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Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy

Study Abroad Program

Italy: Environmental Change & Evolution (Summer 2023) led by Dr. Jason Flores and Dr. Terry Gates from the College of Sciences


Environmental Sciences & Environmental Technology and Management

Why did you choose to study abroad?

As an Environmental Sciences student, one of the most fascinating lectures I’ve sat through centered around Earth’s geologic and evolutionary history. Over the course of two class periods, my professor discussed every single era and period in Earth’s timeline, from the Archean era 4.5 billion years ago to the current Anthropocene epoch, emphasizing the significant evolutionary developments and mass-extinction events. I was particularly amazed by how seemingly random occurrences, such as an asteroid hitting the Earth or a massive volcanic eruption, were so crucial in the evolution and formation of the world as we know it today. 

Dark room with illuminated table containing fossils. - Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
Analyzing fossils of an ancient whale at the Museum of Natural History and Paleontology in Florence.

Regardless, as I have always been eager to study abroad to experience new cultures, explore historical landmarks, and grow as an individual, I could never decide where in the world I would want to go. However, once I read the description of this program in Italy, I had no doubt in my mind that this was the correct program for me. Through my interest in the history of ancient civilizations, I’ve noticed many similarities between emperors in the final days of the Roman Empire and certain species in Earth’s past, such as the dinosaurs. Both maintained power through dominance and aggression, and both met their demise in unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. Nevertheless, I believed that Italy was the perfect country to study environmental change and evolution, as the country’s own history holds significant resemblance to that of the entire planet.

One of the biggest academic takeaways I wanted to gain from this study abroad experience was a global perspective on modern environmental issues, such as climate change. In many of my environmental science classes, most of what I have learned has been constrained within the borders of the United States. By studying environmental problems in the context of another country, I wanted to grasp a broader outlook for how certain issues affect different parts of the world, and thus determine the best mitigation strategies for specific areas of concern. I believed that examining the specific paleontological, biological, societal, and cultural changes that led to the world’s ongoing environmental challenges was an excellent method to achieve this goal.

What did your average day abroad look like and what were some of the highlights?

Our daily activities varied on where we were and what material we were trying to get through. In Rome, we mainly spent our time sightseeing and exploring the city, visiting locations such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Baths of Caracalla, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, among others. During these excursions, Dr. Gates would explain the evolutionary significance of each site and how seemingly minor occurrences, such as a specific rock formation or flooding event, were critical to the success of Rome and its surrounding areas. Following these outings, we would have time to explore the city, try local restaurants, and rest/reflect about our day. 

However, once we left for Florence, the pace of the program slowed down a bit and we each got much needed time to catch our breath. On a typical day in Florence, we spent the morning out visiting one of the many significant locations in the city, such as the Duomo, Uffizi gallery, San Lorenzo Basilica, Pitti Palace, and more. We would have an hour lunch break and spend the afternoon in a classroom provided by the Lorenzo de Medici institute. In the classroom, we discussed climate change from many different lenses, including historical, scientific, social, economic, and futuristic. For example, I remember one day we talked about Milankovitch cycles and feedback loops, and the next day we examined the concept of power and how that relates to climate denial and pushback towards mitigation. Following our time in the classroom, we typically had the evening free to do whatever we desired. I often cooked dinner with other individuals in the program, walked around the city trying to find the best gelateria, and experienced the nightlife. Towards the end of the day, I would spend time journaling, where I would reflect on what I learned that day, experiences I liked or disliked, and what I was looking forward to the next day.

Large white cathedral with a large crowd of visitors standing around on the sidewalk- Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in the city center of Florence.

What were some of your favorite experiences during your trip?

In Rome, my favorite ruin we visited was the Baths of Caracalla. It was fascinating to learn the history of the site and to see how much was still somewhat preserved. I remember seeing that some of the rooms still had remnants of the tiling, which was mind-blowing to think that those artifacts had survived for over 2000 years. Next, following our first full day in the city, many of us in the program decided to explore the streets of Rome, where we stumbled upon a delicious pizzeria and then visited a club that was built of mostly pure ice. It was a great time for us to connect more and try new things in a new city.

During our time in Florence, we took a day trip to visit a winery in the Tuscan countryside. The vineyard was absolutely breathtaking and it was a great change of pace from the busy city center. We learned about the process of vinification and had the opportunity to try multiple types of wines made at the vineyard while enjoying a delicious lunch. Next, we learned how to make authentic Italian cuisine through a culinary class provided by the Lorenzo de Medici Institute. We made potato gnocchi with a mushroom sauce, ricotta-stuffed zucchini flower with a tomato puree, and panna cotta for desert. It was a delightful experience and the food was absolutely delicious. 

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the trip was the ease of transportation. In both Rome and Florence, everything was within walking distance, and it was especially easy to travel between cities. During the program, I took the train to both Pisa and Venice, and it was relatively inexpensive and stress-free. While abroad, it was very relieving not having to rely on a car to get around.

Large rolling field containing many rows of grapevines- Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
Grapevines as far as the eye can see outside of the Ruffino Winery in Tuscany.

How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?

Studying abroad taught me to be more open-minded to different cultures, how to adapt to changing circumstances, and improved my language skills. Finally, my experience gave me a global perspective on many environmental issues and what the best steps are for mitigation, keeping equity and practicality in mind.

Picture of Trey with the city of Florence, Italy in the background - Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
On top of the Duomo with the city of Florence in the background.

Is there any advice you have for students interested in studying abroad?

If you have the opportunity to study abroad, absolutely do it! It may be scary (trust me I was a little nervous at first) and expensive, but the experiences and memories are all worth it. There are plenty of outside sources of funding from CNR and the Study Abroad office. Be prepared for things to not go completely to plan, and if they don’t, that’s okay! You will more than likely find an alternative that’s just as meaningful. Don’t worry about not knowing people in your group prior to leaving. Trust me, you will spend enough time with them during the program that you will have plenty of inside jokes by the time you leave. Be smart with money. Try to book flights and outside excursions as far out as you can and try not to blow all of your money on alcohol and souvenirs. Finally, step out of your comfort zone! Studying abroad is what you make of it, and so you should experience new things, immerse yourself in different cultures, and seize every opportunity to make lasting memories.

Overhead picture of a personal pizza and calzone - Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
Authentic Italian pizza and calzone.
The city of Florence, Italy pictured near sunset. - Trey Mumma’s Travels in Italy - Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University
A view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo.