In my last post, I had just arrived home and started to reflect on my semester abroad. There is so much to unpack from my time in Rome, both figuratively and literally!
I’ve been asking my friends, followers, and viewers online for questions they’d like to ask me about my time abroad, and let me say that you all did not disappoint! Thank you for your questions! Here are my answers to them.
Question: How did you choose a study abroad program?
When I was on campus, studying abroad was a something I hear a lot about! As a first-year, I heard older students talking about how they either planned to go abroad or had just returned from their time away from campus. I attended the Study Abroad Fair and got to hear first-hand accounts from students who had studied in different places. I learned more about specific programs through formal information sessions and through one-on-one appointment with the Office of Study Abroad.
I worked with both my Study Abroad advisor and my academic advisors to find a program that was right for me. I took into consideration my goals for the future. As a double-major, I had to look through multiple program catalogs to find one that would best help immerse me in another culture while still keeping me on track with my academic plans. I created several courseloads that would work with my two majors and looked at programs in more detail from there.
I chose Temple Rome because Rome was the best fit for my plans and interests. As a Classics major, I had always wanted to see the things I had studied for so long come to life in front of me. I started learning Latin in middle school and delved deeper into the world of the ancient Romans in high school. I loved seeing ancient artifacts and learning about the people whose language I was studying in museums.
At Holy Cross, I expanded my views of the ancient world beyond Rome: there were so many other cultures and peoples to explore in the ancient Mediterranean! I knew from my ancient history classes that ancient Rome had expanded into the largest civilization in the region and incorporated the cultures and histories of the lands it covered into the empire. And I had a chance to study in the city that was once the center of such a large expanse of land. I wanted to go to Rome not only to learn about not only the ancient Romans, but also to look for the influences of other cultures in the city and beyond.
My other major, psychology, impacted my decision as well. I learned about the beginnings of developmental psychology in my introductory psychology classes, and a name I remember seeing often was Montessori. I looked up this name, and it turns out that Maria Montessori was an Italian physican who devised the Montessori method of education for the underprivledged children of Rome in the early 1900s! I was lucky enough to have seen where the method had started in the San Lorenzo district in the city, an area I had explored in not a psychology course, but in my political science course! I’m glad I got to walk through history for not only my Classics degree, but also for my studies in psychology as well.
Question: What was the most unexpected experience you had during your time abroad?
There were so many unexpected things that happened while I was abroad I don’t know where to start! I had two travel-related mishaps, one when I missed my bus to Pompeii because of construction on the Roma Metro (a misadventure I made the most of here) and the other when my flight back to Rome was pushed a day back because of aviation strikes (transportation strikes are common in Italy) and I stayed an extra night at a hastily-booked room in Catania, Sicily.
An unexpected experience I had in Rome was when I used three languages in one day while walking through the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino at Piazza Vittorio (an adventure I wrote about here). I heard a lot of the merchants say “Ni hao!” (“Hello!”) to me in Chinese (a language I didn’t think I would hear much of in Italy). My professor’s friend, Omar, who works at a butcher stand in the market, asked me a few questions in Chinese! It took me a moment to switch from English to Chinese to respond to him, and even longer for me to switch back to English to talk to my classmates, and later from English to Italian for Italian class! I was not expecting a trilingual experience that day!
Question: What are some highlights from visiting Florence?
When I went to Florence for a weekend in October, I liked seeing how different the place was from a city like Rome! The streets were less crowded and more colorful, with distinct architecture and art from the Renaissance. My favorite place was Ponte Vecchio, where I got to see an amazing sunset! The pictures I took from that short trip are some of the best ones I took from my entire semester abroad. The photo of the sunset in Florence was also one of the prints I gave away for my fundraiser; it was very popular in the Temple Rome community!
Another highlight from my trip to Florence was the food. I had heard of Tuscan cuisine in the United States, but I had never tried until October! I tried charcuterie for the first time in Florence and loved the local pizza and pasta as well. I even got to try something new in the Mercato Centrale on my last day there! One of my former professors who read my post about Florence said I was “adventurous” for trying fried rabbit there! It’s fun to try new things.
Question: Did you have a new favorite food you tried?
