Study Abroad: Student Experiences


Emma Graham (‘19)

For four miraculous months in the Spring of 2017, I somehow got the amazing opportunity to live out all of my wildest fantasies. I, with notebook and pen always at the ready to take lecture notes on the side of a street, and a small battalion of equally Classically obsessed students were in Rome. Rome: the Eternal City, the strangest mythology. I may never be able to come to terms with what my time spent at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies actually was. Was it all a dream? How could something so life altering and all encapsulating actually happen to me, a girl from Los Angeles who just wanted to dress up in a toga and make her friends call her Trajan? Instead of trying to explain what happened while I was in Rome, I am going to highlight a few key moments that get at the heart of how powerful a semester at the ICCS can be. The past, the present, and the future unite as one in Rome and somehow everything that I knew, thought I knew, or will ever know, became interconnected into all seven hills of everything.

We were in Sicily (Sicily! Heaven on Earth) at the Villa Romana del Casale, a 4th Century AD imperial Villa with the most marvelously preserved mosaic floors that I could ever imagine. At this point in the semester, it had become known to my peers and professors that I had a deep- rooted obsession with mosaics. My friend Louisa once referred to me as a “mosaic hunter,” a title that I now wear with pride. I, desperate to get a shot of a particularly enthralling floor mosaic of a pigeon chariot race (I know, it sounds amazing; it was amazing) leaned over the banister to encapsulate the glory of these birds. Needless to say, I dropped my iPhone directly onto the ancient mosaic. I screamed aloud and cried out for help. My professors and I watched in suspense from above as an Italian custodian walked right onto the mosaic floor to heroically retrieve my cracked phone for me.

I touched a wall in Pompeii. It sounds like a basic thing; a tourist goes to Pompeii and inevitably touches a wall. But what I touched was something that someone touched in 79 AD. Maybe someone touched the very spot on the wall that I touched as they were dying in the eruption of Vesuvius. And maybe they had things in common with me; maybe they had everything in common with me. There, in that city, they ate and walked around and went to their local bakery. They took baths and they went to the theater and they loved the mosaics on their floors. Maybe they knew Seneca the Younger just as well as I know Seneca the Younger, if one can know someone through reading what they wrote in Latin. So I touched a wall. I extended my hand out into the past and was confronted with the crushing weight of so much time passing and yet so much time not passing at all.

My most cherished time was 5:30 pm during my nightly solo walks around the city. I began by walking up to the top of the Janiculum, passing fruit stands and apartments. This initial section of my walk took me around the Monument to Garibaldi. I could see all the way across the Tiber and into the city center. As I began to familiarize myself with the city, I could identify more of it. There was the Pantheon, there was the horrendous monument to the Republic, there the Theater of Pompey would have been. Monuments and streets: rebuilt over time starting from forever ago and tracking the line of succession, the development of a something that is so eternally bound, the rising and the falling of layers. I tracked the light in that city; the same light that would have existed in the Republic and way before the Republic. The 5:30 pm light in Rome, ever changing and ever beautiful. Brilliant lapis lazuli skies with darker even more vivid clouds, white washing the city at my feet. Hazy blue yellow golden yet somehow diamond cut clear, so sharp and distinct. This is what I will remember of Rome the most: alone I stood on top of a hill overlooking the city of all cities, then rushing back in time for dinner like so many people have before me.

Ben Sarraille ‘19

The hills of Rome were cut with rain and flowing water hundreds of years before its settlement, after the volcanic streams that burst forth from the Alban planes cooled as they met the Tiber. One such hill was the Gianicolo, lying between the early area of Roman occupation and the lands of Italic tribes, named for the two-faced god of liminal spaces, Janus. There in what was once a convent stands the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies–or Centro, for short. 

Rome is daunting when you first arrive–it stretches endlessly in all directions, drawing your attention to hidden pockets of antiquity and snapping you back to reality with the constant threat of reckless drivers. A short few days after arriving, your classes will be in full swing. You will continue an ancient language at the appropriate level. You will choose an elective of some sort–beginning Italian or perhaps Baroque art history. Last and certainly not least, you will take a double-credit class on the history of Rome with all other students at the Centro. 

In a matter of days you understand that your abroad experience is different than others. Certainly, I and several of my friends found time to explore Italy and Europe at large, but by no means were we traveling every weekend. You have too much work to do so–and as you do your work and further learn how much is contained in the very spot you stand, how much Rome surpasses even its name “eternal city,” you will not want to. 

Recall to your mind the times in middle school when your history professor told you of an upcoming field trip. Think of the excitement involved. Imagine living that every day, not at a museum a few hours away from your hometown, but in the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum. That is what life at the Centro is like. 

Those of you in beginning Italian can practice your skills daily, bargaining for gelato and stumbling your way into friendships at local pizzerias. Those of you in Art History will take a course that can be offered nowhere else in the world. Roman art, from antiquity through the Renaissance, cannot be experienced from any one angle. What others can only view as a series of pictures in a textbook you will see in full stature and glory. Even those not in the course cannot escape such exposure–Rome is perhaps the only place on earth where it is unlikely not to run into a Caravaggio.

