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Program Description:

Program Overview     

The study of crime and organized groups, through embedded international travel, will include a look at the history of organized crime, the effects globalization has had on the proliferation across borders and the threat to international security, and the current movement to end the influence of Mafia groups. As the "birthplace" of organized crime in the 19th century, Palermo provides a unique setting for experiencing the historical and living tradition of organized crime. It is Sicily's varied history and multiple governments that led to the creation and necessity of the Mafia. The Mafia began as a way of life: a way to protect one's family and loved ones from the injustice of the government. Sicily's long string of judicially inept governments fostered an environment where those who were shrewd enough could manipulate the system to their advantage, creating wealth, power and prestige. Rome, as the capital of Italy, has seen the effects of Mafia groups and legislators and judges have worked relentlessly to create laws that would drastically affect the structure and reach of the Mafia.

Today, what most people know about Italian criminal organizations comes from stereotypical representations in popular culture – films and literature. The film The Godfather typifies some of the practices of the Italian mafia over the last few decades. Throughout history, in Italy and elsewhere, a common practice of paying the "pizzo," or protection money, was commonplace for business owners. In 2008, the pizzo racket generated 17 billion dollars in earnings, with up to 80% of Palermo businesses habitually paying the pizzo to avoid conflict. In the past, the payment of the pizzo would allow business owners to operate without interference from the Mafia or others and often resulted in extortion.

In 2004, seven young social activists in Palermo, Sicily, actively worked to bring about social change by encouraging pubic resistance to the Mafia's extortion and intimidation through the pizzo; creating Comitato Addiopizzo (goodbye pizzo). The association provides legal, moral and social support to those brave enough to report extortionists to the police. As a result of their efforts, the association has over 200 traders and entrepreneurs and over 9,000 consumers committed to buy only at shops or businesses belonging to the "pizzo-free" list.

Our travel to Sicily and Rome, Italy, will focus on the rich history of organized criminal groups, their globalization and how it has affected not only Italy, but other countries, and the social activism which has profoundly changed the economic, social, and psychological landscape of the city and country.

Program Quicklinks     

Housing and Meals
Program Costs
Financial Aid & Scholarships
More Information
How to Apply
Other Useful Links



Any pre-requisite courses are established by the faculty leader or department hosting the course.  The following have been listed as pre-requisites for consideration to enroll in this course and travel on the embedded education abroad program:
  • This course is available for all students from all majors at the Penn State Berks campus.
  • Admission in the course and permission to travel with the group are at the discretion of the faculty leader and/or academic department hosting the course.  Academic standing and disciplinary or conduct issues may impact eligibility.

Housing and Meals

During the embedded travel component, housing will consist of dormitory/student housing accommodations.

Program Costs

Students pay regular Penn State tuition (either in-state or out-of-state) for the credits associated with the embedded course.  Travel costs, lodging, meals, excursions, and other fees are determined by the program budget which is set by the program leader.  Please consult the program leader for additional information.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

Global Programs administers a scholarship that is specifically designated to support students studying abroad on embedded courses.  The scholarship is competitive, and the deadlines to apply are strictly enforced.  Please review the Embedded Programs Scholarship eligibility, deadlines, and application process.

For More Information

For more information about this course, please contact the program leader: Debra Dreisbach by emailing

How to Apply

 The process for enrolling in an embedded course varies according to the instructor and/or department.  The program leader has indicated that in order to enroll in the course and travel component, students must contact the program leader, Debra Dreisbach, by emailing

Studying Abroad with a Disability

Many students with disabilities successfully study abroad each year. Please note that other cultures may have different attitudes and available accommodations regarding disabilities. While we cannot guarantee the accessibility of all program sites and locations, specific accommodations may be arranged in consultation with our office, the Student Disability Resources office, and our partners abroad. To prepare for success, students are strongly encouraged to research the country and program location to consider if and how they will manage their disabilities abroad in advance of selecting a program. Students with disabilities and other diverse backgrounds can begin their research on our Diversity Awareness Abroad page.




Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Spring- Embedded 2020 08/21/2019
Rolling Admission 03/05/2020 03/15/2020
NOTE: The application deadline date is NOT as it appears above. Please contact the program leader (Debra Dreisbach) by emailing ( if you are interested in applying for this embedded program.

** Indicates rolling admission application process. Students will be immediately notified of acceptance into this program and be able to complete post-decision materials prior to the term's application deadline.

Indicates that deadline has passed