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History of The School - Study Abroad

In 1963, Lucy Ferrari and her husband Olivio arrived from Switzerland at Auburn University, where Olivio was to spend a year teaching architecture, and Lucy was an assistant librarian, teaching library science. Despite both being well-traveled individuals, nothing could have prepared them for the new culture. However, the friendly nature of the people and true Southern hospitality charmed the Ferraris, who extended their time at the university an additional year.

It was right around the time that Olivio's position was wrapping up, when the couple received a phone call that prolonged their time in the United States for just a bit longer. The call was from Virginia Tech, VPI at the time, and the dean at that time, Charles Burchard, was wondering if Olivio had any interest in joining the architecture faculty. Olivio accepted the invitation, and the two headed up to Tech. Despite the charms of Auburn, settling in Blacksburg felt, for the first time since they'd left Switzerland, like home.

The Ferraris' positive experience at Virginia Tech left them feeling as though they should give back to the university. In 1968, accompanied by twenty architecture students, they headed to Salzburg, Austria, a new experience for the couple as well as the students. The group managed to secure a classroom at the town's university; one that overlooked the cathedral and city square. The group lived in a guest house outside the city, and Lucy arranged bicycles for everyone to navigate around the area.

Back at Tech, Lucy began teaching German for Architects, a preparatory class for those students who would later travel with her and Olivio. The classes continued once the group arrived in Austria as well, and the experience is one that Lucy remembers as some of the best groups she encountered as they were so eager to learn and see and do all that they could. Once they moved the study abroad program further south in Switzerland, she started a course called Cultural Studies for Architects, which included the Italian language and European culture.

The locations changed throughout the years to which the Ferraris took student groups overseas, traveling all over Europe.

However, in 1976, the couple decided they wanted to settle the studies in Switzerland. They spent three years teaching groups in Basel, in northern Switzerland, as well as some time in a small farm village in the north. Later, the group started going more toward the south, ending up around Lake Lugano, south of the Alps in the area strongly influenced by the surrounding Italian culture. During that time, the group stayed in a hotel, each year returning to the same one. However, Lucy always hoped to someday find a place for students that would feel like home, much as Blacksburg had felt for her and Olivio.

One day, as the couple drove around the area, frustrated about not having a place to call their own where students and faculty could live and learn and work together, they stumbled upon an old villa, somewhat neglected in appearance, with its gardens overgrown. They inquired about it and were pleased to find out that it in fact was for sale. The couple selling the Casa Maderni were in their eighties and were both former professors, so when they learned of the Ferraris' plans for their villa, they did all they could to ensure that the sale would go through.

With the help of Virginia Tech President Charles Steger [Dean of the College of Architecture & Urban Studies at the time] and the Virginia Tech Foundation, the villa, located in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland was purchased in December of 1991. In January, 1992, a group of architecture students accompanied the Ferraris to Riva to help in the initial renovations as they studied. With no heat, the accommodations were a bit primitive, but nonetheless, each loved the house and the city around it.

The first official academic year began in the fall of 1993. By that time, the villa featured a professional cook, nice rooms, classrooms, a studio, and office space for faculty.

Fifteen years later, Tech students continue to spend their time abroad in the villa. Although it recently underwent further renovations three years ago, the house remains as it was when it opened for students the first time. The villa has seen over 1,000 students come and go over the years, and will serve as 'home' for many Hokies to come.

The Ferraris played an instrumental role in establishing the Center for European Studies and Architecture [now renamed the Steger Center for International Scholarship], the Olivio Ferrari Foundation, and continued to play a very active part in its operations. The Ferrari family donated around three thousand books from their personal collection to the library there as well.

Information provided by Lucy Ferrari, October 2017