This is a hard question: I had so much good food abroad! While I loved trying regional dishes in the places I visited (cannoli and chinotto in Sicily, sarde in saor in Venice, and so on), I have to say my favorite food from the semester is a tried and true Roman classic: carbonara. I tried the dish of pasta, eggs, pancetta (pork belly), and pecorino cheese (the local sheep’s cheese in Rome) several times, both near Via Flaminia behind campus and farther away from the center of the city. My favorite carbonara was at the seaside restaurant I went to in Ostia. I giggle to myself every time I think about the ingredients, because I can imagine trying to make an omelette from bacon, cheese, and eggs at home!
Question: What was your favorite lunch place around campus?
Yet another hard question! So many good places to eat lunch around campus. Almost every day, I looked for places to eat along Via Flaminia and tried a few different ristoranti (larger places to sit down and eat) and trattorie (places to get a quick bite of pizza or sandwiches.) I’d say my go-to place behind campus was Alice Pizza, a pizza chain with a lot of choices! I got to try classics I’ve tried in the United States like the margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese) and tried new toppings like prosciutto (sliced ham) and roasted melanzane (eggplants). Orders are priced by weight and heated up in the oven while you pay.
Question: Any activity recommendations besides just sightseeing and eating?
A very important question! While there is so much to see and eat while abroad, it is also important to get involved with local activities at school as well.
When I was at Temple Rome, I got notifications about upcoming events and could access places I could sign up for them. We all signed up for Italian cultural labs, which could be anything from exploring in the historic markets of the city to learning Italian with dogs to listening to Italian music!
Some of my classmates volunteered at local places like high schools near campus or the refugee center further downtown. Others signed up to play calcetto (soccer) or basketball after classes. I was lucky enough to sign up for the last cooking class of the semester. Making pasta by hand was hard, but it was lot of fun and definitely worth it in the end!
We also got to attend special lectures on campus about issues we wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. I went to a discussion about race in Italy and met Susanna, an Afro-Italian activist who shared how she found her identity in Rome. I got to plan my own activity on campus through my fundraiser for QuestaèRoma, the organization Susanna works with. (Read about how I planned this project here.) I’m grateful to Temple Rome for their support through my independent project. I’m glad we could make something wonderful happen for the holidays!
Those are all the questions I got for this Q&A! Do you have anything else to ask me? Leave a comment below, and we’ll see if I get enough questions for another short Q&A next month as well. Happy New Year!
This semester, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the ancient world through not only lectures in my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean class, but also through many class trips. The last trip of the semester was a visit to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, a museum a short minutes away from Termini station in the center of Rome.
Palazzo Massimo is a fairly recent branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano, the National Roman Museum. It was built in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It was interesting to see ancient artifacts on display in such a new museum!
Our first stop in the museum was at the Rabirii relief. This 1st-century grave monument was found along the Via Appia, a road south of the ancient city. We can tell a lot about the lives of the people on the stone just by looking at their names. It looks like the two people on the left side of the relief had a special status in ancient Roman society as freedpeople, former slaves who had earned their freedom and lead their own, independent lives. There are Greek names written underneath the Latin on the stone, an indicator of the Rabirii’s origins in Greece.
We also a similar mix of Greek and Roman culture through a sculpture called the General of Tivoli. The General has the idealized physique of a Greek hero but the realistic head of a middle-aged man. Fascinating to see the two artistic tropes combine into one piece!
In the next room, we saw a familiar figure in a different role. I learned about Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, in high school, but I had only read about him in the context of his military and political leadership. I got to see a different statue of him in his religious role as Pontifex Maximus, the highest priest of Rome.
One of the more famous pieces in the Palazzo Massimo is the bronze Boxer. Bronze statues are rare because historically, many of them have been melted down and so that the raw material could be repurposed. The Boxer has realistic wounds on his face that make him look like he was in a fight today.
Many of the artifacts in the Palazzo Massimo come from the estates of wealthy Romans, who displayed elaborate art in their gardens. The museum houses one of the only true Greek originals, found in the gardens of the Roman writer Sallust.
In the basement of the museum is an important find in the city: the Grottarossa Mummy, unearthed in Rome in 1964. The mummy is of an 8-year old girl from the 2nd century C.E. While my classmates and I initally thought she might have been Egyptian because the practice of mummification came from Egypt, the girl is a fully Roman mummy. DNA analyses conclude that she was likely native to the area.
