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The Umbra Institute

About

Experience the real Italy while studying abroad in Perugia for a semester, the whole year, or a summer. Get U.S. university credits for a wide variety of exciting courses (in English) that will change your perspective on life and give you hands-on experience.

Often called “the big university town in a small Italian city,” Perugia is home to the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program offering semester, year-long, and summer programs. Students can choose from a variety of courses with integrated field trips to world-famous Italian cities and sites, community engagement opportunities, and extra-curricular activities (pizza making, wine tastings, language exchanges and more). The diverse Umbra faculty and friendly staff strive to incorporate a genuine Italian experience into all elements of the academic curriculum and student experience.

Website
www.umbra.org
Founded
1999
Headquarters

Piazza IV Novembre, 23
06122 Perugia PG
Italy

Reviews

Default avatar
Ethan
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The Umbra Institute sits in the center of Perugia - a town that existed prior to the Roman Empire (it's more than 2,000 years old). However, this town is the capitol of the region of Umbria - so despite it's authentic ancient appearance, it has all the modernities that a city would have including an Italian University of 25,000 students. Perugia being a capital, its infrastructure has to move into the 21st century, but it has done so while retaining its history and culture and at the same time is cost-friendly to the college student, due to the majority of the daily money-spending population being college age. The town of Assisi just across the valley, a highly visited tourist site, draws all the western tourists. Leaving Perugia for the most part very Italian in local composition as well as in tourism. Then there's the Umbra Institute which draws somewhere around 100 english speaking students from America. Those 100 students are pretty much the only english speakers in town, which made it great for someone like me who went to Italy to learn the language and engage in their culture.

I lived in an Italian home with a family and could speak days and write maybe a book about it. There were great challenges to living in a homestay that improved not only my language competency and pronunciation, but really opened me up to the Italian culture as well as in the future, new cultures. I became less egocentric - a term used in political science to describe those who think how their country does things is the best. I learned about how Italians do family, how they serve the community, how they practice faith, how they engage in politics, how they fold bedsheets - just, everything! Just imagine life, but everything is written and spoken in Italian. And lest I forget the homemade food!

I was very surprised by how challenging the Umbra Institute's courses were. I just didn't expect to actually be academically challenged I guess. Then again, I took probably some of their more difficult courses, including one where with our three-student class we read Italian literature and discussed it and wrote reflections and at the end wrote a short story - 100% in Italian. T'was quite the challenge. But at the end of the course, I was glad I took it. I was exposed to words and sentence structures and nuances of the language I would have never seen if I had just taken the required language course. Fear not - if one is looking for a less intense academic experience, there are all kinds of courses for that.

The staff are too fun. Easily approachable. All very intelligent and at least when I was there, they truly cared about the students' experiences. I doubt that has changed much!

And lastly the volunteer opportunities abound; I think this is probably the most unique part of being at the Umbra Institute. A friend of mine taught english at a local grade school to some third graders. There's an online blog - if one is journalistically inclined. I personally worked with resettled refugees at a local aid organization. I made photographs for their website and wrote and personally taught english and Italian. Along the way, I made friendships with people from literally all over the world (the mid-east, Pakistan, Afghanistan, all over Africa, and even a few South Americans). That was certainly the highlight of my time there, maybe after living with the Italian family. Living with Rosy and Orfeo Ambrosi was just an unparalleled experience, rich in quality living. But I digress.

Congratulations at getting to the end of my comments! Feel free to reach out, I really would love to talk anytime even if you're SLIGHTLY interested in Umbra. Or just interested in living with a family. No matter where you go, LIVE WITH A FAMILY.

Email me at [email protected].

What would you improve about this program?
I have no idea. They're pretty on top of improving their stuff.
Grace
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

There is so much to love about Perugia and the Umbrian region--the natural and ancient beauty being so memorable. I especially enjoyed walking the narrow streets of the city center. Since I was in the Umbra Institute's Food Studies Program, I payed careful attention to restaurants/the local food culture. My friends and I compiled a list of places to eat -- from recommendations of the Umbra staff and locals--and spent each week checking off a place. With the help of a professor, I also did a lot of my produce shopping in a backyard garden. Each week, I visited him with empty bags and left with the most beautiful vegetables! Because the city is so small in size, there is such a real opportunity to feel like you're a part of the community. From cafes to bars, frequent visits become part of your daily routine, right alongside the locals--who would recognize you and talk to you (in Italian). This was exhilarating, because you had opportunities outside of Italian class to practice. I think my favorite thing to do, on a beautiful afternoon, was walk the streets and just take it all in. Every afternoon could be an adventure.

