The term “Soft skills” is currently in vogue in the business world. While employers, human resource managers, and business owners look for applicants who possess the necessary “hard skills”, e.g. math, physics, engineering, accounting, etc., they are increasingly also seeking candidates who possess soft skills, also known as people skills: the ability to communicate effectively, interpersonal skills, professionalism, and self-management skills, such as awareness, self-confidence, patience, and empathy. In 1996, Daniel Goleman popularized the work of two researchers who coined the term emotional intelligence (EQ or EI). Over the years, the exact meaning has been debated; but generally speaking, the term has come to include skills such as being empathetic to others’ emotions and feelings, the ability to adapt to a changing work culture, and the self-confidence to meet different challenges as they arise.
So what does this have to do with the PC-Rome program? Study abroad contributes to the development of these vital soft skills. Among the goals of our PC-Rome program is to help our students develop cross-cultural competencies that are important in a globalizing world and to develop in students the self-confidence and awareness to make the most of their international study. In addition to their academic work, students who have a truly authentic immersion experience will inevitably develop these soft skills and become attractive to prospective employers at the same time.
Last weekend, students participated in the first overnight trip of the semester, a trip to Florence organized by the CEA. We met the students at Termini Railway Station at 9am sharp on Friday morning to catch the fast train to Florence. After checking into the hotel, students were free to explore on their own and have lunch. The afternoon program included a walking tour of artistic and historic sites led by professional guides.
Our tour began in the piazza in front of the Baptistry and the Duomo, the Florentine cathedral. The history of the construction of the cathedral intersects with the political history of Florence and the artistic history of the Renaissance. One of the first stops on the tour was at the Accademia del’Arte, a museum that houses among its treasures multiple works by Michaelangelo, including the famous David. Our guide, Angela, is an art historian who teaches at CEA-Florence. She explained the antecedents of this famous sculpture. Although the powerful Medici family had been a sponsor of Michealangelo, the David became a symbol of the political transition of Florence to a republican form of government. It originally stood outside the Palazzio Vecchio, the center of city administration. This relates to idea of decoding and unpacking the meaning of art that I discussed in last week’s blog. We continued on a tour around the historic district, learning about the economic and political history of Florence as reflected in its architecture and public art, ending at the Ponte Vecchio where, for four hundred years, jewelers and goldsmiths have been selling their wares.
That ended the formal program for the first day. Armed with maps, lists of suggested restaurants and trattorias, the students were free to explore on their own. Some of them walked for hours, browsing shop windows, walking along the Arno River, and getting acquainted with the general layout of the city. Some ate pizza, others dined on Panini sandwiches, and still others ate sit-down meals sampling Tuscan variations of pasta, smoked meats, and other specialties. Some stayed out late in the cafes and bars. A few went back to the hotel and watched Italian television before getting a good night’s sleep.
Saturday morning probably came a bit too early for many of the students Nevertheless, after breakfast at the hotel, Andrea Masini and Caterina Marino, our CEA staff members, distributed tickets to the Duomo and its bell tower, the Baptistry, and a number of museums. Students could explore on their own, and I saw many of them climbing the steps of the bell tower to take advantage of the scenic views of the dome of the cathedral and of the city below us. Most of them visited the Cathedral and the crypt beneath it, and still more viewed the incredible artistic treasures at the museum of the Duomo. The group met at 12:30 and we walked together to the Ristorante Acqua Al 2. There we enjoyed a three course meal, featuring typical Tuscan cuisine. Students could sample prosciutto and other smoked meats, or they could try Panzanella, a delicious tomato soup thickened with bread, onion, basil, olive oil and vinegar. They could choose between four different pasta dishes for their second course, including pappardelle. The dessert assortment featured zucotta, a Florentine cake made with brandy, cake, and ice cream that is indescribably delicious. Students enjoyed a glass of Tuscan wine with their “slow food” experience, chatting with one another as they waited for each course.
At this point, the CEA portion of the trip was officially over; however, all but two of the students elected to stay an additional night, taking advantage of the group rates that the hotel extended to our students. Some of the students ended up staying in Florence. Several of my students told me they revisited the David on Sunday before heading back to Rome.
Another group of students chose to explore the small towns of Tuscany located not far from Florence. So, for example, some students traveled to Sienna while others ended up strolling around Pisa. In doing so, they had to make their own travel arrangements to return to Rome. One student was nervous about transferring. She knew she had only six minutes to get off the train, find the correct track, and board the right connection. I subsequently found out that she made it without a problem. She now feels much more confident about her navigation skills, reading schedules, finding the correct track on arrival/departure boards, and train travel in general. Several noted that Florence was more expensive than they expected. They had to budget their money carefully in order to do what they wanted, eat and drink, and still make it back. One student was excited about an experience she had at a local restaurant, where she was able to communicate (half in Italian and half in English) that she is lactose intolerant. She enjoyed a delicious meal that didn’t make her ill, because she had been able to communicate her needs. She said the chef was happy to accommodate her.
The weekend trip to Florence was the perfect balance between guided, organized activities and free time where students decided what they would see and do. These kinds of experiences enable our students to develop the soft skills mentioned earlier…the self-confidence to meet unexpected challenges in an unfamiliar environment, the beginnings of cross-cultural communication, and getting a sense of a culture from the inside out. At our end of the semester career workshop, we will work with the students on how to communicate these transferable skills effectively in cover letters, resumes, and interviews. In the meantime, they are relishing the memories of an incredibly beautiful city, the awe-inspiring beauty of its art and architecture, and the wonderful tastes of its distinctive cuisine.
Thanks for tuning in! Go Friars!