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How this TCNJ summer study abroad course satisfies the hunger for history

What could be better than a study abroad program in Italy? How about one with a focus on food? 

Thirty TCNJ students traveled to Italia for three weeks this summer for the Center for Global Engagement’s popular faculty-led offering: Gendered History of Food: La Cucina Della Nonna (grandmother’s kitchen).

The class, first offered in 2012, studies the origins and assimilation of Italian cuisine and culture in American society. The migratory experience of Italian-Americans is examined, with a particular focus on how women — mothers and grandmothers — are conduits for tradition and cuisine.

The trip is a whirlwind up and down the boot, and Sicily, too. There were visits to Pompei and Capri, cooking classes mixed with history lessons in Rome and Sorrento, tours of a limoncello factory, an olive oil mill, and the oldest cheese factory on the Sorrentine Peninsula.

“A lot was planned for us, we were always on the go,” said Jenna Saldi ’24, who used some of her scant free time to attend a papal blessing at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Jenna said the trip was “transformative.” Like many of students who have taken the course, she has a family connection to Italy. The trip to Palermo — the home of her grandmother’s family — was particularly meaningful to her. 

How this TCNJ summer study abroad course satisfies the hunger for history
Ricky Schwartz cooks Italian meatballs with classmates Shannon Leishman ’23 and Catie Murray ’23 in a Rome cooking class with Chef Andrea Consoli.

Ricky Schwartz ’23 said Rome was a highlight for him. “I have learned about the different landmarks of Rome like the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, so being able to actually see the places that have always been discussed in my history classes was a really neat experience.” 

There was a fair amount of required reading, including “The Godfather,” by Mario Puzo, “but I was having fun every minute we were there,” said Lakshmi Gurram ’23. “It was a fun, fulfilling educational experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.” 

Cecilia Colbeth, adjunct professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and co-instructor for the trip alongside Matthew Cathell, associate professor in the School of Engineering, said it was great to be back in Italy after COVID derailed the trip for the past two years. TCNJ has decade-long relationships with chefs, tour guides, and hospitality and tourism vendors in Italy. 

“Our Italian friends were thrilled we came back,” she said. “We wanted to show loyalty and help rebuild Italy’s economy in whatever way we could.”

Learn more about this trip and other faculty-led study abroad trips on the Center for Global Engagement’s website

— Patricia Alex