The girl was found in an intricately-carved marble sarcophagus, currently displayed in the same exhibit. The coffin depicts scenes from the Aeneid, a famous epic poem written under Augustus. The main character on the sarcophagus is not Aeneas, the hero the poem is named after. Instead, the carvings show his son, the boy Iulus, participating in a hunt.
Near the mummy and the sarcophagus are also the objects found in the girl’s tomb. She was from a wealthy family that could afford not only to mummify her, but to do so with elegant jewelry. Right next to the necklace and amulets was the girl’s childhood doll, which would have been left at a special temple when she reached puberty.
We went back upstairs to look at some earthenware and glassware from around the Roman Empire. Professor Bessi told us about how many of the objects we saw in front of us in the room were Gallic versions based on ancient Roman designs. This imitation craftsmanship was widespread throughout the empire, even reaching parts of Africa as well. Glass was also a commonly-reproduced material throughout the empire.
The Gauls were not the only ones to make imitations of classical crafts – the Romans also made copies of Greek art. The Discus Thrower is a famous example in the museum. It is a copy-of-a-copy of an ancient Greek bronze statue that is thought to be lost.
We also saw some artifacts recovered from the sunken Nemi ships. Unlike statues like the Boxer on land, bronze pieces submerged in shipwrecks were not prone to getting melted down and thus were preserved underwater. It was interesting seeing so many bronze animals holding rings in their mouths while similar statues on land might have had their material repurposed above sea level!
In class, we learned about ancient Roman interactions with the people of Africa. What I found fascinating and noteworthy in studying these relations is the fact that from the late 2nd century to the early 3rd century C.E., Rome was ruled by an emperor from a region called Leptis Magna, which is in modern-day Libya. His name was Septimius Severus, and he was the founder of the Severan dynasty in ancient Roman history. Professor Bessi said that he spoke Punic, the language of the ancient Carthaginians in north Africa, as his first language and spoke Latin with a Punic accent in Rome.
Further along in our tour of the museum, we saw another remnant of ancient Roman interaction with Africa. There was a sculpture of a woman in Egyptian garments and headdress. She represents Egypt, which became a province of Rome in the beginning of the empire. I’m thankful for her choice of attire, because I can figure out who she is!
We saw a reprise of the Greek hero physique in a statue of Antoninius Pius, who ruled the empire in the mid-1st century C.E. He is depicted with an ideal body and a proportional face. It seems that he is immortalized in the prime of his life in this grand likeness of him.
In the last room we saw on our trip, there were intricately-carved sarcophagi. I was blown away by the detail on the so-called Muses Sarcophagus. It must have taken ages to carve!
Professor Bessi stopped at a very important artifact for our class: the sarcophagus of Marcus Claudianus. We learned about the ancient Christians and how they interacted with the Romans in class, and I was surprised to see Christian iconography on the coffin. One of the main challenges in reconstructing ancient Christian history is the lack of iconographic evidence due to the people’s aversion to depicting themselves and their faith at the time.
The carvings on this sarcophagus are invaluable to tracing the Christian presence in Rome before Christianity became widespread in the empire in the 3rd century onward. Not to far away from the massive piece was a smaller work of art depicting Jesus as Orpheus, a character from classical myth known for his ability to move anyone with his music. He is known as “Iesus Docente,” which roughly translates as “Jesus as Teacher.” Interesting to see Roman myth and Christian beliefs overlap!
I was sad to leave the museum after this visit. This was my last class trip for Race in the Ancient Mediterranean, and my last class trip at Temple Rome. I enjoyed learning through a very active, in-person perspective during my time abroad, and I will look fondly on my photos and written reflections in the future to relive these experiences.
I blinked, and it is now finals week at Temple Rome! I am taking a breather halfway through my exams.
One of my favorite ways to recharge after a big test is to look at pictures of my favorite things. After some thought, I’ve decided to share some photos from one of my favorite adventures in Italy: my trip to Sicily during Fall Break.
I spent three days on the east coast of the island, which was only a short flight away from Rome. I started in Catania, the destination of my flight. I met a friend at the airport and we went to the center of the city together. We saw the Piazza del Duomo, a large space with churches, statues, and bubbles.
