Return to Tuscany | Beaufort County Now | ECUís full-time study abroad program in Italy resumes this fall

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Jules Norwood.

ECU students and faculty will return to Certaldo Alto, Italy, this fall through the ECU Tuscany study abroad program. | Photo: Cliff Hollis

    A fortunate few East Carolina University students will spend the fall semester in Certaldo Alto, Italy, through the ECU Tuscany study abroad program, which received the green light this week to resume operation.

    The program is ECU's flagship study abroad experience and one of only two full-time campuses abroad in the University of North Carolina System, said Jon Rezek, assistant vice chancellor for global affairs. More than 1,000 students participated over the course of 13 years before the spring 2020 group was brought home due to the spread of COVID-19.

    Linda Darty, director of ECU Tuscany, said this fall's group will be smaller than usual due to continued coronavirus precautions, but a few spots remain available. Students can take a full course load of classes, most of which fulfill general college requirements ranging from literature and art to geology and kinesiology. It's also possible — but optional — to knock out both required foreign language credits by taking two five-week intensive Italian courses.

More than 1,000 students attended ECU Tuscany over 13 years before the spring 2020 group, pictured here, was brought home due to the coronavirus.
    Rezek said he and Darty, along with ECU's global affairs committee and Paul Barry, director of the Office of Prospective Health, have worked throughout the pandemic to get ECU Tuscany back up and running as soon as possible while making sure it would be safe for students and faculty as well as the community of Certaldo Alto, which has a population of about 150 residents.

    The global affairs team has stayed up to date on public health conditions in the town and throughout Italy, have developed safety protocols, and have made arrangements for quarantine and isolation facilities, Rezek said. There's also a contingency plan to extract the students quickly if needed.

    Not only has the program had a tremendous impact on hundreds of ECU students, but it's also important to the small town, where the presence of the students and faculty has a measurable economic impact, Darty sait.

    "This one is really going to be a big celebration; the Italians are ready for us to get there," Darty said. "They really want us and we really want to get back, so it's going to be a momentous occasion.

    "And it's my favorite time of year in Italy. The fall is beautiful and they'll be harvesting the olives and grapes, making olive oil, and then the leaves turn golden orange and red, and it's just my very favorite time to be there so it couldn't be a better semester ... to go."

    Kiersten Joyner of Grifton attended the program in 2018 and said, "The cities are beautiful, the art is amazing, the food is great. It's a great experience if you're trying to learn to be more independent and come out of your shell. You can make great friends. It's a great place to be."

    Seeing the detailed brush strokes and carving marks of famous works of art in person transcended classroom learning, she said.

ECU students Wesley Sanchez, left, and Alison Moller browse an Italian produce market in 2018. | Photo: Cliff Hollis
Leonardo Lastilla, guest instructor of art appreciation, speaks with ECU students at the Bargello Museum in Florence, Italy, in 2018. | Photo: Cliff Hollis

    While international travel continues to be restricted, the Office of Global Affairs has a process to allow exceptions to be considered on a case-by-case basis for travel that occurs in August or later, Rezek said.

    "I come back to a story of a recent ECU alumna who went on a study abroad program, totally turned her academic career around upon her return, eventually attended Duke law school, and is now a successful attorney," he said. "Study abroad absolutely changes students' trajectories in life. Now, multiply that story by 800, which is the number of students we had been sending abroad each year prior to COVID.

    "You can see just how detrimental this pandemic has been to many of our students who were not able to have these experiences. Virtual international experiences have been wonderful, but the Office of Global Affairs is very excited to get back to changing lives through student mobility."

    Tentative dates for this fall are Aug. 26-Nov. 23; students will return before the Thanksgiving break. Students interested in attending ECU Tuscany should contact Darty at as soon as possible.
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