Summer Experience: Kayla DeMuth, Justin Newcomb expand cultural horizons

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By Kandace York

A CURS grant did more than enable Bowling Green State University seniors Kayla DeMuth and Justin Newcomb to spend 17 days studying western Italy's cultures through their Cultural Explorations class.

It deepened the commitment to their new careers as certified family life educators . DeMuth and Newcomb graduated in August from the College of Education and Human Development

"The focus of our research was intercultural wonderment," Newcomb said. That's the process of people getting comfortable in a culture that was first uncomfortable from a cultural perspective.

Their studies took them across a broad swath of Italy: as far north as Milan's alpine foothills near the Switzerland border, and as far south as Sorrento and the island of Capri, in the bay of Naples. Additional travels included Rome, Florence and Pisa.

Each destination has its own cultural "look and feel," from the bustling pace of Milan's industrial, financial and fashion districts to the Greek influence of the Naples area. It all comes together in a country that has been the fountain of western civilization and a cultural crossroads for more than 2,000 years, home to the Renaissance as well as the Roman Empire.

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Group-eating

BGSU's longstanding partnerships with Italian organizations and schools contributed to the depth of Newcomb and DeMuth's experiences.

In Sorrento, they worked with an educational center that provided activities for people of varying abilities.

"We also went to a local elementary school to assist children in their language studies," Newcomb said, "and through them, Kayla and I worked an internship position during the Women of/in the Mediterranean: Dynamics of Power conference."

Their trip was part of a larger group of BGSU students and faculty who blended the group's research interests into a flexible itinerary, with projects including cooking lessons, art museum visits and fashion business tours.

"We even got to experience the journey of olives from the tree to the bottle of oil," Newcomb said. "Everything was based in an educational perspective; we were required to research the places, people and time periods that we would be interacting with, and be able to recite our studies and apply it throughout the trip."

This diversity of experiences has shaped the perspectives he and DeMuth shared during their time in Italy.

"I can't wait to begin digging into the data we collected from the others in the group to see how their identities have been shaped, too," he said.

Because the group formed deep bonds through their shared experiences, Kayla DeMuth said, the effects of the trip are lasting far beyond their return to the United States.

"We have been collecting students' reflections and downloading audio recordings from talking circles we recorded while abroad," she said. "Hopefully, we will be local at the time of the CURS presentation in the fall. This has been the greatest wrap-up project."