor of Italy.

Coliseum in Rome

Photo provided by Mario Ferruzzi

The Coliseum in Rome was one of the many sights Purdue Agriculture students saw during a spring break trip to Italy.

Trip coordinator Mario Ferruzzi, an assistant professor of food science, said he likes students to begin with the familiar, such as food processes they learned about in class, to ease into a foreign culture.

During the spring break trip, students experienced street markets and vineyards, toured the world's oldest agricultural research university and tasted the foods of Italy.

The stops also exposed students to a variety of historic sights. "Seeing the Coliseum in person is very different than seeing it in Gladiator," Ferruzzi said, referring to the 2000 Russell Crowe movie. While landmarks like the Coliseum may be familiar, what made this trip unique is that students didn't just tour Italy, they got to go behind the scenes.

They learned how the hams in Parma hang and dry in open air for almost a year to enhance their flavor. They also met a man who specialized in making perfectly-aged Parmesan cheese. Students also experienced the differences in the way Italians regard food and agriculture.

Kamp expressed a deep appreciation for the methods he saw organic olive growers using. The processes are less mechanized than traditional agriculture in the United States, and Kamp saw vineyard owners caring for each plant individually.

While students learned many lessons about Italian agriculture and food production, the trip wasn't all about study. Ferruzzi said it is important for students to blend agriculture with a rich cultural environment. That lesson did not seem to be lost on the travelers. "We didn't just see Italy," Kamp said. "We learned about the stories."

Kamp also said the pace of life in Italy was slower than in the United States. People are not in such a rush to move on to the next task, he said, and that is reflected in the care they take in the foods they grow and prepare.

"Getting immersed in the culture was awesome," said Christina Harp, a sophomore agricultural communication major from Crawfordsville, Ind. "And the food everywhere you go is so fresh."

Although Harp said she enjoyed the food, she said adjusting to the dietary differences was only one of several changes she had to make. There were also differences in altitude and the variable weather to adapt to. Moving from one destination to another, such as visiting snow-covered mountains one day and more T-shirt friendly locations the next, was often a greater physical stress than when traveling in familiar territory, she said.

Students and trip leaders alike said they came home tired. Many students said their friends returned relaxed and tan after spring break trips to the beach. But they wouldn't trade places. "I'm really OK with not having a typical college spring break ever," Harp said.