When the Nov. 13, 1964, issue of The Dickinsonian announced faculty approval of the college’s first study-abroad program—slated for Bologna, Italy, and led by K. Robert Nilsson, professor of political science—it noted, “The program, to be inaugurated in the fall of 1965, is unmatched in undergraduate institutions.”
Fifty years later, with 40 institutional and partner programs in 24 countries on six continents, Dickinson can boast even more heartily that its global studies program is unmatched, unparalleled and unmistakably exceptional. We asked alumni of Dickinson’s oldest global-studies program to share their memories, and they responded with gusto, across generations—from George Honadle ’66, who was part of the inaugural class, to Ashton Fiucci ’15. The center has hosted more than 1,000 Dickinson students since its opening and with the announcement at the recent Celebration of Global Studies in Washington, D.C., of the new K. Robert and Julianna P. Nilsson Scholarship to help support students studying for a full year in Bologna, even more Dickinsonians will have the opportunity to study, stroll, sip, sup and grow as engaged citizens of a global community.
Elizabeth Needham ’88
Bologna was quite simply the reason I went to Dickinson and also the best year of my college career. I loved everything about it. The small group of students whom you really get to know, for better or for worse. The intimate yet cosmopolitan city—its central location affording limitless travel possibilities. And most important, the freedom. I remember one specific night sitting on the steps of Piazza Maggiore with my roommate, Christy, wishing we could stop the clock. We both knew how special and lucky we were to have this experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Lou Grossman ’73
I was in Bologna 1971-72, under the very able tutelage of the late K. Robert Nilsson. The Nilssons, my fellow Dickinson students, my landlady, my Italian and Greek roommates and the populace of Bologna were all my family that year. It was one of the most important experiences of my life. I learned how big the world was. I learned self-reliance. I learned discipline (thanks to a very big boot in the butt from K. Robert). And I began a lifelong love affair with Italy and all things Italian. I have been back to Italy many times over the years. For my 50th birthday I returned to Bologna and visited the newly named Nilsson Center and dined with Judy [Nilsson], Professor Rhyne and other Bologna friends. It was special—almost as special as that magical time my junior year.
Bob ’69 and Beverly Rich Kahn ’69
Year No. 3 (1967-68) with Professor Gene Rosi at the Johns Hopkins Center:15 females and five males; living in pensioni; lasagna verde; Italian lessons from Francesco Guccini; weekends in Munich (for Octoberfest), Innsbruck, and Florence; vacation weeks in London, Rome and Eastern Europe/Russia; Carnevale; gelato; Italian Communists, Maoists and Neo-Fascists; enduring friendships and one marriage.
Richard Levie ’66
My experience in Bologna changed my life—professionally and personally. My career in law, my love of travel and exploring new areas and many of my political views germinated during my year in Bologna.
Submitted by Richard Levie '66
George Honadle ’66
In the summer of 1965, 16 of us went to the New York City docks to board the Castel Felice, a student ship bound for Europe. Sunset on the Atlantic was accompanied by bagpipes played by a Scottish student who was returning home after studying in the U.S. The camaraderie, the cuisine, the music, the schedule of up-all-night followed by to-bed-after-breakfast and up-beforedinner, and the anticipation of hard work in new places, all set the tone for this trans-Atlantic jaunt. This was the release before the discipline and adjustment that would come. We cemented friendships as we prepared to share a great adventure.
One of our course options in the spring of 1966 was called Politics of Developing Areas, taught by K. Robert Nilsson. As part of the course, he arranged for us to examine economic-development policy and practice in Italy. We went to Rome to meet with officials of the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno and then to the southern reaches of the country, as far as Calabria, to visit a sequence of locations. First, we saw a rural village with no development activity. Then we visited an agricultural setting with land reform in progress. Next, we viewed a town with newly introduced cottage industries. Finally we visited the Industrial cities of Bari and Taranto. This tour took us not only from the north to the south, it also gave us a ride on a time machine beginning in a poverty-stricken rural village with a lifestyle that could not be distinguished from those of centuries ago and ending with the social structure of the industrial age. It placed us in the sweep of our own global history in a way that no book could.
Mark Ruhl ’70
When I went to Bologna as a student in 1968, I began a love affair with the city that continued through six more years as the Bologna program director. The photo with the indispensable Clarissa Pagni and Ellen Laird of our Bologna staff is from my last tour in 2008.
Patricia Torres Cronenberger ’76
Grades were among my worst at Dickinson while in Bologna (1973-74). So often I would arrive at the Hopkins library to study just to be tempted to go for a coffee or wander somewhere in that beautiful city. It was a magical year.
Submitted by Patricia Torres Cronenberger '76.
Hana Thomson ’09
Studying abroad in Bologna was the best decision I have ever made. I had the opportunity to travel around Europe and really get to know and understand the city we lived in. I had so many memorable experiences, but the most important take-aways were the relationships formed during my time there. Some of the most important people in my life today I met in Bologna.
Paul Rosengren ’83
The Bologna class of 1981-82 was the first to hold classes in what is now the K. Robert Nilsson Center. Early in the year, we peddled bike carts full of books and school materials from the old rented classes to the new center. Professor Nilsson and his wife both taught that year, as did Francesco Guccini, the “Bob Dylan of Italy,” who for one month a year traded in his folk-singer life to teach Dickinson students Italian.
Submitted by Paul Rosengren '83.
Ashton Fiucci ’15
I read Dante’s Divine Comedy for the first time for my UniBo class in Italian. That was my greatest struggle alla bolognese. But I learned just as much from dinners with my host family, like how to make my favorite pumpkin tortellini and how to light dessert on fire.
Douglas Riley ’72
The Bologna experience completely changed my life. A broken romance catalyzed fleeing Carlisle and spawned, inter alia, moonlit motorcycle rides over the Alps, hitchhiking to Marrakech, and learning the meager Italian that improbably secured my Sicilian bride’s parental blessing. We have blissfully returned two dozen times.
Read more from the fall 2015 issue of Dickinson Magazine.
Published November 13, 2015