You will live, eat, study, and talk with 30 others just like you–interested in and dedicated to classical studies. Each will bring their own skill sets, and each will only increase the experience you have. Two times in the semester you will go on fieldtrips–and somehow, these surpass those you will go on every week. In Sicily you will head through crucial sites in the Athenian expedition and the early colonization of Italy (while also drinking the best wine you will ever have–let no friend in Paris tell you otherwise.) Next, you head to Campania, staying in a Renaissance villa that has been in the program director’s family for decades, receiving permission to see special sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and eating food that will blow any other meal away, even after living so many weeks in Italy. For your final exam, one last time you will board a bus with your fellow Centristi. An hour or so later you will be dropped off in the remains of a city–you will be told its name and a short history of its founding. From there, it is up to you to identify every feature–amphitheater, forum, even the latrine that definitely looked like a fountain. It’s nerve-wracking at first, but as you begin you realize, you can do it–and that is a pretty amazing accomplishment. 

In all ways the Centro lives up to its name. It is the institution that has taught classicists the nation over for the past 5 decades (yes, this does mean you can find pictures of Professor Parslow and Professor Andy in the yearbooks in the library). More importantly, perhaps, it is, as it claims to be, the center. It brings together geology, history, language, literature, and geography in a way that may only be done in Rome, and you will be a better classicist and a better student for having experienced this intersection. Until the last minute, I did not intend to go abroad–it was only when Professor Parslow explained this program to me that I realized I would be a fool not to go. My only regret is that I cannot return–to the city I came to love, and the friends with whom I wandered Rome.  

Jessica Jordan (‘13)

For the Spring 2012 semester, I studied abroad in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies. Only those who have experienced it can understand how exciting it is to be in the Eternal City after studying it for so long. When I started translating stories about Caesar and Augustus back in the eighth grade, I never imagined I would actually get to stand in the Forum itself! It was the experience of a lifetime.  Days at the Centro” were very busy—most days we were out in the city itself for several hours, listening to lectures about concrete facings, conspicuous consumption, and imperial monuments. It was both exhausting and exhilarating, and certainly effective! By the end of the term, I could fill in a blank “map of Rome—I might not even have applied to the program if I had realized that was part of the final exam! Studying at ICCS also gave me the exciting opportunity to take part in an internship at the American Academy of Rome. Along with several other students, I helped update an online database archiving a number of the Academy’s artifacts. Not only did this give me the chance to spend time on the Academy’s lovely grounds as well as meet some of the fellows, I actually got to hold ancient objects!  One of my favorite memories of Rome happened during the second week, when we visited Ceveteri, the site of many Etruscan grave sites. I knew when I signed up for the program that I would be studying emperors and amphitheaters, but I had no idea I would get to climb inside ancient tombs! I had so much fun that day, exploring the massive tumuli with my little flashlight—I ended up being late back to the bus! Of course, I saw countless other amazing sites during my time abroad, but I feel that this day was most indicative of the overall experience: full of surprise and wonder, the simple joy of exploring the past and embarking on new adventures. As much as I love Wesleyan, I wouldn’t trade my semester in Rome for anything.

Lindsey Davis '11

As soon as I had determined to become a Classics major, I knew that I wanted to go abroad to the Centro in Rome, otherwise known as the ICCS Rome program. I spoke with a number of professors and students about how to prepare myself and, as I boarded my plane to Europe, I felt certain that I could gracefully tackle the semester ahead. Yet as rewarding as foreign study can be, diving into a new country and culture was more complicated than I could have imagined. Amid a whirlwind of Italian clips and phrases, I found my way to the English-speaking Centro, ready for a breath of fresh air. There the real work began. Every day at the Centro was fully packed with morning lectures, all-day field trips, and travels through the maze of Rome. My fellow students and I quickly learned the layout of the city as we traipsed from the Coliseum to the Palatine Hill to the Vatican crypts. We learned to identify different kinds of building materials and how to pick out Roman remains from modern reconstructions. If placed in the center of the Roman Forum, any one of us could have led a thoroughly informed tour for all who listened. This, at least, became apparent to me when my mother visited from California. As I walked her around the city, pointing out examples of box-architecture and 1st century columns, I soon realized that one woman had been following us as we traveled. When I noticed her and ceased speaking, she apologized and asked if she could continue to tag-along and listen while I finished my tour. My mother and I warmly accepted her until we went our separate ways, the woman thanking us for the unique commentary.   Certainly the ICCS program is not for everyone. In addition to the demanding course load and in-depth assignments, the close contact between the faculty and students was trying at times. The Centro functioned not so much as a school, but as a large household. We all shared every meal, every cranky morning, every birthday surprise and every late-night cram session. We waded through the rain together, desperately scribbling in our notebooks, and we explored some of the world’s most interesting monuments, running around the tombs at Cerveteri and marveling at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The four months I spent at the Centro was one of the most challenging periods I have ever experienced, and certainly one of the most enriching. No class can teach you how it feels to walk the city of Rome, to stare up from the bottom of Trajan’s column and run pottery fragments through your fingers at most every Roman site. The fodder of textbooks suddenly becomes a real, tangible thing as you feel temple walls beneath your fingertips and gaze over the valley-backdrop of an ancient theater. For those who apply to the ICCS program, I wish you a hearty “Buona Fortuna.” Pack lightly, bring a camera, and prepare yourself for an intense ride.



