For UT students who dream of an authentic Italian experience without the costly plane ticket, the Italian Club’s Immersion Weekend promises to be a lively and affordable alternative.

The annual trip, which begins March 9, will allow students to delve further into Italian culture and language in a less confined setting than the typical classroom. For a rate of $50 covering food and lodging, students will stay the weekend at Buffalo Mountain, a lakefront retreat center near Jonesborough, Tenn.

“The Immersion Weekend helps many of our young undergraduates to get a taste of what functioning in an Italian environment would be like,” Renee D’Elia-Zunino said.

D’Elia-Zunino, an Italian professor at UT, initiated Immersion Weekend in 2005 with the help of her colleague, Anna Chiara Mariani. She is excited by the unique opportunity the trip presents her students with.

“They will experience an all-Italian lifestyle for three days,” D’Elia-Zunino said.

This lifestyle includes cooking authentic dishes from scratch, listening to traditional music and watching Italian films. In a whimsical, camp-like spirit, group activities such as treasure hunts, campfires and storytelling will even be incorporated.

This, according to D’Elia-Zunino, allows for students to get a feeling of “true Italian life”, stirring their interest in the culture as well as the language.

“Engaging students in what is typically class work within an immersion context forces them into a mental activity that functions as a targeted strategy, rather than as a general ‘stay afloat.’ Furthermore, the students get a chance to verify their progress,” D’Elia-Zunino said.

Paisleigh Kelley, a junior in communication studies and English literature who attended the trip last year, found this practical, instructive aspect of the trip beneficial.

“I viewed the Immersion Weekend as a way to learn about Italian culture from real Italians in the presence of my classmates,” Kelley said. “I wanted a platform to practice my Italian that was not as rigid as school and I found that a weekend getaway was a good facilitator in that regard.”

In addition to these academic benefits comes another that is arguably most important to participants — the trip is just plain fun.

“I’m most looking forward to taking a weekend away from the stresses of school,” Clayton Gupton, junior in Italian and club president, said.

Justin Jornd, senior in linguistics and Italian, agreed.

“I’m excited for some time with good friends and good food while enjoying nature and practicing Italian,” Jornd said.

Events such as Immersion Weekend are typical of the club and the Italian program in full, both being known for their dedication to exposing students to as many aspects of Italian ethos as possible.

“UT should be proud of the efforts we make to engage students in a full language immersion,” D’Elia-Zunino said. “Besides the Germans, no other language program does this.”

Due to a relative lack of media coverage in comparison to past years, the professor feels that some students may overlook the Italian program when selecting their foreign language elective.

“Our program is not dead,” D’Elia-Zunino said. “Far from it — instead it is alive and kicking! We still offer majors and minors, and we have a very active Italian Club.”

These efforts include a different film showing each month, as well as an Italian table every Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the Starbucks at Hodges library. Those interested are encouraged to check out web.utk.edu/~clubital for more information.

“The Italian Club and program in general offer so much to students, like the Immersion trip,” Jornd said. “I’m looking forward to what will doubtlessly be a great time.”

As of press time, a few spots still remain available for the trip. The trip is open to all UT students, not only those studying Italian. Anyone interested should contact D’Elia-Zunino at rdelia@utk.edu.