Meredith’s campus in Raleigh is often called a home away from home by alumnae. Sansepolcro, Italy, the location of Meredith’s signature study abroad program, has built its own reputation over the past 25 years as a beloved place. Meredith’s first study abroad program in the small medieval town of Sansepolcro, Italy, was led by Professor of Art Maureen Banker in the summer of 1992. Since then, the College has built lasting connections there, particularly after the College signed a long-term lease on the Palazzo Alberti in 2009. This 16th century site, located inside the walled center of the Tuscan town, has been renovated to provide living and learning space for Meredith students and faculty.
“We have had a presence in Sansepolcro for 25 years, so the community really welcomes us into the heart of the culture,” said Meredith in Italy Director Catherine Rodgers. “Our students don’t feel like tourists.”
Since 2009, the Meredith in Italy program has continued to grow, and the College has recently extended its lease for another five years. Meredith offers programs in Sansepolcro throughout the year. There are fall and spring semester options and a variety of shorter summer options. Director of International Programs Brooke Shurer said another record year of Meredith in Italy enrollment is expected this summer.
Semester students can earn general education credits, complete their foreign language requirements, and take courses in the specialty area of the faculty-in-residence. Literature, history, art, psychology, and political science are recent examples. During the spring 2017 semester, 12 students studied Art in Italy with Professor of Art Beth Mulvaney as the faculty-in-residence. In fall 2017, Associate Professor of English Kelly Morris Roberts will lead an Italian Life and Culture semester.
“The Italy courses are different from the regular Meredith campus classes in one very important way – Italy is your classroom,” said Rodgers. “It is so easy for faculty to link their course content to the life and culture of Italy.”
For students who take Italian courses while studying abroad, getting a chance to practice what they learn is invaluable.
“I was able to get all of my foreign language credits in one semester, including the Italian conversation class where we were able to practice our Italian with Italian students practicing their English,” said Ann Cox, ’18, who spent a semester in Sansepolcro. “You’re getting to learn the slang and the vernacular from your friends – that’s such an incredible way to practice what you are learning.”
Mutually Beneficial Community Connections
Meredith’s connections in Sansepolcro have been strengthened by Associate Director of Meredith in Italy Sara Andreini, who is the program’s onsite coordinator. “Sara is a native of Sansepolcro. Her father is the former mayor and she has contacts with everyone there,” Rodgers said.
Meredith has the only American study abroad program in Sansepolcro, which ensures that students have an authentic Italian experience. They aren’t surrounded by other American tourists or students from other colleges.
Andreini believes Sansepolcro has embraced Meredith as part of the community. “The people in town are always waiting for the new Americans coming into town. They keep asking, ‘when is the new group coming; when will they be here; how many of them will there be?’,” said Andreini. “There is a strong relationship between the local community and the Meredith College students. They are now a part of our town.”
Each semester, Andreini teaches the Italy Today course, which covers politics, history, and modern life, while offering a taste of the culture of Italy. Andreini says the purpose of the class is “to give the students an idea of where they are living and what is [authentic] Italia compared to their idea of Italy.”
The course also includes a service learning component in which Meredith students work with English teachers in local schools. This cultural exchange is one way the College gives back to the community.
“Basically what the Meredith students do is help the children learn what it’s like to be an American,” said Rodgers. “After the first or second class, the Meredith students are so enthralled in the process of learning with this group of Italian students that it becomes one of the most important experiences that they have during the semester.”
The service project is an important part of the Meredith in Italy program, both for the educational aspects and the intangible rewards.
“I think the rewards are the hugs that I see the children giving the students in the piazza when they meet them after school. A lot of these students will invite our Meredith students into their homes to meet their parents, to have a meal, to get to know them,” Rodgers said. “Those kinds of experiences are not afforded to students who study abroad in a large city like Florence or Venice or Rome. It’s one of the many, many things that make studying abroad in Sansepolcro so very special.”
Interested in supporting the Meredith in Italy Program?
Contact Director of Strategic Giving Billie Jo Kennedy Cockman, ’79, at email@example.com or (919) 760-8371 for information on the Friends of Sansepolcro Endowment, which supports the long-term future of the Meredith in Italy program.
Expanding the Sansepolcro Opportunity
To help celebrate this special anniversary in Sansepolcro, the Office of International Programs sponsored an opportunity for faculty and staff to stay in the Palazzo Alberti. Participants funded their own travel to Italy, but were able to stay in the palazzo at a reduced cost. Preference was given to those who had not yet had the opportunity to visit Meredith’s home in Italy.
Twenty campus community members, from departments including college programs, mathematics and computer science, nutrition, dance and theatre, history, accounting, and music, spent a week in Sansepolcro. Meredith in Italy Director Catherine Rodgers, former Director of International Programs Betty Webb, and longtime study abroad leader John Rose were onsite to help the travelers make the most of their visit.
Alumnae interested in visiting Sansepolcro can do so through the Meredith Travel Program, which frequently includes an add-on visit to the region with tours of Italy. Learn more about Meredith Travel at meredith.edu/alumnae/travel.
The Tuscan Intensives Program is a continuing education program for alumnae and friends of the College. Recent programs have focused on Italian art and cuisine. The fall program, an Italian cooking course, filled quickly.
Offerings for 2018 are being planned now.