Spring 2017 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

Dear Parents et all,

We are off to a great start with the HUF Spring 2017 group.  Thank you for sharing your children with us.

This is Me and Mona's 78th group, entering our 28th year at HUF! We love sharing this experience with them.

We have done a lot in the short time we have been together so far. Orientation, Scandicci and Florence visit highlighted by singing hymns together in the crypt of the San Miniato church. Church on Sunday with the Italian brethren.

Classes, onsite classes, cultural and language exchange classes, cooking classes: so much learning taking place! We also enjoyed a Italian premiere soccer game Florence vs Geneo!

Last night we divided the group up in random pairs and had our "English for Pasta" evening.  Your children went home to have a meal and share time and English with Italian families!

I know some of you follow me on Instagram at @robertearlshack but if you don't, well you might want to because I post many photos of your children!

Our visiting teachers were my students in 1996!  Ok, yes, I'm getting older. It is wonderful to have Shawn, Jennifer, Elizabeth and Rachel Fisher here this semester!

Our staff Silvia, Sandro, Paola, Leda, and Elisabetta are doing great!  They serve all of us in so many ways and I am thankful to God for them.

Grant, our assistant is in his second full semester!  He continues to do such a great job and has spent many hours already with your children.

On Sunday we had a potluck at the Florence church. HUF, Lipscomb, and Faulkner students were all our guests. It was a full church building!

Super bowl party later that night (actually early morning) and late classes the next day.

Keep us in your prayers.  We're off for a three day trip to the Abetone mountains near the Apuan Alps!

God bless you!
Robbie, HUF Director


Student's Note

Traveling to Italy for a semester abroad has already been one of the best experiences of my life. Walking around the streets of Florence, eating gelato and finding dreamy photo opportunities have filled my days. One of the best, and definitely the most interesting, memories I’ve made on the trip so far has been “English for Pasta.” Every semester, local families open up their home and invite students over to eat a traditional Italian meal. Going into the evening I thought I would be able to easily converse with my family, but when I quickly learned that my family didn’t speak any English, I knew I was in for an interesting night. After a wonderful dinner, and a whole lot of smiling combined with “I don’t understand, we sat down for a round of board games. You might not always understand one another, but a riveting game of Italian Clue can bring people together better than words. By the end of the night everyone was laughing and having a good time. I could tell the family genuinely wanted to get to know us, even though the language barrier made it hard. I’ll never forget the kindness that a family of complete strangers showed me and how we might be different, but working to find our common interests created a memory I will never forget.

- Grace, HUF Student

Today was without a doubt my favorite day in Florence thus far! We woke up early this morning and took the tram in to town to climb the Duomo. Five hundred steps later we were at the top. Yes, my legs were burning!

The view from the top was truly awesome. Filippo Brunelleschi designed the dome and it was finished in 1426!! It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I climbed to the top of a building that is 591 years old... We had class this afternoon and then we went home with random strangers. Well, sort of.

For dinner we participated in a program called "English for Pasta." What's that you ask?? Families here in Scandicci open their homes up to us students and we have dinner together! Tonight, Maleah (fellow Harding student) and I went home with the Pecchioli family. We had dinner, played with their puppy, played games and went bowling. Want to know the best part? They hardly spoke any English! I never could have imagined having such a great time with people who barely spoke my language. The kids were so sweet and were overjoyed to have us in their home. When it was time for us to leave, you could tell they were so sad... So we reschedule and are going back next Sunday! Even though all we did was have dinner, I know that God is working through these encounters. I cannot wait to go back next week to reconnect and grow the relationship that was formed tonight.

-Austin, HUF Student

HUF Birthdays

Happy birthday to Jacob and Austin!

Final Shot

  The Harding University villa sits on a hill in Tuscany, Italy. This semester 36 students and a family of four call this big house on the hill  Home .

The Harding University villa sits on a hill in Tuscany, Italy. This semester 36 students and a family of four call this big house on the hill Home.

Posted on February 6, 2017 .

Fall 2016 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

What was your "Aha"

Throughout this semester we have been on a journey. We have traveled across Italy as a group and the students have been to many other parts of Europe. We have seen some of the greatest works of art in the world and discussed ideas that have formed the foundation to much of life as we know it. We have experienced the intricacies of the Italian culture and discovered ways to bridge the boundary between our two world-views. 

So it is fitting that our last Greetings from HUF for this semester include excerpts from the student's final writing assignment of the semester. Part of the essay is a reflection on the following question:

What was your "Aha" moment of the semester? When did all of what we have been doing come together and somehow cause something to click in your mind?

