April 28, 2011
After graduating from college in their native Taiwan, Yu-Hsuan Kuo and Mei-Chen Chen chose to attend Indiana State University for graduate school because they wanted to experience western culture.
This year during spring break, that experience went beyond the American heartland.
Kuo and Chen were among 20 Indiana State Students who traveled to Florence and the nearby Tuscany region of Italy to get a taste - literally and figuratively - of one of Italy's most culturally significant areas.
Kuo, who has worked as a chef and is completing a master's degree in nutrition, said the trip was a good opportunity for him to learn more about nutrition, cooking and the evaluation of wine.
"I have learned a lot about American style cooking, but this time I went to Italy and the chefs shared very different ideas," he said. "We learned how to make pasta. In my country, we don't use this skill; we just buy pasta from Wal-Mart, but they showed us how to make fresh pasta. It's amazing; it's much easier than my imagination."
Chen, a Master of Fine Arts student in oil painting, described the experience as a dream come true.
"I wanted to know the cultural experience of Italy. All girls dream of going to Europe," she said.
More importantly, the journey allowed her to see firsthand many historically significant paintings she had seen only in textbook pictures - paintings such as Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" at Florence's Uffizi Gallery.
"I study art history and need to memorize many of works of art - the artist and the period," she said. "In the books they're not so but when I stood there they were huge. Oh, my gosh. It was a great experience for me. I can learn from these works by seeing the skin tones, the hair, the structure and composition of the paintings."
While nothing could prepare a young artist for the thrill of seeing the works of the master's up close, classroom lessons offered by Indiana State for students who took the study abroad trip did lay the groundwork for some of what they experienced at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence and the world-renowned Frescobaldi winery in Tuscany.
"The nutrition classes helped a lot when it came to the cutting skill, cooking skill and wine tasting," said Kuo.
Still, the students' visit to the Frescobaldi castle and having 32nd generation family member Diletta Frescobaldi host a meal for them and teach them about the "crescendo" of wines from the very mild to the very bold was another "Oh my gosh" moment, Kuo said.
"This was the first time I enjoyed an official lunch in western culture and that impressed me," he said. "The owners introduced the meal to everybody. We enjoyed a local dish and she taught us how to pair the wine with particular foods."
This year marked the ninth year that Frederica Kramer, professor emeriti of family and consumer sciences, led students and faculty on the 10-day journey of art and epicurean discovery, but this year saw participation by students from a wider variety of majors.
"We had a more diverse group of students this year," Kramer said. "We had students from three colleges - fashion merchandising in the College of Technology, food and nutrition and art in the College of Arts and Sciences and nursing from the College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services."
Faculty members prepare students for the journey by showing films about the Medici and the Renaissance "so they have a good understanding of what they will be seeing," Kramer said.
Students from all participating areas learned from the trip, said Kramer and Cheryl Kremer, assistant professor of fashion merchandising in the department of human resource development and performance technologies.
Students learned leather making at a leather store that has been operated by the same family for more than 200 years and silk making and brocades at a an antique silk factory that uses looms that date from the Renaissance.
"Everyone has their own loom and they won't go to anybody else's loom," said MaKenzie Mitchell, a sophomore fashion merchandising student. "They only produce about five centimeters of silk per day so it takes two years to do a complete table setting."
Mitchell, who aspires to a buyer for a major clothing line, was also impressed by a designer's studio in Florence where clothing is designed and manufactured in the same building.
"It was really interesting how they designed it on the top floor and then on the bottom floor they actually made the clothing to make sure the clothing was of higher quality," Mitchell said.
The international experience provided students a better understanding of what goes into making high-end clothing, she said.
"It's important to compare the different constructions of clothing. If you buy something over there it is usually handmade and that just makes it more special. It means more to you than if you buy something here (in the U.S.)" she said.
While Americans may perceive Gucci and Prada to be top of the line fashions, "the Florentines shop at local stores that are really higher end that we don't even know," Mitchell said. "In Florence, Prada and Gucci are tourist stores."
Contact: Frederica Kramer, professor emerita of family and consumer sciences, Indiana State University, 812-237-3297 or Frederica.firstname.lastname@example.org; Cheryl Kremer, assistant professor, textiles, apparel and merchandising, Indiana State University, 812-237-3307 or email@example.com
Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About 20 ISU students took part in an annual spring spread study abroad trip to Italy, concentrating on Florence and the wine region of Tuscany.