Nutrition and dietetics majors study Mediterranean diet in Greece this summer

A. Sue Weisler

Zoraa Victor, a fourth-year student in the dietetics and nutrition BS program in the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, will spend six weeks studying the plant-based Mediterranean diet at Perrotis College in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece.

For RIT student Zoraa Victor, studying the Mediterranean diet in Greece is the kind of memorable experience she wished to have in the summer before her senior year in college.

Victor, a fourth-year student in the dietetics and nutrition BS program in the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, will spend six weeks studying the plant-based diet at Perrotis College in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece.

“I wanted to learn more about the Mediterranean diet and interact with people who are eating this diet all the time,” said Victor, from Laurel, Md. “We hear about how great the Mediterranean diet is in class and in the news; but it’s one thing to hear about it, and another to be immersed in a culture that uses this diet as its foundation.”

Along with Victor, dietetics and nutrition majors Emma Hornak and Maddy Degenfelder will also attend the program that runs from June 3 to July 17. RIT Global awarded the students scholarships to cover tuition and housing, and the students will pay for airfare and optional excursions.

The rigorous structure of the dietetics and nutrition program leaves little room for a traditional semester-long study abroad experience, but RIT Global found an option that would give the students a meaningful experience in their field and within the time constraints of their undergraduate program. The students will take two courses—Mediterranean Diet and Greek Cultural Experience—and earn six credits and the equivalent of an internship.

For Hornak, the experience in Greece will also check off her personal goal to study abroad during her college experience.

“I hope that I’ll take away a different perspective on nutrition,” said Hornak, a fourth-year student from Rochester, N.Y. “There’s also the Greek culture and history part of study abroad that I’m really excited about.”

Perrotis College is an American agricultural college that specializes in climate sustainable agriculture, environmental science and life sciences, and has a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded research program. In May, Brenda Abu, assistant professor in the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, made an exploratory visit to the college to meet the professors and discuss potential collaborations.

“The students who are going this year will have first-hand experience of multiple topics we’ve discussed in our nutrition courses,” Abu said. “It’s important to know that as much as diet plays, it’s a whole life style, and they will be able to see these things.”

The Mediterranean diet is a generic term for the traditional cuisine adopted by people who live along the Mediterranean Sea and consists of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, olive oil, and red wine, in moderation, and includes a lifestyle of sharing meals and enjoying food. Meat, dairy, and sweets are eaten less frequently. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies from the 1950s first linked the traditional diet and lifestyle in the Mediterranean region to lower rates of stroke and heart disease than in the United States. The contrast caught people’s attention.

Victor is eager to learn about the Mediterranean diet in person rather than from a textbook. She wants to grasp the concepts from both health and culture standpoints, she said.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world, and there’s no better place to learn about it than Greece, noted Degenfelder, a second-year student from Brockport, N.Y. She’s hoping to become more knowledgeable in the Mediterranean diet and to share what she learns back home.

This will be her second trip this year out of the United States. During spring break, Degenfelder went with the RIT student Christian club Cru on a mission trip to Antigua, Guatemala, to install water filters in people’s homes. She came away with an appreciation for the family-oriented, community-based lifestyle there. Now, Degenfelder is approaching her trip to Greece with a similar curiosity. “I hope to find something about Greece that draws me in and certain aspects that I can implement into my own life.”

Hornak is the incoming president of RIT’s Student Dietetic and Nutrition Association, and she plans to use her new role to motivate younger students to take advantage of summer study abroad options.

“I hope I can take that experience and talk to other people in the major about it, because I know a lot of people think they don’t have the time to do a traditional study abroad program,” Hornak said.

This will be Victor’s and Degenfelder’s first trip to Europe.

“Traveling in general is gaining a more comprehensive view of the world,” Degenfelder said. “I think that’s good no matter what field you’re going into.”

To learn more about study-abroad scholarships, go to RIT Global.

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