Student Blogger Study Abroad

Farewell “Toli” Town

Castle covered with leafy yellow, green, red, and orange vines

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Anna Kate Stephenson is HECUA’s student blogger for Italy: Sustainable Agriculture, Food, and Justice  program this fall. Anna Kate is a student from the University of California Berkeley majoring in Environmental Science. Read on for her final post!

In the midst of final projects and exams, it feels almost surreal that this semester is coming to an end. We wrapped up our independent study projects and have begun our presentations on topics ranging from national parks to nematodes. The air is getting colder and the leaves have turned from green to red to brown.

Though bidding Mugello farewell was difficult for all of us, jumping right back into guests speakers and local field trips replaced our sadness with excitement. Riccardo Guarino, a plant biologist at the University of Palermo, dazzled us with facts on Mediterranean climates and the associated flora and fauna. All of the biology and environmental science majors (including myself) nerded out with him and questioned him on soil characteristics and what the future for climate change in Mediterranean areas looks like. The following week, Giaime Berti, a researcher at University of Florence appealed more to environmental studies and communications majors by discussing agricultural policy and citizen-led environmental initiatives. These guest lecturers offer a unique opportunity to talk one-on-one with highly-respected scholars that work in our fields of study. Our twelve-person table keeps things intimate and non-intimidating with the comforts of our bathroom and coffee maker a few feet away.

On Wednesday, we paid the local elementary school in Montespertoli a visit for lunch. When we entered, we were immediately thrown back to fifth grade. A new kid was attached to our hip every two seconds and asked us about life in the United States. Did we play the same sports? Listen to Ultimo? And was our high school really like Gossip Girl? We washed our hands (profusely) and each sat at different lunch tables. We were served primi and segundi piatti by students and we were all pretty blown away at how polite these elementary schoolers were, clearing our dishes, refilling our cups and keeping us sufficiently supplied with second servings of pasta. After learning many Tik Tok dances and drawing several names in bubble letters, we parted ways from our new best friends, and headed back to class.

Lunchroom cafeteria with HECUA students interspersed with elementary school students all eating pasta.
Lunch at Montespertoli elementary school. Photo credit, Filipo Randelli.

An impending end to the program also means we are wrapping up dinners with our “English for Pasta” families. Our host families have served an important purpose during our time here, welcoming each of us with open arms into Italy and into their homes. Our experiences with them have vastly improved our Italian and widely expanded our Italian recipe repertoire. Personally, I’ve tested the limits for the amount of food I can eat, I’ve sung and danced for hours and have laughed so hard I teared up at the majority of our dinners. Many of us have had similar experiences and will miss our families much more than we anticipated.

Anna Kate is standing behind a kitchen counter with two host sisters in front of trays of lasagna
Anna Kate making lasagna with her “English for Pasta” host sisters. Photo credit, Evi Gusti.

Now Christmas lights are strung all along the streets of Florence and Montespertoli. Though we are excited to spend the holidays with those we miss back home, but there is no doubt we will miss the cheerful and serene spirit of “Toli Town”.

Lights strung across the street on a dark, foggy night
Light strung along one of Monespertoli’s main piazzas. Photo credit, Anna Kate Stephenson.


Street lights hanging above a street in Florence. The sky is dark and the lights are bright.
One of the many beautifully-lit streets in December, in Florence. Photo credit, Anna Kate Stephenson.

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