Default avatar
Karly
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My experience in Perugia was like none other. Any preconceptions and expectations you have will immediately be washed away because it's impossible to imagine what it will be like before you go. Perugia is a small, authentic town in Italy. It's a place where after a few weeks you will recognize people on the streets. As much as I had the time of my life here, the town was a bit too small for me, and the program, with roughly only 80 people, was a bit too close knit. You experience Italy in a place that isn't over run with Amercan influence, something you can't find in Florence or Rome. I
I will never forget my time in Perugia. I made lifelong friends and had experiences that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. If your only goal of studying abroad is to travel, then go to Florence. It isn't as easy to travel starting from Perugia because you usually need to take a train to Florence before you can fly anywhere.
The staff at the Umbra Institute was phenomenal, and I've had some of the greatest professors of my college career there. They want you to have an amazing experience, and they do a fantastic job in helping you experience that once in a lifetime opportunity.

If I could describe in words the magic that is Perugia and even all of Italy, I would, but to me it's something you must see and experience for yourself.

What would you improve about this program?
The amount of people in the program. I went to a large state university because I didn't want to be in a very small community but that's how this program was. Whether you like it or not, everybody knows what everyone is up to, and by the end it became a bit too much for me.
Default avatar
Joe
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Spending my fall semester in Perugia was an amazing experience. The city has an American university, an Italian university, and a university for foreigners and is filled with wonderful people. The city is also located in the center of Italy, so it is ideal for travel around the country. You will never regret studying in Italy at the Umbra Institute!

What would you improve about this program?
Scheduling classes would have been much easier if it were done online instead of in-person.
Default avatar
Kirti
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

If you're looking for the non-touristy, real local feel of Italy, the Umbra Institute in Perugia is the place to be. Being in a small town in the heart of Italy allows Umbra to provide students with the most authentic Italian feel from the people, to the food, to the shopping.
Being in a town where English is not used too often, Umbra teaches students Italian at the pace they choose through classes and interactive activities such as city tours, and cornetto (croissant) making! You'll be able to shop at grocery stores and get lunch without struggling to put a few key Italian words together; the language will come with ease and you'll get to know your local cashiers!
Not only will your local panino and gelato shop know your order but you're put in an incredible position to truly get to know the locals! Through English/Italian learning sessions, you get the opportunity to meet tons of local Italian college students. By beginning the friendships at these sessions, you have the chance to continue them outside with dinners, apertive, and nights out!
Umbra not only sets up fun interactive events in town with pizza making, gelato making, cheese and wine tastings, but also outside of town. You're given the opportunity to visit and help harvest at a vineyard, harvest olives, and visit parmigiana and balsamico companies!
Studying abroad in Perugia was absolutely incredible, partly due to the location and authentic-ness of Perugia but also the staff at Umbra. As incredible as the program is, if there is ever an issue, the staff is there to help you through the difficulties. From having a fuse go out in my apartment to filing a police case when my wallet was stolen in Rome, the staff at Umbra helped me through every little detail. I would recommend this incredible to absolutely everyone looking to truly be immersed in Italian culture and would re do the semester in a heartbeat!

What would you improve about this program?
Literally have zero complaints about the program, it is truly incredible!

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

Alumni interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Abbie Allenson

Abbie is 20 years old and originates from Kingston, Rhode Island. Currently, she is a junior at Endicott College studying Communication.
Female Headshot

Describe your most meaningful souvenir and why you love it?

Abbie:My most meaningful souvenir is a collection of Christmas ornaments. Every country or city in Italy I went to, I found an ornament (or an object that could be made into one) to bring home with me. Since Christmas is my favorite holiday, this collection means a great deal to me.

As I was decorating my tree this year, I was able to unwrap each ornament that was luckily still intact from my travels home to the states. Though it had only been a few months, I forgot what some of the ornaments looked like. Being able to hang each one on my tree this year was an amazing way to remember all the countries I have seen and the little shops I found the ornaments in.

If you could do-over one thing, what would it be?

Abbie:If I could do-over one thing, it would be to spend more of my traveling time in Italy. I absolutely loved my city (Perugia) and all the places I journeyed too, but it would have been nice to understand how easy it was to travel from the beginning. For the first month or so I was living in Italy, I was concerned about getting to know my city and afraid to travel on my own. Going abroad without knowing anyone, I was a little too shy at first to ask people to accompany me. If I had a chance to do it over, I would have liked to step out of my comfort zone and travel on my own or with new people.

St. Francis's Basilica in Assisi

Did you run into a language barrier? Did you ever think you knew more/less of the language?

