Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 24, 1995

The Way I See It: On Visiting Bologna

By Dale Keiger

     I don't often envy people who are in their 20s. After all,
I've got a job in my chosen field, something many of them can't
find. I don't have to worry about a blind date showing up with
pierced body parts. I feel no fashion pressure to wear a ballcap
backwards, or shorts in February.

     But last month, after hanging out for a week at the Hopkins
Bologna Center, which is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary,
I found myself looking at the students there and thinking, You
guys are lucky. 

     The Bologna Center and I are about the same age. My knees
and back hurt; the center seems to be holding up just fine. It
resides in a four-story building on Via Belmeloro in the
picturesque old part of the city. It's close enough to the
University of Bologna for Italian students to wander down and
grab a sandwich at its first-floor coffee bar. The center lets
them do so, and also lets them use the library. It wants to be
part of the community, not an American enclave. It wants to
encourage cross-cultural mingling.

     Italians are great minglers, and the Americans I observed
seemed to have picked up the skill, mingling in the lobby, the
coffee bar and the little lounge at one of the stair landings.
This would, I think, please the late C. Grove Haines, founder of
the Bologna Center. A professor at the Nitze School for Advanced
International Studies, Haines founded the center in 1954 on the
sensible premise that anyone studying international relations
would profit from conducting some of that study abroad. Not
because the classes or teachers would be inherently better. The
point was to take students, especially Americans, and put them in
the midst of another culture, face-to-face with other smart
people who grew up with a different set of social, political and
cultural bearings.

     The center is big enough for diversity but small enough to
imbue its 150 or so students with a sense of camaraderie. Almost
all of them will be in Bologna for only a single academic year.
It's a little like camp, but with a lot of homework and better

     I imagine many special friendships develop among the
students, relationships made poignant by the knowledge that after
nine months the Bologna experience ends. The class will reconvene
the next year at SAIS in Washington, but for the Americans, at
least, the bond that comes from being expatriates together surely
must be missing.

     Like almost every part of Hopkins, the center could use more
money. Its director, Robert Evans, explained to me that there is
little tradition in Europe of giving to educational institutions;
Europeans are used to state-supported education, not to writing
checks for the alma mater's boosters club. The center is just now
beginning to benefit from the generosity of alumni who have
reached retirement--remember, the first class matriculated in
'54, and those early classes were small. 

     The center badly needs to take in tuition dollars, but to
attract top students from outside the United States, it must
offer fellowships; if a European student can find a loan, says
Evans, chances are the interest rate would make it cheaper to
simply charge the whole thing on a VISA card, were that possible.
The computers in the center's library are functional, but
Jurassic compared to the Powerbooks and ThinkPads some of the
more fortunate students possess. Evans would like more space, but
real estate in Bologna is expensive.

     The director is an optimist, though. The center keeps
finding ways to raise its profile. While I was there, it hosted
the 13th Bologna-Claremont Monetary Conference, signing up four
Nobel laureates as panelists. The international pharmaceutical
concern CIBA-Geigy has just provided $400,000 to promote
international journalism. Bologna Center alumni make up a third
of the International Court of Justice. Other alums are
ambassadors, prominent foreign correspondents, international
business executives and members of major international agencies.
One, Charles Anson ('66), is press secretary to the queen of
England. It's hard to imagine a school so full of energy and
potent intellects not finding the means to prosper.

     Sitting in on classes, sipping aqua minerale in the coffee
bar, wandering through the porticoed streets of Bologna, I envied
anyone who had the opportunity to spend a year there. Not that
there aren't hardships. The first-run movies in the theaters are
all dubbed, and you just know the diner scenes in Pulp Fiction
lose something in translation. Students crossing the streets run
the constant risk of being flattened by Italian mopeds. Finding
the right cheese for tacos can be a problem (Gorgonzola? please).
Still, the American students I met seemed to be holding up well
under the strain.

     But then, they are young.
**Dale Keiger is senior writer for the Johns Hopkins Magazine.**

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