Johns Hopkins Magazine - June 1995 Issue

Notes from Bologna

Wherein our intrepid reporter sets out to capture the local flavor of a centuries-old city, and its decades-old American center for international studies at 11 Via Belmeloro.

On a Saturday night in Bologna, I was strolling down Via Rizzoli when I came upon a bookstore. I walked in, pulled from the shelf a manual on essential English for Italian travelers, and found this: The last time I had a woman was 22 years ago, in the Crimea.

Your guess is as good as mine.

I suspect that such encounters with oddness were part of what C. Grove Haines had in mind when he founded the SAIS-affiliated Hopkins Bologna Center, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in late April. If SAIS were to properly train students in international relations, those students would profit from exposure to the marvelous quirkiness of the world and the cultures that must share it. Haines, who had been the first full-time professor at SAIS and served many years as the first director of the Bologna Center, called the center the "first graduate institution emphasizing regional studies to be transplanted to the area emphasized by its studies." It began its inaugural year of instruction with about 50 students, two of them female, and eight faculty members. It was housed at the University of Bologna. Today, the center has its own building near the university. There are now seven resident and 30 visiting professors, who teach about 150 graduate and undergraduate students, more than half of them female, from 30 or so different countries.

Most students are working toward a master of arts in international relations, which requires a year in Bologna and a second year at SAIS in Washington. In Italy they study languages, economics, diplomacy, contemporary history, international law, politics, foreign policy, and European culture. The center's present director, Robert H. Evans, hopes they learn a lot from simply mingling with each other. "The center teaches what tolerance is," Evans says. "You put 30 nationalities together, each with its point of view, and by the end of the year each person has learned to listen to another point of view, and ponder it, and even agree with it."

In David Ellwood's Wednesday afternoon class "America and the Modernization of Europe," Ellwood, a professorial lecturer from Britain, holds off on a discussion of postwar reconstruction to cover another topic: the Oscars. The day after Forrest Gump garnered its collection of little gold statues, the Italian press apparently had a field day using the movie and the awards ceremony to stereotype Americans and American culture. With his students, Ellwood discusses some of the press clippings they've brought in about the Oscars, teaching them to recognize stereotypes, and to think beyond them. They talk about European concerns over the continuing influx of American culture - - Bologna has Foot Locker stores and McDonald's, and even Pizza Hut is about to open in Italy - - and Ellwood explains why they should be aware of the politicized use of the phrase cultural imperialism, and skeptical of its intellectual validity.

Most of the center's students are in their mid '20s. About half are Americans; the class of '94 included people from Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Japan, Lebanon, the Philippines, Serbia, and Turkey. Evans has noticed that the Germans tend to be among the oldest, coming to SAIS after completing law degrees, while the Brits tend to be the youngest, matriculating straight out of undergraduate institutions. Most Americans have worked for a year or two after receiving a bachelor's degree before they show up on the center's doorstep.

The students are a sociable lot, mingling freely, united across nationalities by a sense of we're-all-in-this-together. Articulate, amiable, and confident, they seem looser, less driven, more cheerful than typical Hopkins students. They congregate in the first-floor coffee bar, which dishes up salads, sandwiches, baked goods, and a steady stream of espresso and cappuccino. (They'll be happy to find out next year that Washington D.C. now seems to have an espresso bar on every corner.)

The center's coffee bar is open to the public, and students from the nearby University of Bologna, which predates the center by about 900 years, like to go there for cheap eats and the chance to meet Americans. The center also opens its library to the public; the institution is eager for the Bolognese to view it as another part of the city's culture, not an island of America plunked down at 11 Via Belmeloro. The local Italian press greeted the founding of the institution in 1955 with warnings about this new danger to Italian independence and culture - - that cultural imperialism thing again. Public affairs director Linda Marion still shakes her head over how local journalists insist on portraying the center as an American enclave, despite its international student body and faculty.

Several of those local journalists and press photographers are in evidence on a Thursday evening as the 1995 Bologna-Claremont Monetary Conference convenes. The opening address is by Eric Roll, who is president of the investment bank SG Warburg in London, and is known formally as Lord Roll of Ipsden. The conference boasts four Nobel laureates in economics, and among those attending Lord Roll's speech is a politician who would like to be Italy's next prime minister. The politician makes sure the photographers snap him as he stands amidst all the Nobel winners and other intellectual luminaries.

The next afternoon, Lord Roll dozes in the warm auditorium as the conferees discuss the new disequilibrium in the world economy. The roundtable discussion attracts a full house of journalists, scholars, and students from the center. Many of the students are bound for careers in economics or finance, and today they learn that not even a quartet of Nobel laureates is sure why the world's economies do what they do.

Bologna is a lovely place. Miles of porticoes shelter its pedestrians. Narrow medieval streets seldom go more than 10 yards without a crook or a curve. Many of the buildings have been faced with a muted orange stucco; in the afternoon light, the city center seems to glow as if lit from within by candles. The men favor black leather jackets, the women short skirts and high heels, and everyone carries a cellular phone. At a Sunday soccer match (Bologna 2, Allessandria 1), I hear beep-beep-beep. It's the guy next to me, taking a call.

The center's Americans enjoy their immersion in an unfamiliar culture, but find, here and there, bits of home. There's the local McDonald's (which serves beer), Coca-Cola in the center's coffee bar, and the International Herald Tribune and major U.S. publications in the library. On Friday evening, Arlene Binuya, the center's head of student affairs, and her fiancé, Tom Murray (SAIS '92), host a small wine-and-cheese party for a few faculty and administrative friends on the terrace of their apartment, overlooking the Piazza San Stefano. Murray announces that he's found a cheese shop that carries cheddar, important news if you're an American with a taste for burritos. He notes that the shop's owner sold him tonight's Stilton, but made him purchase some Italian cheeses to go with it.

Many students use their stay in Bologna as an opportunity for other travel in Europe. In Ellwood's class, Alia Malek '96 relates the story of her first - - and she insists her last - - 18-hour bus ride from Prague. After class, Malek learns that Hopkins Magazine offers editorial internships, and proves she's a Hopkins student by reaching into her book bag and whipping out an up-to-date résumé.

In September, this crop of master's students will come to Washington for their second year of instruction. I'll be curious to see if the Europeans and other non-Americans respond to Washington as the Americans responded to Bologna. Some of them I'll recognize from the time I spent in their midst at the center. As for those I didn't meet, I'll know who they are when I hear them say, "The last time I had a woman was 22 years ago, in the Crimea."

- - Dale Keiger

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