Portia Prebys, ed. Educating in Paradise: Thirty Years of Realities and Experiences of North American Colleges and Universities in Italy.
Anyone who has visited Italy's major cities in even the most fleeting way cannot have failed to notice the high number of young people filling streets, museums, cafes: an ironic image, given that Italy bemoans its aging population and its almost nonexistent population growth rate. These young people are often, of course, not Italian but foreign college students, a great many of them American. For those involved in academe it comes as no surprise, for study abroad has been growing rapidly in popularity. In some institutions it has become almost a rite of passage, and in a few it has even become a requirement for graduation. Italy remains one of the most popular destinations for American students, who flood the relatively tiny country by the thousands: Italy is only 2/3 the size of California, but its population is close to double that of the Golden State. In Educating in Paradise: Thirty Years of Realities and Experiences of North American Colleges and Universities in Italy, editor Portia Prebys offers some interesting statistics: in 2008 there were 10,000 students traveling to Italy through North American college and university programs (assuming that a number of institutions pass underneath the radar, my guess is that this number may well be higher). Florence and Rome, not surprisingly, host the largest numbers of American students, coming in, respectively, at 4,260 and 3,780.
The increasing numbers of students as well as the growing numbers of American sponsoring institutions have made evident the need for an organizational entity able to coordinate and integrate this not insignificant influx with the existing Italian structures. But it was early in the era of study abroad that the American Association of American College and University Programs in Italy (AACUPI) was created, with a main objective, to quote Dr. Prebys, who has been president of the Association for many years, "to act as a clearing house for information and for ideas about problems connected to cultural exchange programs within Italy" (13). Educating in Paradise chronicles the organization's history, details its function and role, provides information regarding legal and tax issues, and statistics on North American students and institutions of higher education. Equally important, the book offers a back-room look at the potential hurdles and bureaucratic difficulties faced by American institutions in the organization and administration of programs in Italy. Indeed, given the amount of red tape described in the book, the reader is led to imagine that the Paradise mentioned by Prebys refers only to the students' experience, and that the college administrators may find a closer match in an altogether different part of the Dantean cosmology. But that--and this is Prebys's point--is where the AACUPI comes in: ever since its inception, the organization has focused on disseminating information, identifying legal and financial problems, and collaborating effectively with Italian authorities.
The introduction's section titled "In the Other's Shoes" (19) is a nod to Italy's flexibility as well as to American cultural sensitivity when Prebys writes that "the North American academic and fiscal fabric would not tolerate any university program from another nation which came to set up a separately housed complex, with its own faculty, and dipped selectively into aspects of American life as it pleased. North Americans would be puzzled by such an entity and would worry about who these people were and why they were here" (19). And it is an interesting peculiarity that Prebys points out: though study abroad is a common practice for students in many countries (in Italy, case in point, vacanze studio in other countries have been popular for many years), only North America has institutionalized this practice by establishing its own autonomous programs in other countries, often with their own faculty (Educating in Paradise reports that this number is 50%, the remaining faculty being Italian) and in some cases on campuses owned by them. Understandably, these practices give rise to some confusion regarding various practical issues such as the American institutions' tax status in Italy, and whether or not they are subject to VAT (value-added tax). Ms. Prebys details the AACUPI's efforts to address these matters effectively, citing its work with the Barile Bill, with INAIL (Istituto Nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul Lavoro), and others.
Part of the book is also devoted to describing the cultural programs and events initiated by the AACUPI in order to foster collaboration and interaction between American and Italian students, faculty, and administrators. Among these are the Crypta Balbi Project, the AACUPI Prize, AACUPI benefit balls, and AACUPI symposia. It does appear that many of these activities are part of the AACUPI's history, although the number has dwindled in the past five years.
Another section of the book, contributed by AACUPI's legal counsel, Studio Legale Tributario Internazionale Borio of Florence, gives a clear outline of the various tax and legal issues faced by North American institutions in Italy, and provides a useful reference for those who are considering establishing new programs. But perhaps most interesting is the final part of the book, the Association's final report, which provides extensive data regarding students and programs in Italy, and which would be of assistance to North American institutions in evaluating existing and potential programs.
While readers may find Educating in Paradise contains too many association-specific details in the first part, at the same time they will also find substantive information and data. Though the book is probably most useful for faculty and administrators who have direct dealings with programs abroad, it is likely that readers, whether or not they have now or are planning to have a program in Italy, will have some regular contact either with programs or with participating students, and will find this book to be a good source of information and reflection.
Susan Briziarelli, Adelphi University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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