Abbie:Language barriers, for me, happened all the time. If I could go back in time and slap myself over thinking I could easily study abroad in a country that I didn’t know the language in, I would. Before going to Italy, I had never taken an Italian language class. Although I had taken Spanish in high school, which proved helpful at times, I learned within the first week how valuable some Italian studying would have been.

My program offered an immersive, week-long course introducing us to the basics of the language and Italian customs, as well as how to get around the city. This was extremely helpful. If your program does not offer this, I would recommend asking a teacher or faculty member to give you the lay of the land in the beginning of your semester. This not only helped me travel to other cities and get to flights on time, but also gave me an insight into the culture in Perugia and the local landmarks, cafes, restaurants, etc. that were a must!

Hydra, Greece

What was the best place you visited outside of your home-base city?

Abbie:The best place I visited outside of Italy was probably Greece. Coming from the Ocean State, I am a beach bum at heart so Greece was right up my alley. To save on expenses, we flew in to Athens and stayed in Piraeus, which is right near the Port. Though our hostel wasn’t the chicest, it was 15 euros a night and was in walking distance from great restaurants, bars, and the port. The transportation was easy to figure out, and the first few days were spent exploring the ruins and getting to know locals and their cuisine (I became a bit of a foody abroad).

The best thing about Greece beside the views? The prices. Everything that we did, found, tasted, etc. was so cheap in comparison to other popular destinations. Also, traveling to smaller islands was easy and cost effective as well. We spent the remainder of our trip traveling to Aegina and Hydra islands, which were both less than 2 hours by boat (definitely the best idea, instead of spending tons to see Santorini and Mykonos). You can easily walk around, take donkey rides and find ruins (which are free for students). Everyone that we met was so nice, inviting and willing to help point out directions whenever we needed it. A must see, in my opinion!

Staff Interviews

Staff interviews are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Julie Falk

Job Title
Associate Director of Community Engagement
Julie Falk has been working with The Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy since 2010, currently as the Associate Director of Community Engagement and the Umbra Registrar. She received her Masters in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont in June 2011 following the completion of her practicum at the Umbra Institute. Born and raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, she graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota in 2008 with a B.A. in Sociology and minors in Women’s Studies and Business.
female headshot

Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Julie: In 2007, I spent an unforgettable semester in Florence, Italy. My inspiration to go on this life-changing adventure began my sophomore year of college when I began volunteering as an international student orientation leader, also known as a “Gustie Greeter”. Through activities and informal get-togethers, I learned about students’ personal triumphs, struggles, and balancing American culture with their own.

These interactions helped me to realize that the field of International Education was where I belonged. I subsequently changed my major to Sociology and experienced studying abroad for myself. During my semester in Florence, I fell in love with life in Italy and challenging myself each day. Today, I couldn’t ask for a better position helping students achieve their own goals while better understanding who they are and what they are capable of at this crucial point in their education.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Julie: The Umbra Institute is an incredibly dynamic school in a very special city. We want students to make the most of their time abroad while being immersed in the welcoming Perugian community that they can, and do, call home. At students’ fingertips are countless opportunities to be among the locals and experience Italian traditions coupled with the added benefits of a modern university town.

olive picking

Another quality that makes Umbra unique is our foundation of support in every aspect of study abroad. We are a dedicated team of staff and faculty that really care about the students’ overall well-being here. From the minute we meet students at the airport in Rome, we are familiar faces. Our office doors are always open, allowing us to build a rapport with individual students.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

Julie: I believe one of the most incredible aspects of study abroad is that personal reflection and growth continues after returning home. We had one fantastic student, Max, who had never taught in a school before but had decided on a whim to sign-up to volunteer in the classroom to help teach English. On the first day, he was so engrossed in the classroom activities that he missed the bus home.

The next day, he recounted the adventure of getting back using his elementary Italian to ask for directions. He was beaming at how resourceful he had realized he was when the need arose. A few months after his semester at Umbra ended, I received an email from him in which he shared his plan to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English because, looking back, volunteering at the school was the most rewarding thing he had done while abroad. This is just one example of why I love my job coordinating these community engagement opportunities!

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

Farewell Aperitivo

Julie: Although I had never studied a foreign language until studying abroad, I was always intrigued by the power language has to open up a new place and a new people to you. It acts as a key to understanding another way of thinking and feeling and expressing oneself. Umbra requires students to take an Italian language course which demonstrates how valuable we view language learning for students abroad.

The importance of being able to succeed in everyday tasks such as ordering food, going to the post office, and speaking with local people is priceless and empowering. It gives you a sense of daily accomplishment with every encounter. Even today, after years of living abroad, I still feel this way; I can connect with the people through Italian that I may not have been able to communicate with otherwise