L'esperienza italiana (The Italy Experience)

Published on September 22, 2022

By Elise Russell

Each year, EKU students and alumni convene together in Florence, Italy, for an education-abroad experience. Students spend a few weeks abroad for the “Food, Fashion, Family in Florence” course, and alumni join for a shared portion of the trip. Together, students and alumni enjoy meals, museum tours and interwoven excursions and educational experiences. 

When Gary Booth, ’62, and his wife, Jane, ’76, philanthropists and generous EKU supporters, heard about the education-abroad opportunity for students, they felt compelled to help. 

Originally from Wolfe County in Eastern Kentucky, Gary understands the value of opportunities, such as education abroad, in a student’s educational experience. After attending EKU, he spent his career at Procter & Gamble developing products such as Pantene shampoo, Folgers coffee, Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet paper. Gary spent the last 10 years of his career in Brussels and London and retired as vice president of research for personal care products for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. 

“Jane and I think it is very important for mountain kids to have a broad view of the world,” Gary said. “Spending time in Europe is a terrific – and exciting – way to do that.” The Booths donated $20,000 to the EKU Department of Applied Human Sciences for the education-abroad trip. “It’s just such a fabulous mind-expanding opportunity – we couldn’t resist funding that.” 

This year, 11 students traveled to Italy in June. As a result of the Booth’s and other donors’ support, each student received a scholarship for the course to help with their tuition. According to Dr. Dana Bush, professor and associate dean of Education & Applied Human Sciences, most of the students in the education-abroad trip had never before traveled outside of the United States, making the scholarship assistance even more impactful. 

Donor support also paid for the students’ trip to Rome and allowed for extra tours and excursions, Bush said. 

“We went to Lucca, which is this beautiful, small walled city. You can rent bikes and ride around the wall,” said Bush, the course instructor. “With the Booth donation, we were able to pay for the train tickets, lunch and bike rentals and have a full day of exploration.” When Bush later read the students’ journal assignments, she said, “That’s the day they wrote about the most. Because we had someone donate money to do that, we were able to do this little extra trip that changed their lives.” 

About the entire education-abroad experience for students, Bush said, “It’s what makes your time here at EKU excellent. It’s transformative – learning about other people and other cultures.”

Bush first started the annual education-abroad trip in 2015, in partnership with the Accademia Europea di Firenze (AEF) in Florence. After seeing how impactful the experience was for students, she proposed the idea of tying in an alumni educational experience. Now, EKU Alumni Engagement takes along a group of about 15 alumni each year. 

“We are heavily committed to an intentional, yet organic experience which weaves the alumni and student experience together,” said Steve Greenwell, senior director of engagement and communication for EKU Alumni Engagement. “We want them to enjoy their time but also ensure they understand what lifelong learning looks like, from the earliest stages to the stage that they’re at in life.” 

From cooking classes and immersion in the Italian language to museum tours and explorative excursions, students and alumni learn and grow together through the Italy education-abroad experience. The education-abroad course applies as a core course for students in an applied human sciences major or a general education course for any major. Students interested should contact Bush at dana.bush@eku.edu. For alumni interested in future Italy travel opportunities, visit alumni.eku.edu/Italy

In addition to expanding students’ worldview, Gary also wants to see other alumni get involved and contribute to the progress of the university. To join the Booths and others in supporting transformative experiences for students, visit go.eku.edu/give