I was intrigued to read that Sicily was once settled by the ancients Greeks and Romans, and I saw clear evidence of this at the Roman Theater in the city! My friend and I explored the ruins of the structure, which dates back to 300 B.C.E. What I found most interesting was the fact that this space was once an ancient Greek theater. The Romans built on top of it later on. It was quite an experience, knowing that I was sitting where people from different civilizations across time sat to enjoy plays in the city.
I was also very happy to make a new friend in the theater: an adorable cat I saw wandering the ruins! It turns out that the ladies at the front desk have two cats that like to walk around the place. I really missed my own cat at home, so it was nice to pet a feline friend in Catania.
We stopped by a local pastry shop to try a Sicilian specialy: a cannolo! Yes, I mean cannolo: the term “cannoli” I hear in the United States is actually the plural form! Cannolo is the singular! I got one with ricotta cheese and pistachios! Yum!
We went back to the Piazza to look at a few churches. We stopped at the Chiesa della Badi di Sant’Agata, which had rooftop access for a small fee. I climbed up so many stair that day. The view was worth the climb! (This is why you don’t skip leg day!)
For dinner, we found an interesting restaurant that had underground seating near a creek! You bet we got seats there! I read in a book I bought as a souvenir that the east coast of Sicily was thought to be where the cyclopes, the one-eyed giants of Greek mythology, lived in their caves.
How fitting that we were dining in a cave of sorts like the cyclopes did! Although I know that the cyclopes wouldn’t have had the same taste for fresh seafood and Sicilian chinotto, a carbonated beverage made from a local type of citrus, that I had developed. I am also not a one-eyed giant.
My friend and I tried more Sicilian food the next morning, when we tried arancini (plural for arancino). I was curious about how it was possible to deep-fry a mixture of rice, cheese, and other fillings to an iconic golden-orange. (The word “arancino” is related to “arancione,” the Italian word for orange.) Arancini are everywhere in Sicily, and it wasn’t hard to find them in stores.
Our next stop was Taormina, an hour away north of Catania. The small town is very high in the mountanious Sicilian terrain, at a lofty 204 m (670 feet) above sea level. It is famous for its massive Greek Theater. It was much bigger than the Roman theater we saw in Catania, and it had a much better view of the coastline.
My friend and I also bought tickets for an unlimited hop-on-hop-off bus in Taormina. What an amazing view as we went further up the mountain!
We stopped at Castelmola, which was an area 529 meters (a whopping 1,736 feet!) above sea level. It was a quaint little place full of artisan shops. There was a lot of handmade jewelry on sale, a lot which was made with volcanic rock from the Mt. Etna, which is a popular souvenir in the area.
After lunch at Castelmola, we rode the bus along the shore. We passed through a region called Naxos Giardini, which was an early Greek settlement. I had fun reading some ancient Greek in the massive sign that said “ΝΑΞΟΣ” (“NAXOS” in the Roman alphabet). I enjoyed the sea breeze blowing on my face and through my hair as I took in all the sights and smells of the Sicilian shore. How it reminds me of Santa Marinella!
I also caught a glimpse of the sunset on the way back to the bus stop. What a breathtaking view to end the day in Taormina!
Our last stop in our three-day trip was the city of Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), which was an hour’s bus ride to the south of Catania. We started our adventure there in the southern part of the city, the island of Ortygia. The name is Greek, and there are signs of ancient Greek settlement there. We saw the massive ruins of the Temple of Apollo just across the bridge. According to the sign, it was built in the 6th century B.C.E. It was a lot to take in!
We headed toward a new yet familiar sight: another Piazza Duomo! This is the second one we’ve seen in Sicily, the first one being in Catania. We looked inside the old churches and even caught a glimpse of some Carvaggio paintings displayed there for special exhibits!
After lunch, we headed back north and walked to the Archaeological Park of Neapolis (Parco Archaeologico della Neapolis). There were even more ancient ruins there. I got to walk the same paths as ancient figures such as the Syracusan general Hiero II did; I saw his famous altar in the park.
We saw not one, but two more ancient theaters in Syracuse! There is a Greek theater on a hill with all of its seats and foundations still intact, and the Roman theatre on the other side of the park is overrun with grass.
