Learning to love in ‘the Land of Love’

Italy is best known for its culture, cuisine and atmosphere of love.

Over the summer, some students had the opportunity to learn about love and
relationships while traveling abroad in Florence, Italy.

Professor Rick Weinberg taught a course titled “Intimate Relationships” in which students explored human attraction and the qualities of healthy, intimate relationships. 

Weinberg said being in Italy allowed students to experience the course in a way they wouldn’t have been able to at USF.

“The word romance has its roots in the Romans and Italy,” he said. “The whole notion of romance and intimate encounters are in many ways associated with Italian culture. Love is all around you in Italy.”

As part of the USF Italy program, 200 students spent six weeks immersed in Italian culture. The 34 students who took Weinberg’s course stayed in apartments around Florence with other students from USF. 

Weinberg said students learned about topics ranging from hook-up culture to bromances. 

We looked at the so-called ‘hook-up culture’ that in many cases defines relationships between college-age youth right now,” Wienberg said. 

“We looked at some numbers about college-age individuals who have sex before being in a deep relationship and how extensive that is.”

During the course, Weinberg invited French professors and their translators to speak to the class about the differences between American and French relationships and what they called ‘Italian love.’ 

“There doesn’t tend to be as much hook-up in Italy as there is in the United States these days,” Weinberg said. “Sex begins early, much like it does here, but there tends to be more commitment early on and longer-lasting
relationships in Italy.”

Another key difference, Weinberg said, was the rate of divorce in Italy.

“Divorce is much, much harder to attain in Italy and it’s very expensive so people are much more careful before getting married,” Weinberg said. “There are lot more intimate life partners who don’t get married because they just need to be so careful. There’s no longer this stigma in the big cities for people to live together, have children together and live together for a life time without getting married.”

Students and faculty got the opportunity to travel on outings throughout Italy including destinations like Rome and Venice. 

Weinberg said it was on these outings that students immerse themselves in the “Italian style” of love. He said just walking through the streets of Rome, Venice and Florence allowed students to see how publicly love and affection are displayed in Italy.

“There were couples making out on bridges and in parks, holding hands, and just publicly expressing how they felt about their significant other at all times,” Weinberg said.

He also said newlyweds made appearances on almost every group outing.

“On many occasions, we saw couples dressed up as bride and groom just out and about,” Weinberg said. “These people were newlyweds just out and about and I got them to engage with the students. It sort of just spread an atmosphere of love and connection in the air.”

Weinberg said his most memorable experiences were the time he and his wife shared with students and the connections they made.

“As a faculty member, you usually don’t go out with and do things with your students,” he said. “We rode on the same buses together for hours. We stayed in the same hotels together. We went on guided tours with one another. I think it was beneficial, especially given the course subject, to be able to have these experiences with my students.”

He said he hoped the students not only learned about the research and statistics behind relationships, but also the ways in which healthy and open communication can help them in their own relationships.

Stephanie Camacho, a junior majoring in psychology, said she had broken off her four-year relationship with her boyfriend shortly before leaving for Florence.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t have feelings for him,” Camacho said. “I still cared about him, but I was frustrated. I didn’t know how to fix the issues we were having.”

Through the course, Camacho said she learned about strategies to open up lines of communication and conflict resolution. She said the course gave her a toolkit that she was able bring back with her to USF that allowed her to solve her relationship issues.

“When I got back me and my boyfriend ended up getting back together and now everything is going smooth and I think our relationship is much healthier,” Camacho said.

She attributes the success of her relationship to what she learned in Weinberg’s course. 

“I feel like the class was almost like a relationship Bible,” Camacho said. “It really breaks it down so easily and what better place to do it than Italy.”

Savannah Perry, a junior majoring in mass communications, agreed with Camacho. She said the course enhanced her relationship with her boyfriend by making her aware of the different kind of ways in which people prefer to be loved.

“We took quizzes about these preferences in the class and I brought it home and gave it to my boyfriend,” Perry said. “What we learned was that we express our loves and prefer to be loved in different ways. Knowing this and being able to accommodate one another better has made our relationship grow stronger. What I didn’t really expect was to learn so much about myself. What surprised me was about how much of the course was just about being a better person.”