by Kelsey Baum

The enchanting sounds of Italian guitar fill the air as College of Charleston students gaze out over the breathtaking Sorrento coastline, which seems to extend far beyond the point of comprehension. The beachy vibe of this town in Southern Italy feels familiar and welcoming to the students despite the fact that none of them have been here before.

CofC Students tend to feel at home in Sorrento, says Italian Studies professor Giovanna De Luca, because they are used to living close to the beach and can identify with the small-town feel of Sorrento, which overlooks the serene Bay of Naples.

CofC students had a great view of the Bay of Naples from their classroom at Sant’Anna Institute. (Photos by Caroline Palsi)

De Luca, who grew up just an hour north of Sorrento in Naples, began leading students on this month-long, summer study abroad experience in 2013. Sitting in her office recently in the College’s Bell South Building, surrounded by posters of Italian cinema, De Luca enthusiastically describes the Sorrento trip.

“I know the area very well,” she explains, “so exposing students to Sorrento holds great meaning to me.”

Her goal is to enrich students’ understanding of Italian language and culture. 

“The best way to study a foreign language is from the inside,” she says, “and that is my philosophy when I teach.”

But she also understands that students studying abroad crave opportunities to relax and soak in the beauty of their surroundings, especially following a busy school year. There’s even a saying in Italian that speaks to the importance of balancing work and play – piacere e dovere – which roughly translated means pleasure and duty.

Despite the ever-present beauty that characterizes Sorrento, this trip is not all about relaxing and sightseeing. Students can either complete their Italian language requirements (ITAL 201 and ITAL 202) or take two upper-level courses (ITAL 328 and ITAL 329), which are geared toward Italian minors. De Luca teaches these classes at the Sant’Anna Institute, where between classes students can study in a scenic garden nestled underneath Sorrento’s famous lemon trees. If anything, Sorrento’s natural beauty inspires creativity in students that helps to enhance their study abroad experience.

Students on this trip experience cultural immersion even after classes let out for the day. For student Caroline Palsi, practicing Italian in the country itself was “a soul-enriching experience.”

“So many natives were willing to speak Italian with myself and the other students, happy to engage with young people looking to learn their language,” says Palsi, a senior majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. “The Italians we met were full of pride for their country and it was an honor to learn from them.”

Students mingle with locals at the Marameo Beach after a long day of studying Italian.

Students live in apartments in the heart of Sorrento, which allows them to engage with the community outside of the students they meet at school. The program also includes excursions to Bologna, Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast, where students are given guided tours of museums and historical monuments to broaden their perspectives on Italy.

Living in Sorrento for a month gives students the opportunity to experience the authentic Italian way of life – learning to watch out for Vespa scooters zipping down the road, ordering lunch at a local salumeria, and chatting with locals on a customary walk after dinner. Students can even learn how to find alternate transportation during a train strike, which is not uncommon in Italy.   

When asked what advice she would give to prospective study abroad students, De Luca emphasizes that students should make an effort to meet locals so they can practice their Italian. It’s easy to get stuck inside a mini-American bubble while studying abroad, especially when traveling and living with a group of other English-speaking students from the same city. While De Luca says travel groups can be important for emotional support, it’s beneficial for students to branch out and interact with locals so they can achieve full immersion.

Looking ahead to next summer, De Luca plans on breaking the trip up into three weeks in Sorrento and one week in Bologna, a metropolitan city in Northern Italy. Because the majority of residents in Bologna speak Italian, she believes this will further help students hone their language skills in a way that can be difficult in a more tourist-centric area such as Sorrento.

More information on the Sorrento program and other summer study abroad programs offered at the College can be found on the Center for International Education website.

Featured image: Students with Italian Studies professor Giovanna De Luca visit Pompeii during the study abroad trip in summer 2018.

Kelsey Baum is a senior from New Jersey studying Communication and Italian Studies at the College of Charleston. She is also a member of the Martin Scholars Program and a freelance writer for Her Campus.