The most interesting sight of the day had to be a cave called “Orecchio di Dionisio,” or “the Ear of Dionysius.” I read that Dionysius of Syracuse was a tyrant who was fond of keeping his prisoners trapped in the cave, where he could hear every word they said as the sound echoed against their stone surroundings. Every step I took echoed through the entire cave, and I could hear other people speaking from further inside. Eerie!
We went to the famous Museo Archaeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, one of the most important archaeological museums in Europe! We walked through a garden of sculptures to get to the entrance, which seems unassumming at first, but houses an incredibly large collection of Sicilian artifacts inside.
I was taken aback by the sheer number of items on display inside the museum. There were remains of ancient flora and fauna from prehistoric times and remnants of the earliest human settlers in Sicily in the exhibits! The collection of Greek and Roman artifacts was impressive as well. So much in one place!
I learned a lot about Sicily through the interactive screens in the exhibits. I got to look at different maps that showed the history of the island. It’s amazing how much happened in just one city like Catania or Syracuse over centuries. Sicily was colonized by different ancient civilizations, with ancient Greece being one of the earliest. It was also a place of conflict between powers, such as during the Punic Wars, when ancient Rome fought against Carthage in north Africa for control over strategic areas of the island. Fascinating how so many civilizations impacted the development of the place! The plethora of artifacts in the museum spans across all the different cultural influences in ancient Sicily.
Before I headed back to Rome the next day, I stopped by a small café at the airport to try one last Sicilian specialty: cassata! I’ve never tried a cake with ricotta cheese before, and I was surprised at how crunchy the slice was! I’m used to soft icing in the United States, so the unexpected crunch of the sweet shell on top was amusing.
I did some reading about Sicilian food while waiting for my flight, and it turns out that a lot of traditional Sicilian pastries and sweets originated from elsewhere! Cassata became popular under the Muslim era of Sicily in the beginning of the first millenium C.E. Cannoli may also have been from this time as well. Fascinating to see how different cultural influences melded into one cuisine in modern Sicily!
Finally, I boarded my plane back to Rome. I took one last glance of the Sicilian landscape below and then saw the beginnings of mainland Italy. Ciao, Sicilia! It was a pleasure visiting over fall break. You were one of my favorite trips abroad. I miss your warm weather.
I love visiting the ancient sites of Rome. There is something special about seeing such famous places up close, and I am very lucky to learn so much about them through my classes at Temple Rome.
One of my favorite class trips this semester was a visit to a classic sight in the city: the Colosseum! I’ve been to the Colosseum before, but I had never been inside the site before for the trip. The Colosseum houses plenty of ancient Roman artifacts in its internal displays, but for our visit, we got to see a special exhibit on a different people: the Carthaginians!
In the ancient world, the Carthaginians were from their home city of Carthage in north Africa, where Tunisia is today. Carthage was originally settled by the ancient Phoenicians, who were from the Fertile Cresent area in the middle east. The city developed into the center of a major power starting from the 7th century B.C.E.
From late September this fall to the end of March next year, the Colosseum is housing a temporary exhibit on ancient Carthage. What perfect timing for our Race in the Ancient Mediterranean class! We learned about the Carthaginians in October and went to see the exhibit in early November.
Before this visit, I thought I had already gotten a close look at the Colosseum from the outside. Once I had stepped inside, I was amazed by how big the place really is!
We learned from Professor Bessi that this place was not always called the Colosseum. It was known as the Flavian Amphitheater in antiquity. The part of the word “amphitheater” comes from the ancient Greek word amphi, which means “on both sides.” This is different from an ordinary theater in the ancient world, which was had all the seats arranged in hemisphere around the stage. The Colosseum is an amphitheater because of it had seats all around (i.e., on both sides of) the center, where the spectacles took place.
The “Flavian” part of the place comes from the imperial dynasty that constructed the amphitheater. The Colosseum was constructed after 70 C.E. and took ten years to build under the emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty. It was not the first amphitheater in the Roman world: the earliest one is in Pompeii, which had an amphitheater from 80 B.C.E.! The place was the center for all sorts of visual entertainment, including parades, animal fights, and the famed gladiator games. The Romans added underground structures to the center later on and could flood the space for recreations of naval battles.
