Portia Prebys (President AACUPI)

Educating in Paradise, portando ogni anno 30.000 studenti Americani in Italia

Jul 21, 2014 6131 ITA ENG

The numbers say that Italy is the first non-Anglophone country in the whole world for incoming of American students. Every year some thirty-five thousand American students spend some time in Italy to improve their knowledge and their skills: it is a huge number. They come here through programs organized by American Academic institutions, the vast majority of them is associated with and facilitated by AACUPI, Association of American College and University Programs in Italy.

For years and years this association has been improving and fostering the relationship between Italy and the US from the educational, the cultural, the social and the economical point of view: that is why we couldn't miss the opportunity to meet its President, Prof. Portia Prebys, who we thank for her true kindness and openness. Prof Prebys is also the director of the Rome Program of Notre Dame Saint Mary's College since its inception in 1970, and has recently received the title of Cavalier of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, for meritorious service to the nation of Italy, recognizing her long career in international education.

Prof. Prebys, you are the President of AACUPI, Association of American College and University Programs in Italy. Please tell our readers something more about this association and its activities.

AACUPI is a non-profit legal entity founded in 1978 to allow accredited US academic programs operating in Italy, undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral, to exchange information and act in unison to safeguard their integrity on Italian soil. Since then, AACUPI has clarified the legal and fiscal positions of its member institutions in order to protect and regularize the specific nature of these programs as independent of the Italian university system. Among other things, AACUPI brokers collectively with Italian authorities for immigration procedures, including visa applications and stay permits to ensure standardized application to all member institutions. Working together, for everyone, succeeds.

How many members do you have? And how many American students come to Italy every year with programs sponsored by your members?

Well, we have one hundred and fifty member institutions operating in 43 different cities throughout the Italian peninsula, with over thirty thousand American students coming to Italy in any given year. The oldest program is Smith College in Florence which dates from 1931. Other programs have mushroomed ever since.

Who are these students, which States do they come from? Are there many Italian Americans among them?

Students in AACUPI programs come from every state in the Union. Seventy-five per cent of these students are women, half are twenty years of age, a third are in their junior year in college, and at least a third spend an entire semester in Italy. Italian Americans represent twenty-five per cent of study abroad students in Italy and, during their stay, many visit the birthplace of their forefathers for the first time.

We've noticed that most of the programs are in Tuscany and in Rome. Is there a lack of interest from other Italian cities and regions in welcoming American students?

While it is true that around half of all programs are located in Rome and in Lazio, around thirty per cent are located in Florence and in Tuscany. Our presence is strong also in Bologna, in Arezzo, in Orvieto, in Padua and in Cortona. There are also programs in Perugia, in Ferrara and in Reggio Emilia, in Turin and in Milan, in Vicenza and Venice, among other places. Our students feel welcome throughout all of Italy and are often able to establish good relationships with the local population. Even a short period of study in Italy means the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Italian culture and with Italians, a deep relationship which is renewed time and again, on many levels, in subsequent visits that occur year after year, with family and friends in tow.

Which are the main topics of study for the young Americans who come in Italy? And which kind of courses are offered by your members' programs?

More than half of all AACUPI programs teach traditional courses in the Liberal Arts which means that students take courses in history in its many facets, history of art, history of music, language, literature – all Italian - related with sundry on-site visits. There are 41 AACUPI programs that offer Architecture and Interior or Urban Design, and 17 in Fashion Design. The Political Sciences and International Studies are also highly developed within AACUPI programs. Human Sciences, including Food Studies, as well as Nursing, Business and Engineering will be the programs of tomorrow within AACUPI.

Do American students want to come back to Italy after the end of their period of studies?

You know, we practically have to pack our students' bags at the end of each term to get them on the plane home: our students never want to leave and always return. Not a day goes by that a former student rings at our doors to announce that he or she "is back." We call our mission "educating in paradise," and it truly is a special opportunity for us to broaden horizons and open windows onto other global realities. Wouldn't the world be a truly different place if every twenty-year-old could spend six months living in another country? Italy is, of course, the best place to be!

What could Italy do to improve the incoming of American students?

The Italian governments, over the years, have been extremely cooperative in assisting AACUPI in cutting through the bureaucracy relating to fiscal and legal affairs, as well as with immigration procedures for our students. We represent a unique niche in the international academic reality. Now, if we could just do something about the euro/dollar exchange rate...

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