Study-Abroad Program Helps Draw Two Families to Italy

Jereon De Hollogne with wife, children and friends

July 23, 2013

(Above) Jeroen De Hollogne (third from left) stands next to wife Kristien along with their three children and friends. Photo by David Maialetti.

By Kristina Johnson Morehouse

CAGLI, Italy — A study-abroad program for Gonzaga University graduate students helped bring two Belgian families to Cagli, Italy, a medieval town in the Apennine Mountains for a summer holiday.

Jeroen De Hollogne said he stumbled across the program's website showcasing Cagli while looking for a place to bring his wife, three children and family friends for a two-week vacation. Cagli is located about an hour inland from the Adriatic Sea.

"The stories, the stories," De Hollogne said. "I spent half an evening reading the stories. The more I read, the more fascinating it got."

Gonzaga-in-Cagli is a cultural immersion project offered through the Gonzaga Master's Program in Communication and Leadership Studies. Over the course of 17 days, graduate students take classes in intercultural communication, conversational Italian, photography, web design and storytelling. Students write profiles and take photographs of people who live in the city, and the stories are published in a book.

"Cagli has a rich history dating back more than 2,000 years, and it became part of the Roman Empire in 295 B.C. and quickly grew in prominence on the ancient Via Flaminia (an ancient Roman road)," said John Caputo, chair of the program. "We have been bringing Gonzaga students here for more than 10 years, and to hear that our stories have influenced people like De Hollogne from Belgium to come to Le Marche and Cagli and seek out the people and shops we have shared, really lets us know our work is being read and making a positive difference."

De Hollogne and wife Kristien first traveled to Le Marche 15 years ago and love the mountainous region dotted with centuries-old towns. Their travels into Tuscany, known for its vineyards and pastoral settings, left them less enchanted. Unlike Le Marche, De Hollogne said, Tuscany was filled with tourists.

The couple has spent many of their summer vacations traveling with their children to France but chose this year to return to Italy. While researching the area, De Hollogne came across Gonzaga's website. De Hollogne, who calls himself as a "passionate amateur cook," prefers to prepare local, organic food for his family. He read several students' profiles on Cagli residents, including one on a woman who sells natural foods and herbal supplements and a man who owns a slow-food restaurant.

The stories gave him "a really good feeling, a warm feeling, a fascinating feeling," he said.

Sitting in a café on Cagli's piazza, De Hollogne spoke of a photograph hanging on the wall of the vacation home his family and friends rented in Pianello, a tiny town a few kilometers southwest of Cagli. In the photo, which looks to be from the 1950s, the piazza is empty but for the older men sitting on the ledge at City Hall. Early last week, when De Hollogne first came to Cagli, he wandered onto the piazza to find the town square filled with cars, scooters — and old men sitting on the ledge.

"What a beautiful sight," he said.

In many tourist towns, the past is reinvented, "plastic, cinematic," he said, but in Cagli, "the past is still alive."

Kristen Evans, a COML student from Baltimore, said the Gonzaga-in-Cagli program has given her a greater appreciation for travel and of the world as a "touchable place."
Cultural understanding is for risk-takers, she said.

"I've taken risks speaking the language, meeting the community, and navigating the town," Evans said. "My risks are my breakthroughs - wandering a day in someone's town opens acceptance. Adapting two weeks of my life to someone else's culture opens my appreciation."

De Hollogne said he was impressed by how the immersion program captured the Cagli community. "What a great project."

A few days after arriving in Cagli, De Hollogne, his wife and three kids, and family friends unexpectedly met the most-recent group of Gonzaga graduate students to study in Cagli. De Hollogne noticed a faculty member wearing a "Gonzaga-in-Cagli" shirt and asked, "Are you from Gonzaga? Have you got something to do with that website?"

Kristina Johnson Morehouse is a full-time lecturer in Gonzaga's communication studies department, and an adjunct professor in the COML program.