The spectators of these events sat in different places depending on their social class. The high-ranking senators got the best spots in the front with reserved seats (complete with specific names carved into them) while average Romans had to find their own seats. The Colosseum could hold 600,000 to 800,000 people for a single event! The games stopped after the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century C.E., and after that, the massive amphitheater was used for defense in the Middle Ages and for its building material to construct the nearby Piazza Venezia during the Renaissance.
What a view of the theater!
We began our tour of the exhibit with a discussion on the Phoenicians, whose name derives from an ancient term meaning “red people,” based on the myth of the sun getting too close of the people of the region and giving them quite the tan (and, I can imagine, quite a red sunburn). They were an active seafaring people who settled across the ancient Mediterranean. Sicily and north Africa were major sites in their travels.
Looking around the exhibit.
The Phoenicians were highly sophisiticated craftspeople. They were especially famous for glass and were one of the first civilizations to mass produce goods for trade. Purple dye was another famous Phoenician export. The color, called Tyrian purple after the settlement of Tyre, was made from crushing snail shells and was very expensive to produce. Because of this, only the wealthiest people in the ancient would could to wear purple clothing, and the color purple became associated with power and royalty.
We saw collections of artifacts excavated from sites associtated with ancient Carthage on display through the entire exhibit. What fascinated me the most is the number of museums involved in creating this exhibition. There were so much intricate art, pottery, and jewelry on display! And all of these were on loan from different museums across Europe and Africa!
The exhibit also included a lot of digital content as well. We saw the structure of Carthage change through time on a screen in the hallway. We also saw a video about both land-based and underwater excavations at major sites. It’s interesting to see how people have interacted with Carthage in the past and the present.
Part of the special exhibition featured interpretations of Carthage in more recent media. One of the famous impacts of the ancient Carthaginians was the story of Dido, the queen of Carthage in the ancient Roman epic, the Aeneid. I read parts the Aeneid for AP Latin class, and one of the sections was about Dido. There was a painting inspired by her story on display in the hallway.
Unfortunately, the Carthaginian queen’s story does not have a happy ending. She is distraught after Aeneas, the main character of the epic, leaves Carthage to found Rome. Dido curses Aeneas and his descendants, saying that in the future, the Romans and Carthaginians will never be friends. Publius Vergilius Maro, the author of the Aeneid, shifted the blame to this episode to explain the real-life tensions between Rome and Carthage.
Taking the blame for tensions is not the only blow to the Carthaginians’ reputation among their neighbors in the ancient Mediterranean. The Romans also supported the Greek claim that the Carthaginians sacrificed their own children. This was a negative stereotype attached to the Carthaginians through their existence. From evidence found at tophets, open-air spaces dedicated to holding grave monuments for children, it is probable that the Carthaginians practiced substitution sacrifices, in which they sacrificed animals instead of children to their gods.
The Carthaginians were polytheistic civilization with deities analogous to those of the ancient Greeks and Romans. A major god in their religion was Baal Hammon, who was like Zeus or Jupiter in Classical mythology. Many inscriptions on the monuments in Carthaginian tophets are dedicated to Baal.
Another interesting figure in Carthaginian culture was the god Asclepius, who was the god of healing. There is a stone with a trilingual inscription to the deity. There are dedications to the god in ancient Greek, Latin, and Punic (the language of the Carthaginians). The god is referred to as “Asklepius” in ancient Greek, as “Aescepius” in Latin, and “Eshmun” in Punic on the tablet.
The Carthaginians believed in an afterlife, as seen from their funerary art. Professor Bessi pointed out a special image in the exhibit. The rooster in the art represents the human soul travelling to the fortified city of the deceased, where the spirits of the ancestors are waiting. The picture was displayed above a collection of grave goods. Like the Greeks and Romans, the Carthaginians buried their deceased with pottery and other objects.
We looked at the depiction of the Phoenician afterlife through the picture of the rooster (symbol of the soul), the fortified city (land of the deceased), and the spirits of the ancestors (on the left).
It was interesting to see the cultural aspect of the ancient Carthaginians up close. In my Roman history classes in high school and at Holy Cross, I had only learned about the Carthaginians through readings about the Punic Wars, where were a series of three conflicts between Rome and Carthage that lasted for over 100 years. What I didn’t learn was the fact that there were trade agreements between the two civilizations before the conflict over Sicily that started the wars.
