Italians have a phrase for it: formare una famiglia, or forming a family.
This fall, as Beacon College’s popular Beacon in Tuscany study abroad program emerged from COVID-19 hibernation, nearly two dozen students jetted to Italy to study business essentials and learn to appreciate and navigate cultural differences and did just that — forged a unique bond that evolved into a tight-knit community.
Believed to be the only semester-long global education program for neurodivergent students, Beacon in Tuscany is based in Prato, Italy, a medieval town about 20 miles from Florence. Leading the study were Dr. Andrea Brode, Beacon’s coordinator of international programs, and Michael S. Fallon, an instructor and coordinator of business management.
With an unforgettable opportunity to study in the cradle of the Renaissance, the academic focus for the semester centered around business classes. Additionally, there was the always-popular Travels in Tuscany class — taught by Brode — which highlighted the visually enchanting land of Prato with its rolling hills, mountain peaks, palaces, castles, and cathedrals, along with visits to Florence and other historic cities.
This was Brode’s fourth Beacon in Tuscany trip, and she sees the travel class as the heart and soul of the Tuscany experience for students.
“After the trip, we have forged a strong and lasting bond that all of us can savor forever. I also love how the group evolves into a pretty cohesive unit and how they look out for each other,” she said.
Learning About Luxury in International PlacesIt’s not all fun and travels as the semester is centered around classwork. Students were expected to get down to business. Specifically, courses themed around business, including Luxury Marketing in Italy, International Business & Management, and Global Franchising. From Versace to Valentino, the class worked on weekly presentations that dove into marketing, franchising, and management.
As part of the Luxury Marketing class, Fallon arranged a field trip to the Ferrari Museum. A short two-hour trip by train to Modena brought the students to the museum, which explores the region’s rich history in auto motoring. Students toured the recently renovated showrooms and the powertrain department, gawked at the cars, and browsed through the store.“Our excursions to museums for luxury brands such as Gucci and Ferrari were immersive, full of color and style, and highly informative,” Fallon explained. “Our tour guides helped students connect theory to practice with a flair that resounded their brand identity. From fashion to flashy cars to luxury dining and accommodations, Italy was the perfect setting for a hands-on course in luxury marketing.”
In addition to affluent brands, students learned about the Italian business economy firsthand.
“I believe it changed my perspective of international business and hospitality,” said Jennifer White, a senior majoring in business management (hospitality track) from Dallas, Texas. “I never thought that European taxes are so much higher than the United States.”
“We will always have Siena!”
Located about three hours away from Prato by train, the group explored Siena, one of the central cities in Italy’s Tuscany region. One of Italy’s loveliest medieval cities, it sits over three hills with its heart the huge piazza del Campo.
“Italian history is so rich and so full of magnificent art and architecture, and we only really scratch the surface during our semester. It is really good for these students to realize that we may be visiting a cathedral that was built centuries before America was discovered by explorers,” explained Brode.
Touring Siena was one of the Travel with Tuscany class experiences, and the group experienced the best and the worst of travel learning that weather can heighten or hamper the day. With pleasant weather for most of the semester, the group started the morning with a beautiful outlook. Rain and cold temperatures turned the tour into a miserable day that instructors contend ended up being one of the best bonding experiences of the trip, proving students a memorable rallying cry: “We’ll always have Siena!”
Formare una famiglia
As with any group that lives in close quarters and who are required to be together every day, like a family, there are sometimes minor squabbles or annoyances. Even though the students are thousands of miles away, Beacon supports them as if they were on campus in Florida. From onsite counseling to learning specialists, Brode and Fallon managed the day-to-day learning and life experiences helping students bond and support each other.
“It was a beautiful experience, especially [because of] Dr. Brode,” said Lucia Peraza, a junior majoring in human services from Miami, Fla. “She was an angel in disguise and treats the students as if we are her kids.”
Forming a Beacon family in Tuscany.