Learning in the shadow of Rome's ruins
There aren’t many Australian university students who get the chance to study in Rome, in the midst of the city’s iconic landmarks, captivating streets and irresistible food. Every year, ACU offers short-term study trips across most health sciences disciplines, allowing students to learn while immersing themselves in Italian life.
“Studying in Rome made me realise how we are provided with amazing opportunities through ACU,” says Sophie Nash, a fourth-year occupational therapy student.
“I gained a new perspective on how lucky we are to study and travel simultaneously, and the experience has made me more grateful for the path I have chosen.”
Sophie was one of 26 undergraduates from ACU’s School of Allied Health who visited Rome in 2023, as part of a multidisciplinary cohort that included students in the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy, Bachelor of Speech Pathology and Bachelor of Social Work.
Led by ACU academics Dr Elisa Yule and Dr Michelle Smith-Tamaray, the two-week trip was based on a special course unit that explored global perspectives of community-centred practice.
“In terms of the Rome aspect, I think such a big part of working with communities is actually understanding the community context and the way the community works,” says Dr Yule, a senior lecturer in occupational therapy, and deputy head of the School of Allied Health.
“Once you take a group of students out of their normal environment and into a new place, the things they’ve been taught around working with communities can really come alive.
“They’re able to gain a greater understanding of the impact of culture and place on the way people view health, where they go to seek support with their health, and what health and wellbeing means to them. That’s an invaluable experience that is difficult to replicate at home.”
Also in Rome during the mid-year recess were 22 psychology postgraduate students, led by Dr Joanne Bennett, a lecturer with ACU’s School of Behavioural and Health Sciences.
Based at the university’s Campus di Roma in Monteverde, the postgraduates completed an intensive course unit on evidence-based practice for psychologists, aimed at giving students the skills to critically evaluate current research for improved clinical practice.
ACU psychology students in Rome.
Geared toward those with a desire to understand how psychology can have a global impact, it included guest lectures from international academics with varied areas of expertise.
“In Australia, we have a very focused perspective on how psychologists deliver clinical care for our clients,” says Dr Bennett, who specialises in teaching research design and statistics to both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
“Being exposed to experts in other areas of clinical practice gave students an appreciation for other clinical perspectives, and that really opened up their minds to different ways of perceiving evidence, and different methods of supporting clients.”
The psychology cohort heard from the Director of the Rome Campus, Dr Claudio Betti, who delivered a lecture on the history and dynamics of Italian politics and socioeconomic challenges. He also invited several refugees to address the students, sharing their experiences of displacement and survival.
“The students found that to be incredibly powerful,” Dr Bennett says. “To have conversations with these refugees and to hear the message of hope amid tragedy.”
Field trips to St Peter’s Basilica and the Church of Santa Maria formed part of the group’s ‘research in action’ investigation project, using qualitative observational research.
“We looked at how spirituality and sacred spaces can impact mental health, and the varied emotional experiences that people had in these spaces,” says Dr Bennett, who points out that ACU is the only Australian university that offers an international unit as part of postgraduate psychology degrees.
“The goal is to highlight to the students how important it is to understand and evaluate research, because it helps to inform and improve their clinical work and how they might assist their clients. To do this in Rome was an added bonus, and we had some really meaningful experiences.”
Immersed in culture
Getting out in the community was also a highlight for the allied health students who visited Rome.
As part of the tour, the students worked at a pharmacy that distributes medicines to people in need, and a migrant shelter that provides refugees with healthcare, legal assistance, food and clothing.
Allied health students enjoying the Italian city.
“These were fantastic opportunities for the students to immerse themselves in the community, while also gaining exposure to what allied health looks like within the Italian context,” says Dr Yule, adding that for many of the participants, it was the first time they had worked in a multidisciplinary team.
“It was great to see peer-to-peer learning between the three disciplines, bringing their different strengths and sharing them with others. There were some real lightbulb moments where they thought, ‘Oh, how exciting to work in communities alongside other health professionals’.”
Sophie Nash agrees, saying she gained valuable knowledge on how occupational therapists could collaborate with social workers and speech pathologists in community-centred care.
“The expertise that the other disciplines provide is extremely beneficial when filling in gaps of knowledge for patients,” she says. “It was also amazing to work with my peers when volunteering, seeing how passionate we all are to help when needed.”
When the students weren’t busy with community engagements and coursework, they were able to immerse themselves in Italian culture, exploring all the Eternal City has to offer.
“There were many benefits to studying in Rome – meeting new people from across the different ACU campuses, experiencing a different culture, sight-seeing and encouraging me to be more ambitious,” Sophie says. “It has taught me to try new things and step out of my comfort zone, because you never know what other opportunities or areas of practice are out there.”
Keen to explore a career in psychology or allied health at ACU? Explore the options.
Learn more about studying at ACU’s Rome Campus.