September 20, 2017 - Each year, nearly 100 Hoyas travel to Fiesole, Italy to live and learn at Villa Le Balze, making it one of Georgetown’s most popular study abroad locations. And understandably so—taking classes with Georgetown faculty while living in a villa perched on a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside makes the Villa an alluring study abroad option. Aside from the perks of Italian gelato and an Instagram feed of Tuscan sunsets, however, the Villa offers unparalleled opportunities for another aspect of study abroad: community immersion.

Villa Le Balze is located in Fiesole, a charming town on the outskirts of Florence. While students at the Villa are encouraged to take advantage of everything the city offers, immersing Hoyas in the community of Fiesole is a top priority. Dr. Fulvio Orsitto, the Director of Villa le Balze, has spent the past year in his position seeking to strengthen the relationship between Georgetown students and the town. Dr. Orsitto touched on his work in building relationships with the community stating, “It is important to reinforce the synergy between academic institutions and the town of Fiesole.  I hope the Roman theatre will become a metaphorical ‘glocal’ space, a transnational space able to facilitate the intercultural dialogue between our students and the surrounding community, between the global and the local.” Events throughout each academic term demonstrate this commitment to community-building and cultural authenticity. One example of this type of programming is Welcome Day.

On Friday, September 8, the town of Fiesole formally welcomed Hoyas as members of the community. Organized by the City of Fiesole and the European University Institute, Welcome Day introduced students to the local culture and familiarized them with the rich history of the city. Events included a tour of Fiesole’s ancient Roman theatre, a musical performance by the pupils of the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole, and an opportunity to meet local politicians, including the mayor of Fiesole, Anna Ravoni. With Fiesole residents accounting for the vast majority of the event’s 400 attendees, Welcome Day was a smashing success.

Brendan Shaw, a Georgetown junior currently studying at the Villa, explained how Welcome Day complements the cultural experience at the Villa. “The event was attended by students from the European University, so talking to them and hearing their experiences gave a unique glimpse into Italian culture from a student’s perspective.” Before going to the event, Georgetown students studying at the Villa had the chance to get to know each other over a private meal at the Villa. This fusion of Georgetown and wider Italian culture, of local and global, is exactly the mixture that distinguishes the Villa from other study abroad programs around the world.

“The event also made me feel welcomed in the community,” Shaw shares. “It just made everything feel so much more real. It was a tangible start to study abroad, where a big portion of the learning comes through having real-world experiences.”