Friday, August 4, 2017

Final Photo Recap

We have sadly reached our last photo update. During week seven, we wrapped things up by completing our papers, giving our presentations, and visiting our favorite restaurants and gelaterias one last time. We have all grown so close and it is bittersweet to be leaving such a beautiful place where we have been able to spend time together.  Below you can enjoy some of our favorite photos soaking up the final days in Florence.

Laura Long: "No one looks back and remembers the nights when they got plenty of sleep."

Julia Stone: "David in the flesh."

Hannah Zaininger: "Great memories, and an even better meal! Thanks for the wonderful cooking class, Apicius!"

Morgan Boncyk: "Enjoying the beauty of Florence."

Chandler Dykstra: "P.S. I love you, Florence."

Taylor Quarles: "Staying up for 24 hours to watch the sunrise was exhausting and rewarding."

Kelsie Basile: "Sunrise, I see."

Jalynn Evans: "Enjoying this view one last time...I can feel my heart breaking."

Holly Jones: "Treated to a {highly recommended} affogato (gelato with espresso) at Gelateria dei Neri!"

Sydney Rivera: "Stumbled upon this gorgeous cemetery on a return trip to Cinque Terre. No matter how many times you visit a place, there are always new nooks and crannies to explore. Hopefully this same spirit will bring many of us back to Italy again for new adventures."

Alyssa Miller: "Silhouette on the Arno."

Audrey Rehberg: "Getting to see the David replica in the Piazzale Michelangelo was worth the hike!"

Dr. DeMaria: "This heart of mine was made to travel this world."

Hannah Calvert: "Sunday's sunset over the Arno left me speechless."

Thank you so much for following along on our journey through Italy these past seven weeks. Only 275 days until we do it all over again next summer! 

Ciao! and Ciao!

As I pulled my suitcase out from under my bed to begin packing, I found my old boarding pass from my flight to Rome. I gripped this crumpled paper and realized how much this summer abroad has impacted my life. Now that I am hours away from touching ground on American soil, I am taking time to reflect on the entire experience.

Seven weeks ago, I boarded a flight to Italy not knowing what to expect. The extent of my Italian consisted of knowing how to say “good morning” and “thank you,” and, if I was feeling confident, I could ask, “Where is the bathroom?” Other than my liking for Italian cuisine, I was mostly unfamiliar with Italian culture. My only knowledge about traveling in Italy came from quick google searches that often resulted in an overwhelming amount of information.

In addition to the endless Italian unknowns, I came into this trip not knowing what to expect regarding our research study. My interest in women’s health was primarily based off limited classroom education and personal experience. In fact, I was far from knowledgeable on women’s reproductive and sexual health issues. I was hesitant about the responsibility of finding women to interview and worried that I was in over my head. Despite the worries, I fully immersed myself into Italian culture and committed to excelling in the research program.

Throughout my time here, I took advantage of the weekends to travel and experience other parts of Italy. Whether it was the group Venice trip or Lake Garda on my own, I have figured out who I am as a traveler. It turns out that I much prefer the calm and smaller villages rather than crowded, tourist-filled cities. I learned to break away from the comfort of my apartment and adventure to unfamiliar places and try unique foods.

On the weekdays, I fell into routine and started each morning with a cappuccino and warm croissant. The day time was spent in the classroom or actively working on research related duties. In the afternoon, I found myself doing daily tasks such as hand-washing my clothes, making a trip to the market, or taking a short nap (as the Italians do). A typical evening consisted of a delicious, hearty dinner and a few scoops of gelato for dessert. The nights often ended by preparing for the following day of class and research.  

Fast-forward to today, and our team of fifteen students has successfully completed a research project. Accomplishing such a task was intense work. Little did I know how demanding the research course load would be when interviewing for a position on this trip. In the end, all the efforts to recruit women to share their personal stories, to transcribe hour-long interviews, to code the results, and to draft a manuscript have transformed me as a student. I am coming back to school with new writing, researching, and communication skills that will stay with me through the course of my education and career. Best of all, my initial interest in women’s health has now evolved itself into true passion.

It was an honor to share a role and responsibility on this research project. I am looking forward to bringing this rewarding experience back to Purdue with me. Through the ups and the downs, the memories I have made in Italy will be cherished forever. As I greeted Florence with a “ciao” seven weeks ago, I am once again saying “ciao” as I depart back to the United States.

This post was written by Chandler Dykstra, a sophomore studying Nutrition Science. She intends to go to medical school and specialize in endocrinology.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


By the numbers…

46: The number of days we have been in Italy. This also happens to be the number of one-on-one interviews we conducted with women living in Tuscany.

2,300: The number of minutes we spent talking to women about their reproductive and sexual health attitudes and behaviors.

115: Hours, yes HOURS. The approximate number of hours our students spent transcribing—verbatim—all recorded interviews.

70: Surveys collected, and still counting…as data collection continues for this portion of the project!

4: Research papers composed by our undergraduate students, who were mentored by two exceptional graduate students.

30,471: The word count across all four manuscripts. WOW!

13 undergraduate students and 2 graduate students collected, transcribed, coded, and analyzed all data in 5 weeks’ time. They also composed manuscripts for publication, and presented their preliminary findings in 15-minute conference-style presentations to their peers, and members of the Florence University of the Arts community. [See photo below of graduate assistant, Sydney Rivera, with her presentation title slide. She presented data from our February research project, which informed our summer data collection methodologies.]

To say I am impressed is a gross understatement. Planning a blended research and study abroad experience was a risk, but one worth taking. While there are certainly things I would change for the coming year (perhaps more pre-departure planning and doing), I would say this “experiment” was a success. Students experienced the full research cycle, and learned many skills along the way—many I had not learned until pursuing my doctoral degree.

Today we celebrated our many accomplishments by cooking a feast fit for 17! We met at Apicius, FUA’s hospitality school, for a private cooking lesson and lunch. Chef Lorenzo Mannucci helped us make two pastas with sauces (tagliatelle with tomato sauce, and ravioli filled with ricotta/spinach with a sage butter sauce) and one gelato (Nutella). [See picture of Chef Lorenzo in action below.]

Just like with our research, we worked in teams to complete the many tasks for our meal. This was such a wonderful way to build our cultural awareness, and really let loose for once! [See one of our favorite recipes below, and picture of the resulting pasta.]

While many students are looking forward to getting back to the US on Friday to family, friends, and familiar places and tastes, they are also starting to feel sadness as they think about leaving this beautiful city, and our time together, behind. We are looking forward to staying connected at Purdue, and moving our research along to professional presentations and publications. Stay tuned for many wonderful things to come!

[See photo below of Chandler Dykstra and Laura Long enjoying the tasty Nutella spatulas!]

This post was composed by Dr. Andrea DeMaria, Assistant Professor at Purdue University and Program Director for this study abroad experience. She can be reached at