The University of New Haven established its first and only international campus in Prato in autumn 2012. With 35 students a semester, the university offers a changing programme of classes to give every New Haven student, no matter his or her major, the opportunity to spend 15 weeks in Italy. The University of New Haven chose Prato largely because it is not a major tourist destination. Kevin Murphy, the director, says that his primary aim is for students to be able to break out of the ‘American bubble,’ make Italian friends, learn the language and experience ‘real’ Italy.
To further this goal, the New Haven students spend time with local students. Extracurricular activities include, in addition to frequent excursions to such cities as Lucca, Pisa and San Gimignano, cooking classes at a local technical college, where New Haven students learn to make Tuscan dishes; weekly conversation exchanges; and sports matches with Monash University, PIN and local high schools.
Most of the New Haven students also teach English at Mazzoni school in piazza San Marco. ‘Our connections with the local community are very important,’ says Murphy. ‘As we are the first American programme in Prato, there is a lot of goodwill and we have good relationships with local organisations.’
This is helped by the fact that many of the professors come from local institutions. New Haven places a strong emphasis on experiential learning, giving students as many opportunities as possible to interact with local people and broaden their horizons. ‘We want to get students out of their comfort zone, taking little leaps forward. This will boost their self confidence, communication skills and international awareness.’
Indeed, New Haven students appreciate the fact that Prato is more of a Tuscan town than a destination city. It has the relative quiet of an ordinary Italian city, it’s safe, friendly and walk-able. This helps the students to be independent, and fit into the local community.