Assumption’s Rome Campus Celebrates Ten Year Anniversary

Oct 25, 2023

The year 2023 marks ten years since Assumption students first arrived at the University’s Rome Campus. In celebration of the program’s 10th anniversary, students and faculty have spent much of this year reminiscing about their time spent abroad as they encourage current and future students to experience Villino Dufault and Rome for themselves.

“There is nothing more opening to your awareness of the world and your self-confidence than to live in a place where they don’t speak your language,” said associate professor of history, and current director of the Rome program, Lance Lazar. “You’re getting the opportunity to meet people who have and truly represent a different culture, a beautiful culture.”

The program began as a collaboration between President Emeritus Francesco Cesareo, Provost Emeritus Frank Lazarus, professor of Italian Richard Bonanno, and the Augustinians of the Assumption in Rome. In 2011, a partnership began, and a building on the Assumptionists’ campus in Rome was designated to be renovated to become Assumption’s new Rome campus.

“Having a presence in Rome speaks volumes about what we as a university represent and what we offer to students,” Bonanno said. “I see the Rome program as integral to who we are.”

The first group, consisting of seven Assumption students, arrived in Italy in the spring of 2013. At the time, renovations were not yet complete, so the program began with a two-week academic program in Florence before the group became the first students to live in Villino Dufault.

Since then, over 200 students have lived and studied on the Rome campus during the spring, fall, and summer. Six different courses are offered in the spring and fall, and two in the summer. Each student, during the spring and fall, must take at least an introductory level course in the Italian language along with four other courses that will count towards core requirements or electives. 

“If you’re going to a foreign place, you need to have an entree into the culture,” Lazar said. “You need to have that basis of language.”

Assumption University students in Italy

The summer courses are interdisciplinary, with the program usually offering selections from two different departments. However, Bonanno says that though the programs are interdisciplinary, students are encouraged to find common threads.

“We come together and try to find some synergies between the two seemingly diverse disciplines, getting students to engage beyond just what they do in the classroom,” he said.

While studying at the Rome campus, students are also able to take advantage of many different traveling opportunities, such as trips with professors to different cities in Italy, and three-day weekends, which allow students to explore Europe on their own.

“It seemed like the entire trip was traveling,” said Declan Casey, an organizational communication major from the class of 2025. “We definitely got to explore all of Rome, and I felt like I really did get to see everything. We took advantage of our time over in Europe.”

Over the past ten years, the program’s directors, including Cary LeBlanc, Patrick Corrigan, and Christian Göbel, as well as Lazar and Bonanno, have worked to ensure that the program is available for all students, including athletes and students in prescriptive majors.

“To cater to students who can’t miss certain courses being taught at certain times, we’ve created a summer program,” said Bonanno. “[Having so many programs] is a push to make study abroad more accessible to our students.”

“I am a student athlete, so that was kind of a concern when I was applying,” said Camille Lopez, a marketing major from the class of 2025 who participated in the Rome Program. “However, I found out three of my teammates were also studying abroad, so I figured I might as well do it. Assumption provides us with a gym pass so we were able to get our training in, and it worked out for the better.”

One of the most important aspects of the Rome campus, as emphasized by multiple students, along with faculty, is the community that forms from the experience. Students and faculty have family dinners each night with authentic Italian food prepared by Chef Monica, who has been on the Rome campus for all ten years.

“Students and faculty members are living in the same building, they’re breaking bread together, and they’re not just confined to a classroom,” said Bonanno. “They develop very strong bonds.”

Along with forming a community amongst themselves, students also establish relationships with the Assumptionists that live on the Rome campus. Students, faculty, and the Assumptionists in Rome share a Thanksgiving meal together at the Villino Dufault.

“It’s a real family environment, a community that is established,” said Lazar. “It really is living and learning together, just as Father D’Alzon intended already in the nineteenth century.”

Both Lazar and Bonanno agree that the program has truly blossomed since the first journey in 2013.

“We’ve really fine-tuned it,” Lazar said. “It’s really a well-running machine. It’s a little Lamborghini engine we’ve got purring here at the Assumption Rome campus.”

“It’s amazing what we have managed to create,” Bonanno said. “It has been a truly wonderful experience for me to get to know the Assumptionists, to work with different faculty members, and also to think more profoundly about the place of study abroad in our curriculum.”

Students who have visited Assumption’s Rome campus have agreed that studying in Rome has been one of the most impactful experiences of their lives, and professors Lazar and Bonanno have seen these transformations firsthand.

“I definitely grew as a person. I am way more independent now than I was before I went,” said Madeleine Arsenault, a secondary education and history major from the class of 2024.

“I would always say this while I was there: it made me so much more grateful for my life at home and being able to have the opportunity [to study abroad] …I was just so grateful to be there,” said Alyson Simpson, an actuarial science major from the class of 2025. “I also became less of a picky eater, so that was a plus.”

“Part of the mission of Assumption University is to give students a transformative experience,” said Lazar. “I can say, from personal observation, I have not witnessed anything so transformative as a semester of study abroad.”