The Program

Syracuse University Florence: 1959-present

In the spring of 1959, John Clarke Adams, former labor attaché to the US Embassy in Italy and professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship, traveled to Italy to work out the logistics of establishing a study abroad program in Florence for Syracuse University. Adams found the perfect location in Piazza Savonarola at the Villa Rossa where only one member of the Gigliucci family, Countess Bona, was still residing. Bona’s father, Mario Gigliucci, architect and original owner of the villa, had passed away in 1937, her mother Edith had died in 1909, and her two older siblings, Nerina and Donatello, were married and living elsewhere.  Bona never married and the costs of maintaining the villa were high. Therefore, the Gigliucci siblings were happy to rent out the two main floors of  the villa to the University while Bona (or “la Contessa” as she would respectfully be called) moved into the apartment on the top floor.

Between 1959 and 1963, the University established an increasingly positive relationship with the Gigliucci family. Therefore, in 1963, when Nerina, the eldest of the siblings died and the need to sell the Villa became more pressing, Bona and Donatello decided to sell their family home to Syracuse University, with the agreement that Bona, then in her late seventies, would continue to live on the top floor of the villa for as long as she wished. This type of arrangement was possible largely because of the excellent rapport the University and the Gigliucci family had established over the years.

In the early 1960s, Professor John Clarke Adams and his colleague from the Maxwell School, Professor Stephen Koff, alternated every two years as directors, forging a program with an entirely different character from any American study abroad program before it. The primary differences were that students with no previous background in Italian were invited to study in the program, students could study for just one semester rather than a full academic year, and all students were placed in Italian homestays to enhance the cultural experience of studying abroad. In the early years, students actually lived with two different families during the semester, changing host families halfway through to broaden their exposure to the Italian culture. Furthermore, in addition to offering courses in subjects traditionally associated with the “Grand Tour” such as art history and literature, the Syracuse Semester in Italy offered courses in contemporary Italian politics, as well as European politics and culture.