A key Carthaginian whose name has been remembered in history is Hannibal Barca, who was a formidable general during the Second Punic War. He is famous for his cunning military strategies and for leading an army of elephants against the alps. We saw a bust of Hannibal in the Colosseum. Fitting, considering what a spectacle that event must have been!
Carthage fell at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 B.C.E. The major Roman rhetoric against Carthage at the time was from the end of Cato the Elder’s speeches, which is often abbreviated to the famous “Carthago delenda est.” (Latin for “Carthage must be destroyed.”) The city was razed to the ground and salt sprinkled on the land to prevent rebuilding. Carthage became a province of Rome later on.
However, the Carthaginians lived on in various forms of media. We saw clips from movies and excerpts of songs based on the Carthaginians on our way out of the exhibit.
I caught a beautiful glimpse of the Roman Forum from the balcony just outside the bookstore. (You bet I bought some souvenirs from the exhibit! Limited time merchandise.) What a beautiful day to take in the sights of Rome!
I took one last glimpse at the “Carthago” sign outside of the entrance before leaving to catch the Metro back to campus. I am grateful for Professor Bessi for giving us this special opportunity to see a temporary exhibit. Cato the Elder may have constantly declared that Carthage must be destroyed, but here it has been remembered and its culture and people better understood thanks to the exhibit.
November 28: a normal day in Italy, Thanksgiving in the States. This is my first one outside of the country, and it’s a special one indeed: my family came to visit me for Thanksgiving break!
I met my parents in Venice after a 4-hour train ride from Rome. They have always wanted to go sightseeing around Europe. What better place to start than in Italy, where I’m studying abroad this semester?
The moment I stepped outside of the train station, I knew that it was flood season in Venice (Venezia in Italian). It was cloudy and a bit chilly outside – glad I was wearing a warm jacket! The water had risen above the canals and flowed onto the streets! There were even raised platforms for pedestrians to walk above the water. It really is the Floating City!
Mom brought me a pair of plastic boot covers, and I gladly put them on. I was going to need them, in these flooded streets! At least the water was receding as time went on. It would have been quite an experience if the water went up to my knees!
We had lunch in a restaurant by the busy “parking” center for the taxis, gondolas, and ferries of the city. All the modes of four-wheeled transportation you would see in cities like Rome and Florence are completely replaced by boats! We saw a few police boats and aquatic ambulances as well.
After lunch, we went to the Piazza San Marco. Not only did we see St. Mark’s Basilica, but we also got a more hands-on experience in Venice thanks to the pigeons in the square! The birds there are not afraid of humans and flock toward anybody who has crumbs for them. There were pigeons landing on everybody! A lot of them landed on me! One of them stayed on my shoulder for a long time. Some of them perched on Mom and Dad as well.
We strolled alongside the water (which, thankfully had receded enough for us to wear our shoes without the plastic covers) for a bit and took in the views of Venice. I bought a small Venetian mask and had fun posing with it near the bridges!
For Thanksgiving dinner, we tried some Venetian food alongside the classic Italian dishes. We had a seafood appetizer complete with fresh shrimp, slices of smoked salmon, boiled octopus, and some sarde in saor, sweet-and-sour Venetian sardines. We shared some classic carbonara and some mushroom pizza. We didn’t have any apple pie, but I had some gelato for dessert!
The three of us enjoyed seeing the city at night. The water shimmers in the glow of the lamps, and the light inside the ferries stand out from the rest of the scene. Stunning views!
As I wind down after our Thanksgiving adventure in Venice, I find myself more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this semester.
I am thankful for the Holy Cross Office of Study Abroad for helping me apply to the Temple Rome program and for guiding me through the entire process. My journey here would not have been possible without their support.
I am thankful for the Temple Rome staff for welcoming me to their program and for helping me adjust to my life in Rome. I am still using the advice they gave me at orientation, and I learned a lot from them throughout the semester.
I am thankful for my professors at Temple Rome for teaching me this semester. I love all of my classes and enjoying learning new things from them every day. They have been very kind and helpful since Day One.
I am thankful for my classmates at Temple Rome for their openness and their kindness. I enjoy spending time and going on adventures with them.
I am thankful for my parents for being supportive of me while I am on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the semester. I’m glad I can call them sometimes, and I’m honored to host them in Italy over Thanksgiving break. Hope my Italian is good enough!