Sarah McCully ‘16

I am now back on the Wesleyan campus after spending my last spring semester abroad in Athens, Greece. It was perhaps the most obvious choice for me, being an archaeology and classical civilization double major, but my awesome experience with the city went way beyond the purely academic advantages it provided. For a city so steeped in its ancient history, it has a very vibrant and relaxed sense of the present. I didn’t have a lot of experience with traveling internationally, so the language barrier was definitely intimidating, and much more so than I expected. I found myself tracing familiar routines and places before I felt confident in stepping outside of those comfort zones. I couldn’t speak well to the people here in their language, and that constantly makes me feel guilty. 

But here’s the thing: it really shouldn’t. Americans have the unique luxury of hearing their language when they travel. Odds are people will speak English wherever you go, but that isn’t the case with the languages spoken by the majority of the world. Becoming fluent in another tongue is extremely hard and extremely humbling, and it’s something I believe everyone should have to do. And I’m not talking about taking Spanish in high school: I’m talking about needing to learn and speak a language in order to survive in a different place. Luckily for me, Greece was the friendliest place I’ve ever been. It was always very obvious to anyone looking at me that I’m not Greek, but people I’ve never met were genuinely curious about who I am and why I was in Athens. 

Here’s a typical example of the wonders of Greek hospitality: my flatmates and I were walking back from a souvlaki place when we saw a woman who works for our program in a random bar. 

She immediately recognized us and, despite not knowing our names or speaking any English, pulled us in to join her and her group of friends. It turns out that they had collectively been meeting at this place for over 20 years, and they bought us drinks and asked us questions—about Greece, about ourselves, about everything. We struggled to speak the same language but not to communicate, and I think that’s the most important thing I learned there. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable, as long as that feeling doesn’t prevent you from having a life. 

I went there to study archaeology and classics, and I knew it would be the best place in the world to do that. But I hadn’t anticipated relating to the modern vibrancy of the city as much as I did. Greece held significant elections during my first month there, and being in the middle of such a politically significant time was eye opening. There is no political apathy there, no voter registration campaigns. I’ve seen carnival floats covered in parliament caricatures, old friends screaming at each other about the new prime minister in bars, and more demonstrations and rallies than I can count. Everyone there cares about the future of the country and its politics, and I know I’m going to miss that passion in our own future elections. 

It was also refreshing to have a drastic change of pace. Wesleyan is, after all, a small place, and having a new set of faces, customs, weather, and scenery was invigorating. In Greece, it’s normal for people to sit at cafés for hours on end, drinking coffee and talking with friends. It’s the most relaxing atmosphere. Sometimes I have to step back and soak it all in, in case I forget how lucky I was to have been there.

Andrea Ruiz-Lopez (‘13)

Nerdy as it may be, studying abroad in Athens as a Classical Civilizations major in Spring 2012 made me feel like a kid in a candy shop.  College Year in Athens was everything I wanted from my semester abroad and more. Not only did I gain all the fantastic travelling experiences and life skills that go along with studying abroad in general, but being in Athens I felt like I was getting the best of everything.  Having class three times a week on the Acropolis was heaven. There aren’t many people who can claim that they’ve stood atop the Propylea itself, or climbed the scaffolding currently surrounding the Parthenon; and the professors who teach these classes are some of the most qualified and respected names in the field.  I had a whole semester of nothing but Classics with these professors; I took classes on ancient Macedon, Archaeological Drawing, Myth and Religion, Athenian Architecture, and Modern Greek. Not only did I learn from them in the classroom, but I’ve also had dinner with my classmates in their homes, and the relationships I developed have led me to even more exciting opportunities such as an archaeological excavation at a Roman fort in Romania.  These are a few of many once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I will cherish forever. Studying abroad with CYA was more than just living abroad and taking on-site classes; it was the perfect opportunity to travel the world and learn a new worldview from strangers and friends from all over. The CYA program included two week-long field trips, one in the Peloponnese and one in Northern Greece, which were some of the greatest highlights of the semester.  But even though I can die happy now that I’ve seen Delphi, Mycenae, Knossos, Thessaloniki, Meteora, and Epidauros, what made those experiences incredible was sharing it with my four roommates, who quickly became my best friends. The bond that we share and knowing that they will always be in my life is the best souvenir I could have gotten.