"At HUF I’ve been encouraged daily to get out of my comfort zone, adventure and explore wherever I am, do something crazy, befriend someone who probably doesn’t speak the same language as I do—in whatever we do at HUF, we are encouraged to experience it. This has shaped me more than anything. Because of this I have looked at every opportunity I’m given to see all possible positive outcomes. I think that is my greatest souvenir. Because although I am free to do or not do what I want, if I’m not living my life, than it will have all been a waste."

– Meredith

"I learned things I was not expecting to learn, and I appreciated the world and the people around me. There is beauty in nature and people and there are lessons in everything around us. I learned through experiences and actually going to the places we were studying about. I also learned many valuable life lessons such as how to deal with difficult situations and how to compromise. I have seen the true meaning of how to love with the love of the Lord, and I have seen God’s work worldwide. I have gained knowledge about other cultures, and I have found a deeper appreciation for my own country. I have seen the world in a new light, and I see the world as a much smaller place."


"By seeing the works and hearing the stories of Michelangelo, he taught me three things. He taught me that it was okay to make mistakes, he taught me that I should have pride in everything that I do, and he taught me that even if I do not enjoy what I am doing that I should still do it with the best of my ability. The things I learned here at HUF will stick with me for the rest of my life and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Italy. There is nothing that I would trade for these memories and I will look back on them fondly for years to come."

– Justin

"Italy is different from the states but the history and the unspoken rules are things I’ve come to love, not be frustrated by. I’ve come to realize that our differences aren’t bad but rather a way to learn and grow. The culture of Florence has helped me to see that my way isn’t the only way and maybe it’s not always the best way. Throughout my time here I have realized that I have so much in this world to see and learn, meaning I should never stop seeking to know more about other cultures and learn from people who come from a different place than me. I have realized that being confined to one place and one group of people does nothing to help you and that life is much more exciting and joy filled when you can see things from a different perspective. It is a much more joyful life when I choose to see goodness in our differences and to share moments of joy when I learn more about God’s most unique creations. This trip has taught me to truly seek beauty and joy all around me: in nature, in architecture, and in people."

– Caroline

The students have now left the villa and it seems like only last week they had just arrived. These 15 students have now entered the roll of HUF alumni who can share their story and experience with others. 

Another semester has come and gone but that does not diminish the significant life changes and world-view shifts that have taken place in the past three months. 

From everyone at the Harding University in Florence program, we hope and pray that somehow the students have been affected by this experience. Because through them we hope that they can help make this world a better place. 

Posted on December 5, 2016 .

Fall 2016 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

The Eternal City

Our trip to Rome consisted of four intense days visiting sites all over the city including St. Paul Outside the Wall, the Roman Forum, Colosseum, St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery and many other sites. 

Our trip to Rome is unlike any of our other group trips in that we do not use onsite teachers. Instead, each student is assigned a site or topic to research beforehand and then has to teach the rest of the group when we arrive in their given location while in Rome. Each student becomes the information source for the rest of the group to learn from. 

While we are together during the mornings and some afternoons, the students are given free time each of the days to explore the city on their own so they can experience The Eternal City. 

Student's Note:

A couple weeks ago, we had the privilege of visiting Rome for a few days.

We saw all of the iconic places: the Pantheon, Colosseum, and of course the Trevi Fountain - places we've only seen in history books (and for all of us on the trip, our many viewings of the Lizzie McGuire Movie). They truly were dreams come true, but it was something else that really caught my eye and made me think a little bit harder.

A few of us stumbled across a cat sanctuary located amongst a city of ruins. Somehow, seeing all of the cats roaming around, made me imagine the time when it would have been people doing the roaming. What did they wear? What did they eat? How did they approach relationships with others? You can read anything you could possibly imagine in a history book, but somehow seeing the ruins with your own eyes helps it "click". It was so fascinating to me to put two and two together - this must have been an amazing place. So when in Rome? Do as the Romans.

Several of us decided to spend one of our nights living like Italians - we went out for a four course dinner. From the bruschetta to start to the tiramisu for desert; we laughed, shared stories and simply enjoyed each other's company. It was there, around the table, where so many memories were made. We were distracted from the technology and all other worries, and three hours seemed to vanish in no time at all.

When we paid for our meal, I realized that's how it must have been back then - people enjoying the company of other people. No technology or possessions to distract from the building of relationships: they just had people. And I think that's what this adventure is all about and that's what HUF is all about.

I very much enjoyed my time in Rome seeing the ruins of a once great (and still great) city. However, I also couldn't wait to return to our beautiful villa in Florence to continue building those relationships around the table as I had just done "when in Rome". 

