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Celebrating 60 Years of AIFS: A Practitioner’s Journey in Global Education

by Rosanna Graziani
rosanna graziani, aifs abroad in rome, italy director

As I reflect on the remarkable milestone of AIFS’s 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be filled with a sense of gratitude for all those who have been a part of this incredible adventure.

From Sir Cyril Taylor’s visionary leadership and passion for fostering international education, to colleagues and faculty members who tirelessly supported our programs, to the diverse students who have infused every corner of the globe with their unique perspectives and originality, each has played a vital role in shaping our collective experience.

Six decades of global education and cultural exchange have influenced the very essence of our community and built strong bridges between countries.

My Origin Story

I have witnessed firsthand a significant part of this journey, both personally as a student abroad in my youth and professionally in my career, and I feel proud and optimistic for the future. When I joined AIFS in 1995, the world was a very different place: less interconnected, less accessible, and perhaps, in some ways, less understanding of the beauty and diversity it held throughout its borders. 

My career at AIFS began with an unexpected turn of events. While I was being interviewed for a teaching position at the Florence Center, the regular chef for the cooking class called in sick. By the end of the meeting, not only was I offered to teach a language course, but I was also asked to hastily fill in as substitute cooking instructor. I was hesitant, but how could I turn down the opportunity? 

That very evening, a small group of American students arrived at my house. In my simple kitchen, devoid of any technological equipment, we prepared some classics: linguine al pesto, bruschetta and tiramisu. Crushing basil and pine nuts with a marble mortar and pestle, making coffee with the Moka machine, whipping egg whites holding two forks in a special grip, were all first-time and surprising experiences for the students. 

I’ll never forget their amazed expressions! They worked hard, learned, and had lots of fun while we cooked a staple, high-carb Italian dinner.

International Education Transformation

Since those years, global education has undergone profound transformations, evolving in ways that we could have never imagined, from chalkboard to AI. When I started, communication was still limited to snail mail and occasional long-distance phone calls. Participant lists came through fax machines and students took notes with pens and paper. Study abroad was rooted in the Grand Tour legacy, traditionally reserved for a privileged few and the exceptionally adventurous. 

The rise of the internet opened the way to a new era defined by connectivity and global collaboration. A few years later social media transformed the way we interact and document our experiences, and the world suddenly felt a whole lot smaller. Study abroad programs became gradually more accessible, and opportunities expanded. 

In most recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of innovative approaches to international education. From technology connecting students and scholars across continents, to the growing emphasis on sustainability and cultural competencies. Inclusion and diversity have taken center stage, creating welcoming environments for students from all walks of life. 

Yet, amidst all these changes, the importance of fostering understanding, empathy, and collaboration across borders has not changed. Nor has the spirit of curiosity and openness of the students who participate in our programs. A testament to the power of education to break down barriers and build mutual respect and understanding. 

Learning Through Experience

Studying abroad can be an emotional rollercoaster, marked by exhilarating highs and challenging lows. But isn’t it all about embracing the unexpected, learning from mistakes, abandoning one’s own prejudices and opinions, and laughing at the oddities and quirks that make the experience unforgettable? 

How much lightness and color come with the countless hilarious misunderstandings of our students! They constantly remind us that even amid differences, there’s always common ground to be found, often over a good laugh and a good story. Like when, in the whirlwind of cross-cultural communication, things get lost in translation and instead of a margarita cocktail, they get served a steaming pizza margherita!

Long-Lasting Impact

“Educating in Paradise”*, as we collectively define our role in Italy, has made many people’s life better, blending the richness of Italy’s cultural heritage with the transformative power of international education. Embracing love for art and beauty in all its forms adds a profound dimension to the educational experience, a new and never-ending source of knowledge and pleasure.  

Studying abroad is not just about acquiring knowledge. It’s about getting to know yourself, growing, becoming independent and resilient. It’s also about forging lifelong connections and ultimately, understanding the world from different perspectives than your own.

Looking Ahead

Here’s to the future of AIFS Abroad — may it be filled with even more moments of success, discovery, connection, and transformation while continuing to inspire and empower individuals to reach their fullest potential. 

*AACUPI, Educating in Paradise: Thirty Years of Realities and Experiences of North American Colleges and Universities in Italy, ed. Portia Prebys (2008) 

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