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.
See www.newhaven.edu/IEL/393428 for more information.
Kevin Murphy QUICKFIRE
Best traditional Tuscan food in Prato?
La Fontana, a restaurant off the beaten track but within walking distance of the centre of Prato. It’s on a hill, with great views overlooking the city.
Best place for a cappuccino?
Chocolat, a café by Porta al Serraglio train station, named after the 2000 film. Or else Pieragnoli, on the ground floor of the school, where students often grab a cappuccino before class.
Advice for newly arrived students?
Get involved in as much as you can, come with an open mind and keep a journal.
One thing you tell the students they must do in Prato?
Visit Mattei and try the real, original Prato biscuits.
The biggest difference between Italians and Americans?
Italians know how to eat and drink while a lot of other countries don’t. They know the value and virtues of ingredients. They understand that food and wine are often a vehicle to maintaining real human contact.
Best day trip in Tuscany?
Lucca or a trip to the coast. We also offer a great trip through the countryside, visiting Medici villas and vineyards.
A place in Prato that inspires you?
The cathedral, with its fantastic collection of artworks and sculptures. Also the battlements of Prato castle. It dates from the thirteenth century, is free, and you can climb onto the ramparts, which have a beautiful 360 degree view over the city.