-Kailey, HUF student

Be the Difference - Never Again

From the Director:

For several years, HUF students have been involved with a program called “Be the Difference – Never Again.”  This program, with its various projects, was started by Elizabeth Bettina, author of the book “It Happened in Italy,” along with myself.  If you go to the programs website (click here) you can watch a 10-minute video we put together last year that explains how we participate in this initiative with the HUF students. We have already completed the first part of the program: students watched the video “From a Soldiers Eyes”  three weeks ago.  Then, on Monday, October 17 the students watched "Debt of Honor" (a PBS documentary). 

Each student was assigned a US soldier who is buried at the Florence WWII cemetery and asked to find as much information as possible about that individual. On Wednesday, October 19 students from Kent State University and Kennesaw State University joined the HUF students in Scandicci and bused together to the WWII cemetery near Florence.  Fiorenzo Iacono, cemetery administrative assistant, welcomed us and shared some introductory information with the students about the cemetery. More information about the Florence American Cemetery can be found here.

Students were given 20 minutes to reflect and place a flower at the grave of the individual they conducted research on. We met at the grave of Charles Spiegal where Mr. Marco Tofani, an Italian that has been honoring a fallen soldier for over 50 years, shared his story about meeting members of the family of Charles Spiegal. He spoke to the students about having received as a gift the flag that once laid over Charles’ casket from the Spiegal family. After our time with Mr. Tofani we met at the wall of mosaics in the covered area above the graves.

Fiorenzo Iacono shared the movement of the 10th mountain division and how they fought their way up the Italian peninsula, past the Gothic line, through the Apennine Mountains towards the Po Valley and the Alps. Fiorenzo also shared some war stories including one about four brothers and a cousin (five men from one family) that fought in WWII. Two of the brothers died and one is buried in the Florence cemetery. From there we all went to the cemetery chapel. 

Carla Fioravanti spoke to us about her life during WWII. Carla lived in Florence during WWII and her home was destroyed by the Allied bombing attack against the Nazi and Fascist troops. Her home was near the Florence Leopoldo/Porta al Prato train station during the war. Carla also shared about the difficulties of life during the war. She was 8 years old when her home was destroyed.  She shared vivid details about the destruction of the Florentine bridges over the Arno but how the Ponte Vecchio was spared. She told us about how she left her home only to return shortly after and see nothing but a mountain of rubble after the airstrikes.

Dr. Harper, historian from Kennesaw State University, spoke to the students about WWII history from the perspective of his family’s involvement, as did director of Kent State University, Dr. Fabrizzio Ricciardelli. Dr. Ricciardelli’s grandfather and other male family members left Italy and moved to the United States before the war because of their opposition to Fascism. Veteran and visiting professor at HUF, Mike Bucchi, spoke to the students from a soldier’s perspective about honoring those buried in the many war memorial cemeteries around the globe.

We ended our time at the cemetery singing two hymns, the Doxology and Amazing Grace, after which Mike then lead us in a closing prayer.

We had lunch together afterwards at the Harding Villa with our friends from Kent State and Kennesaw.

It is always a sobering visit for us when we go to the cemetery.  It is a moment filled with mixed emotions of pride, sadness and thankfulness.

-Robbie, director

First Independent Travel

The students traveled all over Europe during their first independent travel. Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and parts of Italy we do not see as a group were all visited by our students!

Student's Note:

When I imagined going on independent travel I imagined frolicking around Europe and posing for cheesy Instagram pictures. But when Kayla, Zach, Justin and I set out for our first stop—Vienna, Austria—we had no idea what was in store for us.

Now, you might think that I’m about to tell a crazy story that was terrifying at the time, ultimately brought us closer together as friends and taught us a valuable life lesson. If that’s what you’re expecting, I’m very sorry to disappoint. 
What I can tell you, however, is that while in Vienna we had a ton of fun. We got to go to the Schönbrunn Zoo, which is the oldest zoo in the world, and see polar bears (amongst other animals), try honeycomb and honey from the bees in the zoo, try honey gummy bears, enjoy the beautiful Shönbrunn gardens, see how apple strudel is made, bike around the city at night and enjoy authentic Austrian schnitzel. In short, we had pretty a great time. 

But it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows. 

The stresses of travel paired with the difficulty of spending every second of every day with the same people can create difficult situations. We got annoyed with each other— but that’s just a part of the human experience. The beauty of it is that every time there was conflict, we got an opportunity to learn about each other and try to see things from a different perspective.
With everything I’ve learned during my time here in Florence, the lesson I value most is how to deal with challenging situations in a way that honors God. 

-Meredith, HUF Student

Final Shot

  Onsite class at the Bargello museum that houses masterpieces by Renaissance masters such as Donatello, Giambologna and Michelangelo.

Onsite class at the Bargello museum that houses masterpieces by Renaissance masters such as Donatello, Giambologna and Michelangelo.

Posted on October 30, 2016 .

