Cal Poly Language & Culture in Sicily 2023

The Cal Poly Language & Culture in Sicily Program for summer 2023 is a 4-week program located in Palermo, Italy, a city rich in thousands of years of multicultural history. Students will live as locals, studying and soaking in vibrant daily life, language and traditions. Open to all undergraduate majors, students will experience Sicily’s capitol city, its multi-ethnic roots at the crossroads of the ancient and modern world, and develop their awareness as global citizens. Activities will include classroom instruction, but go far beyond it to immerse students in the local culture, visit inspiring cultural sites in the city in on out-of-town trips and team-up with local organizations to meet the widely diverse people that make Palermo their home.

At a Glance

Where: Palermo, Italy

When: June 24 – July 23, 2023

Facilities: Convento di Sant’Antonino, University of Palermo

Housing: Shared apartments with University of Palermo students/faculty

Field Trips: 2 day-trips, 1 overnight trip

Credits: 8 units granted by Cal Poly for 2 courses

Palermo at the Crossroads of Civilisations

Students in this program will live and study in the heart of historic Palermo, which has been a melting pot and a center of diverse civilizations for millennia. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Spanish, French all passed through this incredible gateway to the Mediterranean, leaving their traces in the mix of urban architecture, art, language, religion, folklore, and musical and culinary traditions. Today, Palermo continues to reflect the fusion of diverse cultures and traditions that make up its unique identity. From centuries-old dome studded streets to the souk-like market of the now contemporary Ballarò marketplace, one can see and taste the richness of the city’s cross-cultural history.


WLC-310 Cultures of Italy

This GE class will examine Italian Culture through classroom lecture and active on-site lessons, guest instruction and hands-on learning activities in the local community. (4 units, GE Area C4)

Italian Language Course

This Italian language course will be taught by local, native speakers from ITASTRA, the University of Palermo’s Language Center. There is no language pre-requisite to attend this course. (4 units)

Special Activities

Students will leave the classroom to learn in the city on regular and special cultural visits to Palermo’s monuments and fascinating everyday places.

Palermo Psychosocial Tour with MoltiVolti

AIA has teamed with MoltiVolti to introduce students to Palermo’s richly multicultural and ethnically diverse population, through tours, cultural events, encounters and meals. MoltiVolti, meaning “Many Faces”, is a socially committed, multicultural non-profit organization with a social center located in the historic and vibrant Ballarò market quarter. The social center and its restaurant and activities attract a widely diverse gathering of people of all backgrounds. In addition to organized program activities, program students can study, relax and practice their Italian language skills in the MoltiVolti social space.

The psychosocial tours of historic Palermo feature a series of activities to help students critically understand the socio-cultural dynamics of Sicily’s ethically diverse capitol, with a focus on migration and immigrant groups. This active learning experience will span two days, and include: lectures, cultural visits, group walks, debates with local NGOs and refugees, round tables, concerts and two group dinners with local residents.

Cultural Visits

From the intimate to the monumental scale, frequent class site visits will immerse students in Palermo’s vibrant cultural tapestry. Visits will include guided tours of the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum and the Teatro Massimo, Europe’s third largest opera house, the Palermo Cathedral, whose architecture reflects over eight-hundred years of changing history and styles, the extraordinary Norman Palace, where Norman kings reigned, with its golden Palatine Chapel, as well as a visit to the exquisite Arab-Norman palace La Zisa. Site visits will also include the Monreale Cathedral, Sicily’s largest religious center, built in the 12th century on a hillside overlooking Palermo’s Conca d’Oro mountain range that encircles the city. AIA will provide each student a public transit pass to get to all these program destinations and around the city on their free time.

Field Trips

Experienced faculty and local experts will lead the group on three field trips to locations on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites. The program will travel by private coach on two day-trips to archeological and cultural sites near Palermo and one two-day trip to Sicily’s southern coast.

Day-trip to Erice and San Vito lo Capo

The group will explore the medieval town of Erice, where ancient Phoenician, Greek and Roman settlers built their sacred sites against the dramatic setting of Mount Eryx overlooking the Tyrrhenian coast. The trip continues to San Vito lo Capo, a seaside town where students will experience local traditions first-hand and then have time for a swim in the sea before returning to Palermo.

Day-trip to Cefalù

The group will travel about 45 miles for a day-trip to the city of Cefalù, The town is enclosed by the natural park of the Madonie, and is ranked as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Possibly founded by the Phoenicians 25 centuries ago, the town has since been shaped by Roman, Arab, Norman, French and Spanish and finally Italian rule. The fascination of these multicultural influences led Goethe to include a trip to Cefalù in his 18th century Grand Tour.

Field trip to Piazza Armerina and Agrigento

This overnight trip will feature guided visits to ancient Greek and Roman archeological sites, an authentic, local, multi-course dinner and another chance to swim in the Mediterranean sea. The group will tour the Villa Romana del Casale, a 4th-century Roman dwelling with some of the world’s best preserved Roman mosaics and Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, a vast archeological site showcasing the ancient Greek city of Akragas. The group will stay in a comfortable hotel nearby the Scala dei Turchi, a striking geological formation of natural stairs that descend into the Mediterranean sea.

Culinary Traditions

Sicilian culinary culture is strongly linked to the traditions of agriculture, fishing and trade of the territory that today still combines elements of the many cultures that have settled on this island, with hints of Greek traditions and spices typical of Northern Africa. Food is an essential part of Sicilian culture, and students will have many opportunities to savor wonderful Sicilian meals made of simple, but nutritious and local ingredients.
Program group meals include a welcome dinner on the first night of the program and a lively aperitivo, between AIA, University of Palermo staff and faculty members, program students and their roommates. The Agrigento field trip will feature a multi-course dinner of local fare, and finally, the last night of the trip will include a farewell dinner to leave a taste of Palermo’s culinary traditions in the hearts of all participants.

Student Housing

Students will live like locals as they share furnished apartments with local peers and language tutors from the University of Palermo. Flats feature shared common spaces and kitchens and include linens and WiFi internet access. They are located in the heart of the city’s historic center and well connected by public transportation or walking to lively neighborhoods and classrooms.


Students will be inspired by history as they learn in a contemporary university facility. The University of Palermo’s Linguistic Center is located in the 17th-century former convent of Sant’Antonino, which was repurposed as a teaching center in 2012. Its modern, comfortable classrooms are air-conditioned, WiFi ready and fully equipped for language learning. This new language center is also a fascinating historic structure that still displays the rich character of its past, such as the antique mills and machinery its monks used to make bread as well as a museum dedicated to the art, industry and history of bread-making.


The program’s faculty leader, Professor Elvira Pulitano, is an Italian native from Sicily, who shares her first-hand knowledge and insight of this region through the objective lens of ethnographic studies.
Professor Pulitano teaches in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Cal Poly specializing in Indigenous & African Diaspora studies.  Her current research focuses on artistic responses to discourse of irregular migration and border crossing in the Mediterranean. A native of Italy, she is a strong advocate for Study Abroad Programs and has taught in the Cal Poly Global Programs in Spain and Perú.
Contact Prof. Pulitano at

Program Support

This program is managed for Cal Poly by Academic Initiatives Abroad through the AIA Rome Center and its local partners. AIA provides program management and student services including: pre-departure information, orientation, housing and facilities assistance, on-site cultural activities and field trip support. AIA is a respected study abroad provider with significant experience in Italy programs. Learn more about AIA.

Learn More about this Program on the Calpoly Program Webpage