Experiential Global Learning Student Spotlight: Lauren Pawlowski

Majoring in Environmental Studies (Honors) and Economics, fourth-year student Lauren Pawlowski embarked on an exciting Fall 2021 semester studying abroad. Her program of choice: Food & Sustainability Studies at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy

Lauren Pawlowski, fourth-year Environmental Studies (Honors) and Economics student

Tell us a little bit about your experience in Perugia. For starters, why did you choose the Food & Sustainability Studies Program?

I have always been interested in economic development, sustainability, green cities, food systems, and urban design so the Food and Sustainability Studies Program (FSSP) at the Umbra Institute in Italy aligned well with these interests. Originally, I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country but I thought that this program was a great fit for me and would provide me the opportunity to learn an additional language (Italian).

What did you gain from the experience?

Studying abroad at the Umbra Institute was an amazing experience that I will be forever grateful for. Living and learning in Perugia, Italy was great because I had the chance to experience city life, travel with the FSSP and with friends, and try the many delicious offerings from local cafes and restaurants. There were very few people who spoke English in the city, so this allowed me to develop my Italian language skills. Overall, the Umbra Institute students and staff were a welcoming and fun community that made the experience very rewarding.


"World of Parmesan" by Lauren Pawlowski

What unique Experiential Global Learning opportunities did you encounter during your time in Italy?

It was a unique opportunity for me to take courses related to food systems, water management, and sustainability within a new country and culture. Participating in immersive experiences, such as culinary workshops and tours of food production facilities, allowed me to learn more about Italian cuisine and culture outside of the classroom. This included workshops on cheese making, coffee roasting, and a series of cooking demonstrations. We also had the opportunity to go truffle hunting and visit multiple butcheries, just to name a few.

I learned a lot about balancing modern technology with artisanal food production methods and regenerative farming practices. Also, some of the best meals I’ve had in Italy and in my lifetime have been on the FSSP field trips, including gnocchi with truffle oil and 25-year aged balsamic vinegar on vanilla gelato.


What would you say is your most memorable moment from the trip?

Preparing a four-course Italian meal for the FSSP culinary competition in December was the perfect wrap-up to my semester abroad. It was a night filled with delicious homemade food and the community of friends I'd made at the Umbra Institute. 

How has studying in Italy helped you to understand and appreciate the world of food and sustainability?

My experiences in the FSSP made me reflect on food systems, local traditions, and environmental sustainability in a way that I never would have the opportunity to do in the United States. There is strong sense of appreciation in Italy for the connections between food, culture, and hospitality that are exemplified through the Slow Food movement, urban agriculture sites, and agriturismo destinations. I will continue to think of the lessons and experiences I've gained from my study abroad experience and utilize these perspectives throughout my future career in sustainable development and city and regional planning.


"Whitewater Rafting Excursion" by Lauren Pawlowski

Are there any tips you'd give for future students participating in an Experiential Global Learning program or those who are just starting to think about joining one?

If you have the opportunity to study abroad, take the leap and go! I was so grateful to have these experiences even in the middle of the pandemic and I am so glad I got the chance to live and learn in Italy.

When preparing for your trip abroad, make sure to do plenty of research on logistics and fun activities. For example, you have to bring a credit card without foreign transaction fees, charger adapters that fit the outlets in the country, and all of your personal identification documents. Research places nearby where there are pharmacies, ATMs, and anywhere else you might need to visit regularly. And try to bring all that you will need for your study abroad experience, including a portable phone charger and toiletries, because it is not always easy to find what you're looking for or order things on Amazon.

Don't forget to look up information on great places to visit, eat, and participate in fun excursions for wherever you go! I used TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide frequently to search for recommendations and book tours. I also joined a study abroad student network that connected me with students from other countries, hosted events, and offered discounts on tourist experiences and at restaurants.

Utilize whatever resources are available to make your study abroad experience one to remember!

"Colorful Cinque Terre Coast" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Colorful Cinque Terre Coast" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Coffee & Espresso Workshop" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Coffee & Espresso Workshop" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Roman Aqueduct" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Roman Aqueduct" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Venice Gondola Views" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Venice Gondola Views" by Lauren Pawlowski
"Italy Siena Skyline" by Lauren Pawlowski