By Eleanor Tuck, Bath Spa University
When I received an email from my course leader flagging up an international opportunity to visit another University, I was immediately very excited and honoured to have been chosen. After having a meeting with the Head of Postgraduate Programmes, I accepted the opportunity and felt proud to be an ambassador for Bath Spa University. Planning for the trip commenced and I was proactive with emailing staff at Udine University to organise my itinerary.
My aims for the trip
As my current Master’s degree is in Dyslexia and Specific Learning Difficulties, I wanted to find out about the prevalence of dyslexia in Italy. The English and Italian languages are very different and it is known that English is a relatively opaque language. Therefore, I wondered how behaviours of this Specific Learning Difficulty may manifest in Italy, where there are less irregularities in the language. Ideally, I wanted to visit some primary schools in Udine- to find out about the provision of Special Educational Needs (SEN), including Dyslexia- and discover whether they used standardised assessments, like we do in the UK. Additionally, I have a particular interest in Maths Anxiety, which will be the subject of my dissertation. I was aware that Professor Antonella Riem, Director of the Department of Languages and Literatures at Udine University, had a particular interest in ‘Mindfulness’, so I was keen to meet with her and discuss this.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had limited time to organise the trip. This meant that the schools I hoped to visit were closing for their summer break before I was able to travel out there. I was still very eager to make the trip work so I continued to make attempts to organise meetings with staff at the University. A date was agreed to meet with Professor Cristiano Crescentini, who has expertise in the area of Cognitive Neuroscience and Mindfulness. I was hoping to meet with Professor Antonella Riem too, but unfortunately, she did not respond to my email. I understand that the end of term is a very busy time of year for staff at the University.
Eventually, flights were booked and appropriate accommodation was chosen. I was incredibly excited about this fantastic opportunity to not only visit a location I hadn’t been to before, but to discuss my interests with an experienced and knowledgeable Professor. I was a little apprehensive about travelling around on my own, however, I had been reassured that Udine was a safe location and it wasn’t the first time I had travelled alone. I also ensured that I had researched my travel options beforehand so I knew what to expect.
When I arrived in Venice Marco Polo Airport, it was a lot later than I had planned because my flight was delayed by over 3 hours. However, the airport staff spoke English and I was able to then get a bus and a train to Udine successfully. Luckily, my hotel was a 2-minute walk away from the train station, which I was very glad about because I wasn’t very comfortable with walking around after midnight by myself in a foreign country. The staff at Principe Hotel were very friendly and I would recommend them to anyone else visiting Udine.
Exploring the area
The next day, I explored the local area of Udine with a map that the hotel receptionist had given to me. I ventured out to the centre, where the majority of the attractions were. The ‘Piazza della Liberata’- the oldest square in Udine- was beautiful and I walked up the steep steps to see the ‘Castello di Udine’. As it was so high up, the view was incredible and I could see many of the surrounding attractions. I then walked around until I was satisfied that I had covered all of the sights and visited the University so I knew where I would be going the following day. Udine is not typically a tourist place and the majority of people I spoke to could not speak English. As I do not know any Italian, I felt it appropriate to use my trusty Italian phrase book to communicate with the staff in the pharmacy about my horrific allergic reaction to mosquito bites! I would advise anyone travelling to Udine to pack bug spray and anti-histamines, as mosquitoes were very prevalent in this particular area.
As an extremely pale- and clearly not Italian- young girl walking around by myself, I sometimes received unwanted attention. Although I felt safe walking around in the daytime sight-seeing, discovering new places and drinking (very good) Italian coffee, I wasn’t so keen about venturing too far away from my hotel at night time in the dark. I made the most of my solo time to relax with a book in the evenings and prepare for my forthcoming important meeting.
My meeting with Professor Crescentini
The University was easy to find and I followed Professor Crescentini’s instructions to find his office. When I arrived, I was welcomed by his student, Anastacia. She was very interesting to speak to and we discussed both of our interests; hers being ‘Mindfulness’. She showed me books about ‘Dislessia’ (‘Dyslexia’ in Italian), however, at times it was difficult to understand each other and we were rather lost in translation. Professor Crescentini arrived and Anastacia was more confident in his presence. I was interested to hear about his current research plan investigating the effects of mindfulness techniques on anxiety levels. He informed me that he was hoping to receive money from the Government in order to commence his project, however, it was strong competition for the funding to commission it, so it was not guaranteed that the project would go ahead. I asked all of the questions that I wanted to ask and made notes. He was interested to hear about my research that I would be conducting, as the concept of ‘perezhivanie’ was something he had not heard of before. He gave me advice on particular researchers and relevant papers that I would be able to look into; to aid me with my dissertation. It seemed we had a lot to talk about, as our interests were so similar, and our meeting lasted for around an hour and a half. It was very beneficial and I hope to maintain these international links. I asked Professor Crescentini if he could let me know if his project goes ahead with the Government funding, as it is something I would be keen to follow the progress of. I left the meeting feeling satisfied with the information I had obtained. Afterwards, I visited a few more of the places that he had recommended.
Above: Eleanor Tuck with Professor Crescentini
All in all, despite not being able to fulfil my initial plan of visiting schools, I felt the meeting was successful and beneficial towards my studies. It was a pleasure to meet Professor Crescentini and his student and I feel it would be an amazing opportunity for Anastacia to visit the UK in the future, if she was keen to do this. I would have liked to have met other members of staff and I was given the details of another Professor who specialises in this field, however, I received no response to my emails unfortunately. I don’t think this could have been helped due to the last-minute nature of the trip and I’m sure the staff were very busy at the end of the University term.
I do not think there is necessarily anything that could be changed for students given the GALA opportunity next year. The funding was an appropriate amount given and all aspects of my trip ran smoothly. Perhaps if it were viable, a pair of students could go together to make it safer, however, understandably this probably wouldn’t be possible due to funding restrictions.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and tagged on a holiday to Venice afterwards to continue my adventure. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and hope future students enjoy their trips as much as I did mine.