November 10, 2014

Georgetown’s Villa Le Balze Offers Innovative Approach to Study Abroad

On a Friday morning in January, Georgetown students crammed into an artist’s studio in Florence’s historic Oltrarno district, which has been home to many of the city’s craftsmen for centuries. After learning about the history and technique of small-scale textile production, students had the opportunity to create hand-painted scarves of their own.

This was one of several field trips for students in The City of Florence, a required course for undergraduates enrolled in a semester program at Villa Le Balze, Georgetown’s property in Fiesole, Italy. 

The small size and flexible structure of Villa Le Balze has enabled it to develop innovative programs and courses, such as this one, which enrich students’ study-abroad experiences. 

Georgetown’s Italian Villa

Perched on the cliffs of Fiesole overlooking the city of Florence, Villa le Balze was donated to Georgetown in 1979 by the Marquesa Margaret Rockefeller de Larrain. Since 1981, Georgetown students and faculty have lived and studied at the villa in semester and summer programs. 

The City of Florence was developed as a required course at the villa in 2011 in order to introduce students to the local community and connect their classroom learning with cultural experiences. As part of the class, students receive funding to plan and complete an independent, community-based project. 

Michael Luckey (COL’13) learned a Florentine folk song on the guitar during his independent study and then presented his findings through an online museum exhibit. “Through my final project, I gained a deeper appreciation not only of that city but also of my own hometown,” the recent graduate said.

Students at the villa complete a full course load in disciplines such as art history, government, and Italian language, often choosing to study with visiting faculty in residence from Georgetown’s main campus. 

A New Model for Study-Abroad

Traditionally, Georgetown’s study abroad offerings have focused on direct matriculation, where students enroll in a host university’s courses and learn alongside local peers. However, Karen Wardzala, the associate director of Global Living and Learning Programs, notes that modern research has encouraged Georgetown to develop more robust, highly programmed study abroad experiences.

At Villa Le Balze, Georgetown does that through an innovative living and learning community, which integrates academics with outside interests and fosters greater interaction among students, faculty, and staff. 

Wardzala said the villa has hosted a range of experiments in international education in recent years.

In summer 2014, Villa Le Balze launched an internship program that matched students with organizations in Fiesole, such as the Michelucci Foundation and Fiesole Futura, a research organization focused on urban planning and an expatriate community, respectively. The villa has also served as a host site for special university events and programs. In June 2014, the Villa welcomed the first-ever Georgetown European Summit, sponsored by the MSFS program in the School of Foreign Service. Since 2013, the villa has also hosted the “European-American Workshop on Global Security Affairs” in conjunction with the Machiavelli Seminar summer program.

“I like to look at both Villa Le Balze and the McGhee Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies in Alanya, Turkey, as two of Georgetown’s global footprints,” Wardzala said.

“They’re spaces that are used for undergraduate programs, but also for holding conferences and hosting alumni events. They’re Georgetown, but on different hilltops," she added.