By now well established in Prato, Monash University’s Italian site, founded in 2001, serves more than 700 students a year, offering a wide range of academic programmes in humanities, law, art, design & architecture and business & economics. The choice of Prato rather than the nearby and better-known Florence may seem strange to some, but, as director Dr. Cecilia Hewlett explains, it is ‘the ideal location for our students to have an authentic experience of contemporary Italy, while living and studying in a very beautiful and well-preserved centro storico. The city is exactly the right size for our students to feel at home quickly, while always having something new to discover … Many comment that their time in Prato has been the highlight of their degree.’
The Monash programmes are designed to make the most of the centre’s Tuscan location, including archaeological fieldwork, in which students have the opportunity to help excavate an Etruscan and Roman site together with students and faculty from the University of Florence.
A student’s length of stay may range from one week to three months, but even with the shortest stays the students ‘quickly make the city their own.’ Integration in the local community is encouraged, with weekly conversation exchanges (which are open to the public), lunches and dinners with Italian families, upcoming Australian musical evenings at the Fiddler’s Elbow in Florence (see TF 179), and opportunities for students to work as language assistants in local schools.
School groups are regularly invited to the centre to watch the Australian films in Monash’s Sguardi Australiani Archive, and teachers from Prato’s Giuseppe Verdi Scuola di Musica teach Monash’s jazz and classical music courses.
Monash also collaborates with PIN, and the two, together with the European University Institute, will host a conference on Chinese migration in October.
See www.monash.it to find out more about the centre.
Cecilia Hewlett QUICKFIRE
Best traditional Tuscan food in Prato?
Antica Fiaschetteria on via dell’Accademia. It provides consistently high-quality food with a number of interesting re-interpretations of traditional dishes.
Best place for a cappuccino?
Café Zero and Nuovo Mondo—both conveniently just around the corner from the Monash Centre in via Garibaldi! If you visit Nuovo Mondo you cannot leave without tasting the award-winning pasticcini.
Advice for newly arrived students?
I often remind them how lucky they are to have this opportunity.
One thing you tell the students they must do in Prato?
Walk around the city, peel back the layers of history and soak up the culture.
The biggest difference between Italians and Australians?
Italians are always ready to talk to a perfect stranger—and not just about the weather but about politics, religion, the church and, most importantly of all, what they are cooking for dinner.
Best day trip in Tuscany?
Poppi (Arezzo). It is one of the most evocative and interesting Tuscan towns I have ever visited.
A place in Prato that inspires you?
The walking paths along the Bisenzio river, heading towards the mountains to the north. Also, the Prato State Archives housed in Palazzo Datini, because, as an historian, I cannot resist an archive!