As part of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s (VMRCVM) ongoing international outreach initiatives, Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services at the college, and 29 Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State University (OSU) students, traveled to Italy over the summer for the course "Culture and Agriculture of Italy."
This is the second year that Pelzer has led the 16-day course. She collaborated with Dr. Leon Spicer at OSU, who has lead eight classes to Italy in the past nine years.
The purpose of this trip was to expose veterinary students to sustainable agriculture methods used in Italy, to give them a chance to experience the differences in each country’s approach to veterinary education, and to offer an opportunity to compare American and Italian agricultural systems. In addition, the students were able to take in the marvels of the Roman Empire, the artistic perfection of the Renaissance, and learn more about the economic and political systems in modern Italy.
The students will return to Italy during their senior year for clinical rotations.
During the course, students visited several northern Italian cities known for their artistic treasures and agricultural traditions, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Padua, Verona, and Torino. In Pelzer’s view, by offering the course in Italy instead of the United States, students were able to learn first-hand about successful small scale production of food, which is a very different approach from the factory food production methods used in the U.S.
For instance, in Florence, students visited the city’s massive meat and vegetable market, Mercato Centrale, where they learned about the process of production and sale. In Modena and Bologna, students visited a Parmigiano—Reggiano (parmesan) cheese plant and dairy farm. Pelzer noted that the production of the cheese was “a phenomenal undertaking,” notably because the facility’s policies and procedures were extremely complex, which showed the pride the Italians take in food and its production.
In Padova, students toured the College of Agriculture at the third oldest university in Europe (established in 1222). In addition, in the Turin area, they toured the University of Turin School of Veterinary Medicine, where they gained a new perspective on their approaches to veterinary medicine and education.
"By studying abroad, students gain a better overall understanding of cultures other than their own," Pelzer stated. "It's very important for students to have that exposure in order to develop global competencies and to collaborate with others on an international scale."
Although the trip was filled with the opportunity to take in beautiful works of art and to sample extraordinary food, hard work was also required of students both before and after the trip. Several lectures before departure introduced them to the basics of Italian history and culture. During the trip, students were required to keep a daily diary which they turned in upon their return. Students were also required to become "an expert" on one of the sites the class visited, such as The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican Museum, by giving a brief on-site presentation to the class. Overall, the hard work paid off. The students had a wonderful and unique learning experience that provided a first step to better communication with their world partners.