The University of Iowa

Virtual study abroad in Italy receives positive response and unexpected benefits

January 26th, 2021

Nearly two dozen University of Iowa students had the opportunity to travel virtually to Italy over the winter term, thanks to the Virtual International Business in Italy course offering through the Tippie College of Business.

The course, titled International Business in a Time of Disruption: Protectionism, Pandemics, and Political Fragmentation, ran from December 28, 2020, through January 15, 2021, and aimed to use Italy as the lens from which to understand political, economic, business, and financial conditions facing the European continent. Course topics included fiscal, monetary, and political responses to COVID; economic and financial challenges faced by the European Union; labor movement and political migration and their health and political implications; among others.

Several course participants participating in a painting experience

Several course participants participating in a painting experience

Students were also able to experience some of the history, culture, and cuisine of Italy through a variety of hands-on activities such as a cooking class (click here for the risotto recipe!), conversations with Italian students, a painting experience, and a movie night.

Instructor Bruce Kline, a former finance executive at Hewlett-Packard who has taught international courses around the world and currently resides in Italy, said, “I believe the structure of the course gave students an opportunity to live beyond themselves; to appreciate the experiences and diversities that are possible. I hope the economic topics helped open their eyes to see the Big Picture and the economic logic helped open their minds to think about the Big Questions. Everyone, including my favorite Rick Steves, is certainly now echoing Proust’s famous line, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’”

Stephanie Fountain, assistant director of international internships and education in the Tippie College of Business, and Stephanie Schnicker, director of CIMBA Italy and Hong Kong MBA programs, coordinated the course with the goal of maximizing what students could accomplish and experience without setting foot in the country of Italy. “Global education is about trying new things, stretching your perspective, and getting outside of your comfort zone. In a virtual environment, we knew it had to be hands-on to achieve that kind of learning. We wanted to spark curiosity. By providing cultural boxes with supplies directly from Italy, the students could ‘travel’ from home. They could experience painting the canals of Venice, appreciate a film in Italian, learn to speak a bit of Italian themselves, and taste some of the iconic flavors of Italy. While the focus of the academic content was finance and economics, it transformed into a study abroad when we introduced those rich cultural experiences,” said Fountain.

Image of Venice, Italy

A virtual tour of Venice, Italy

“The online nature created several benefits.  We were able to get several guest speakers—who might have normally been traveling or too busy in the office—to speak with the students during evening, Italy-time. Many of the cultural events were also enhanced. The cooking class allowed everyone to be in their own kitchen, the ‘evening’ with the Italian students involved twelve Italians, and the tour of Venice took place in an unbelievably COVID-lockdown-deserted St. Mark’s Square,” reflected Kline.

Student reactions to the course were also positive. Erin Jaros, marketing management student, reflected, “Even though we were not able to travel to Italy in person, this virtual experience was the next best thing during this crazy time. This two-week course was packed with academic information, while still having elements of enjoyment and culture of Italy. My favorite parts were more on the cultural side such as movie night, art night, cooking class, and speaking to Italian students. I was challenged throughout the course to dive deeper into the world of global trade and international finance. Overall, I am so happy to have had this experience and would recommend it to anyone wanting a virtual study abroad experience!”


Recipe

Risotto zucca e salsiccia (pumpkin and sausage risotto)

Recipe provided by Michela Marin, Italian faculty member who taught sections of the course.

Stephanie Schnicker, director of CIMBA Italy and Hong Kong MBA programs, provided the following description of the significance of risotto in Italian cuisine.

Risotto is a wonderfully creamy rice dish adaptable to a multitude of ingredients. Rice cultivation was brought to Italy (and Spain) by Arabs during their medieval control of the areas. It eventually made its way north to Milan (under Spanish rule) by the 16th century. By the 19th century, it was an Italian culinary favorite. Adaptable everywhere to the seasonal and local ingredients, a favorite in the Veneto is “Risotto with Radicchio and Sausage”.  The flavors and textures blend very harmoniously. Since radicchio is not readily available in the United States, this recipe substituted another winter favorite – pumpkin (or any winter squash) – for the radicchio.

This risotto is smooth and delicious, yet warm and substantial. A fantastic winter meal!

Image of risotto meal

Image of a risotto meal prepared by a course participant

Prep Time:  15 minutes
Cook Time:  40 minutes
Servings:  4

Ingredients:

  • 350g pumpkin (12oz) (weight after removal of the peel and seeds), or red kuri/butternut/buttercup squash
  • 1 small shallot or onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g butter (2oz)
  • 300g arborio rice (1.5 cups)
  • 1 liter light stock (4 cups) (vegetable or chicken)
  • 40g freshly grated parmesan (about 1 cup, grated)
  • 0.1l dry white wine (about ½ a cup)
  • salt / pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 sausage  - preferably pork, about 200g or 6oz
  •  a few sprigs of rosemary

Instructions:

  1. Peel and de-seed the pumpkin/squash, if not already prepared. Dice into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.
  2. Remove the skin from the sausage.  Break / crumble the sausage with a fork.  Cook the sausage in a non-stick pan and set aside.
  3. Warm the oil in a medium pan over medium heat, then add the onion. Cook until the onion softens (it gets a bit translucent – about 5 minutes), but make sure it does not brown (reduce heat or add a little water, if needed).
  4. Add the pumpkin/squash and cook until it all softens (about 10 minutes, but it depends on the size of the pieces), mix often, add salt, pepper, nutmeg and rosemary.
  5. Add the rice, stirring for about 2-3 minutes without any additional liquid.  (This is an important step - it slowly releases the starches from the rice grain.)  Add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates. Now add enough stock to cover the rice and stir. Cook on medium/low heat. Keep adding a little more stock - around ½ to 1 cup at a time - as the previous amount is absorbed. Stir each time to make sure the mixture does not stick. Add the sausage midway through this process of cooking and stirring the rice. Typically, it does not need much stirring at the start but will need more towards the end.
  6. Once the rice is cooked and the stock has been absorbed, adjust seasoning to taste, adding the pepper and salt as needed.  Remove from heat.  As a last step: stir through the parmesan and the butter to make your risotto creamy.

For Vegetarians: rather than including sausage in the recipe, at the end of the preparation, liberally drizzle balsamic vinegar (preferably in cream or glace form, if you can find it, otherwise regular is fine). Increase rosemary, if you wish.

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