Student filmmaker Sydney Alison explores Italian cinema abroad

Film studies senior Sydney Alison completed The University of Tulsa’s Music and Italian Cinema course last semester where she explored the history of Italian film every week through class discussions and papers. The experience was very rewarding, and at the end of the spring semester she and her classmates traveled to Italy as members of a faculty-led program on the continued study of Italian cinema. However, Sydney’s journey was a little different from that of a typical TU student. Her trip brought up some meaningful challenges surrounding accessibility.

“I use a wheelchair to get around and I had many worries about accessibility in hotels, restaurants, museums and transportation,” Sydney said. “My mom needed to go on the trip as well, so the cost doubled for us.”

Sydney Alison in Florence
Sydney and her mother, Lori, in Florence, Italy.

Initially, Sydney was so worried that she decided it would be easier to not go. She sent Candice Chinsethagid, assistant director of Short-Term Global Programs at the Center for Global Education (CGE) an email with her decision. Candice immediately emailed her back with solutions to all of her worries. Candice booked all of the necessary transportation for Sydney and her mom and found accessible hotels and restaurants. In the end, Candice found Sydney a scholarship that also made the trip financially possible.

“It is exciting that study abroad has matured over the years to where we can explore options for students who have unique situations,” said Jane Kucko, vice provost for Global Education. “It was rewarding to watch Candice and Sydney work together to make her dream come true. CGE encourages all students, regardless of their academic, financial and other unique goals to visit with our advisers about study abroad. Studying in another culture is life-changing and it is our pleasure to work with students in order to make this opportunity happen.”

Thanks to the dedication of the TU CGE staff, Sydney had the experience of a lifetime and was able to participate in all aspects of the trip.

Sydney Alison in Siena
Soaking up the sun in Siena, Italy.

“I had the opportunity to eat real Italian food, learn about the history of Italian cinema and see Italy up close and personal! I realized that it is more than possible for students with disabilities to travel abroad. Planning every detail so that I could fully participate in the trip was very new for the Center for Global Education and myself, but I’m extremely thankful they did not give up on me. I know that they will continue to give TU students with unique needs the opportunity and confidence to study abroad,” Sydney said.

The study abroad options are as unique as each TU student. TU offers semester, year-long, summer and faculty-led programs. Semester and year-long study abroad sessions are designed to provide a wider view of the world and a richer understanding of the global community. Both are offered through carefully selected partnerships with international institutions, specific partner programs and exchange programs in various parts of the world.

Summer study abroad programs provide intensive, compressed study in another country. Students with heavily structured academic programs or situations that prevent them from being away for longer than three to five weeks often enroll in summer programs. 

Sydney Alison and her mom in Milan
Sydney and her mom in Milan, Italy.

“There are many options for students of all majors and backgrounds, so we encourage everyone to explore the possibility of studying abroad,” Jane commented. Sydney did just that with her faculty-led program.

Faculty-led programs are organized by TU professors where learning is facilitated through the faculty’s expertise and connections in a global context. Professors utilize the international location of the trip to augment the academic component in the context of local culture and site-enhanced activities. 

“Over the span of nine days, our group went to Milan, Turin, Siena, Arezzo, Florence, and Rome,” Sydney said. “We took walking tours in each city where we visited famous film sites and magnificent cathedrals that are hundreds of years old. We indulged in incredible food everywhere we went – focaccia, pasta al dente and fresh seafood were a few of my favorites.”

Sydney Alison Giant Pizza Slice in Siena
Slices in Siena!

While abroad, she picked up some basic Italian and had a few small conversations with tour guides, waiters and train passengers. Sydney and her classmates visited Cinecittà in Rome, which is Europe’s largest film studio. They saw the original costumes, props and sets from famous Italian and American films. She even saw material from one of her favorite directors, Martin Scorsese, whose parents are Italian.

“I was exhausted every night and I completely messed up my sleep schedule by taking naps at 6 p.m., getting up to eat dinner, then going back to sleep for the night. It was such an enriching experience that expanded my curiosity and knowledge of Italian filmmakers, composers and Italy itself,” Sydney said.

Sydney Alison at the National Museum of Cinema in Turin
Experimenting with cameras at the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, Italy.

In an increasingly digitally connected world, study abroad has become a key piece of the American college experience. College graduates who have the personal, academic and professional skills that are gained through international experiences are at the forefront of their fields. TU provides many options to study abroad including a program occurring before the start of freshman year. JumpstartTU Abroad is a short-term intensive experience designed to prepare new students for the challenges and opportunities that distinguish a TU education. You can read about Walli Zaman’s JumpstartTU experience here.