Fall 2016 - Greetings from HUF Newsletter

Last week we visited, as a group, the beautiful and historic hilltop Tuscan towns of San Gimignano, Siena and Monteriggioni. We spent the night at the Certosa di Pontignano, a former monastery now hotel that dates back to the 13th century. Our rooms were the cells that the former friars used as apartments!

The next day we enjoyed a relaxing day at the thermal baths of Terme San Giovanni and a scenic drive back to Florence through the Crete Siensi, a picturesque part of Tuscany with rolling hills and vistas that seem to continue on forever. Above and below are a selection of photos from those two days that make up our Tour of Tuscany trip. 

The HUF program has been built on relationships, many of them dating back to well before the students even began their academic journey in elementary school. Because of these relationships and the years of cultivation that they take, HUF students today have the opportunity to participate in incredible cultural experiences and see Italy like no other tourist would be able to.

A prime example of this is our friend, Martha Specht Corsi, the owner of the Castello di Porciano. Martha has graciously opened her family home, a restored 11th century castle, to HUF groups for many years as an opportunity for students to experience a taste of what rural, medieval Italy would have been like. This castle is even a place where the great Italian poet Dante stayed  while writing his masterpiece "The Divine Comedy."

Over the years, "The Castle," (as it is called amongst HUF groups) has become a place where many memories are made and this semester was no different. We were incredibly blessed with fantastic weather that allowed students to hike the various walking trails that snake through the valley, explore the small town of Stia, just below the castle and even practice watercolor painting with Robbie in the courtyard. 

This castle holds 1,000 years worth of memories and we are thankful to also be a part of its incredible story.


Click here for more information on the Castello di Porciano and Martha's story.

Visiting Professor's Note

It’s hard to believe we have been in Florence for three weeks. This immersion into the Italian culture has provided many wonderful experiences with Robbie and the students. Classes are off and running and the students keep us on our toes by asking great questions. We truly are blessed to share this experience with them; each one bringing their unique gifts and talents.    

This week, we had the pleasure of visiting Mulino di Bucchio, one of the oldest mills on the Arno River. This mill has been in the Bucchi family over 700 years with its oldest building dating back to the 13th century. It is said that the mill served Castello di Porciano for many years, the place Robbie arranged for us to stay for two nights while in Casentino.

Mulino di Bucchio has also been the site of a large trout hatchery, which received many prizes in the 1930’s by the Italian Department of Agriculture. The mill worked regularly until 1955, and then on and off until 1960. The last miller was Pietro Bucchi, known as “Pietrone” or “the Philosopher,” because of his long beard. In the 1970’s, the mill and its owner were visited by writers, journalists, and the RAI (an Italian TV network), who filmed a documentary on old legends and tales of the Casentino valley. They were very proud to tell us about this prestigious filming opportunity.

The Bucchi's prepared a marvelous dinner for our HUF family to enjoy. We began with a corn appetizer, palenta, which was quickly followed by an amazingly delicious fresh baked flatbread from the stone oven right outside the door. Then fresh meats and cheeses, chopped tomato blend, and platters of apple cake, blackberry, and apricot tortes were brought in to complete the evening. We were “stuffed to the gills.”

This was an especially meaningful experience for Mike as he felt a family connection to Claudio and his family.  Although they could not figure out if there was a close blood connection, there was a strong connection of spirit.  Mike felt as if he had found a long-lost cousin from his “roots.” They hugged, smiled, and shook hands numerous times. It was evident they felt a deep connection. Robbie translated so they could talk with one another and share information about their family history, but the real communication was seen in the smiles and hugs. It was very special and felt like “home in Italy,” even if only for few short minutes.

-Mike and Marilyn Bucchi, visiting professors

Student's Note

As our cars wound through the Casentino mountains, we marveled at the Tuscan towns and medieval towers.  Little did we know that nothing could compare with the view from our castle.  For three days and two nights, we had the honor of calling the Castello di Porciano our home.  This castle was built in the 13th century by the Guidi counts, a powerful aristocratic family.  After centuries of neglect, an ancestor of the counts rebuilt the interior of the castle in the 1960s.  This restoration enabled us to experience the castle in a unique way. In the courtyard where knights had jousted, we learned about the history and culture of the area.  In the tower where Dante penned the Inferno, we wrote in our journals.  In a grand hall, we ate our dinner while peering down into the valley.  One evening, we climbed up to the battlements of the castle for a devotional.  Here, we sang songs to our Creator under the stars and marveled at His handiwork in the Casentino mountains.  We thanked Him for the minds that created this castle and those who preserved it for a millennium.  I will forever cherish this experience from my time in Italy. 

-Sarah, HUF Student

Posted on October 11, 2016 .