Study Abroad: Virtual Pisa

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Photo of the class on a balcony at the Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS)

By Dan Day, Office of Communications, February 2021

Princeton students studying Italian will have a special opportunity this summer to travel virtually to Pisa and elsewhere in Italy, immersing themselves in the language and culture of “il bel paese.”

Students will explore “The Beautiful Country” online from May 31 through July 2 under the direction of Anna Cellinese, a senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian and director of the Italian Language Program. 

Cellinese led the first cohort of students in the summer program in Pisa in 2019. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the program was put on hold. It is back on this summer, with Princeton students to participate in virtual classes and daily videoconference interactions with Italian college students from the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore as their guides and tutors.

Over each of five weeks, students will explore the themes of beauty, landscape, migrations, multiculturalism and travel. Classes and the interactions with the guides will be conducted in the Italian language.

“Italian is only a window, a starting point that goes way beyond its geographic and linguistic borders,” Cellinese explained. The program is “an opportunity not only for them to explore the Italian language and culture but to experience who we are as a global citizen in a global society. Their job, as student of a second language, is to slowly decenter themselves from their own cultural identity while embracing, questioning, unpacking, in Italian, their own as well as alternative cultural products, practices and perspectives. They will use the most powerful weapon they can have: language.

“Through an in-depth analysis of the Italian language, and its application within topics of global interests, students not only learn how to contextualize, value and weight the new lexicon, but they also feel a sense of empowerment and cultural wholeness.

“Pedagogically speaking, that is what’s really important to me.”

When the program was held two summers ago in Pisa, famous for its leaning tower and as the home of Galileo Galilei, the college student guides led excursions for Princeton students through the city and nearby areas of Tuscany. Those tours will continue this summer, although the guides will be streaming footage of their excursions around the city of Pisa, one guide per pair of Princeton students.

“The Italian students from the Scuola Normale Superiore are crucial to guide them through the language but also through the cultural landscape,” Cellinese said. Within this remote learning modality, Cellinese added, “every form of knowledge acquisition seems intellectual. In order to compensate to a learning process that may seem dry at first, I wanted to give students the opportunity to be the source of knowledge by creating cultural content that enriches the required readings that I provide; creating counterpoint resources to challenge the authentic material of the syllabus; creating self-assessments for performance tasks.

“I would like students to be convinced of their empowerment,” she said, since “in the future they will be their own source of knowledge. That knowledge the students will be able to apply as they move about in the world over the course of their lives.

“What I will miss the most (by not being in Italy) is the sense of place. When students go abroad, they have a completely different sense of space and time. It is culturally shocking at first, but by the time they are ready to come back home, they have already become different people, richer and ready to value and treasure the diversity they have embraced.” 

Hopefully, they won’t have to hold on too long to experience that again, she said.

Applications for the Summer Intensive Course must be completed in the Global Program System (GPS) by Friday, February 19, 2021.

The roofs of Pisa.