I am thankful for my experiences this semester. Studying abroad is not easy, but the challenges I’ve faced in a different country away from home are rewarding. I’ve grown braver and more adventurous in my time here. I’ve honed life skills that had only started developing back home. I feel like an adult, managing all my time for classes and chores and planning all of my trips from scratch. Learning to be independent is a valuable asset to have, and I know that it will serve me well.
Lastly, I am thankful to my viewers and fans online. I don’t know all of you in person, if at all, but I am happy that you’re reading my blog and following me on my adventures abroad. I’m flattered by the kind feedback some of you have given me at the beginning of the semester. Thank you for coming on this journey. Know that I am thinking of you this Thanksgiving, no matter where I am and no matter where you are.
I may not be home in the United States to celebrate with you, but I’m glad I can still be thankful to all of you abroad. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
One thing I’ve learned to appreciate during my semester abroad is the opportunity to not only learn things firsthand through field trips in the city, but also to apply what I learn in class to new experiences outside the city.
This is the case with Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, a political science class that has taken me to places as close as downtown Rome, under 30 minutes away on the Metro, and as far away as Lisbon, a three-hour flight from Fiumicino airport.
I went to Lisbon for an academic excursion in the middle of November with not only Professor Rinelli and my classmates from Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but also with Professor Bordignon and her Contemporary Politics of Europe class. We took a bus to the airport on Thursday evening and flew to Lisbon.
We arrived late that night, ate at an American(!) diner (well, what better way to welcome a group of American students than with some American cuisine?), and checked into our hotel. I fell asleep instantly and was ready to see the city the next morning.
After breakfast at the hotel, our professors gave us 24-hour passes for the Lisboa Metro. We used them at a Metro station close to the hotel and switched to another train before we got to our destination: the coast.
After some ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the sight of the shore (and at a bridge in the distance, which looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), we continued on our visit to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA for short).
We learned about the organization and their role in regulating maritime transport in Europe through a short presentation from an EMSA representative. From the 270 representatives from 28 countries in the European Union, many are from Portugal and Italy. EMSA has been making maritime regulations since 2002 and has added two major revisions to their policies in response to human migration in the Mediterranean since 2013.
I was fascinated by all the expansive technology and protocols behind the scenes of maritime safety. In particular, I was intrigued at how EMSA monitors and communicates with ships through satellites and drones.
We asked a lot of questions during and after the lecture. Some of them were about EMSA’s domains in the international scene. EMSA is a broad organization that operates on the European level. We learned from the answer to a question about what EMSA can do about a region-specific issue, such as pollution from cruise ships in Venice, that it is up to each member state to handle local incidents.
I asked a question about EMSA’s involvement in cases of irregular migration aboard European ships. I learned that the organization investigates incidents that happen during maritime transport and works to determine the root causes and contributing factors behind the case. However, it is up to the member states to investigate serious incidents, such as deaths of migrants on ships. EMSA does keep records of incidents in state-by-state logs for its database, which can be accessed for legal cases in the future.
After the interesting presentation at EMSA, we headed to the local market and had an hour to explore by ourselves. I loved walking around the Time Out Market in central Lisbon. I couldn’t wait to try some Portuguese food for the first time!
Excited to try some Portuguese food in the market!
Seafood is a staple in Portuguese cuisine, and the Lisbon market was bustling with seafood chefs and customers. I saw trays and tanks of fresh fish and crustaceans on my stroll through the stands.
My friend and I decided to eat at a cleverly-named shop called “Sea Me at the Market,” where we ordered fresh seafood. I tried some cuttlefish with a twist: it was fried in black tempura! Quite different from the calamari I tried at the beach in Rome. I heard from my friend that the pan-seared tuna was very good as well. We shared some bacalhau (Portuguese for cod) in some savory fishcakes and enjoyed it with some tomato rice. Delicious!
After lunch, we met outside the market and took the Metro to our next stop: the Centro Nacional de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes (CNAIM), or National Center of Aid and Integration of Migrants. I had seen the migrant center near Termini station in Rome on a previous trip for Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but I could tell that this center was going to be much different from the one in Rome.
On our tour inside the building, we stopped by the gallery next to the first-floor waiting room. There were photographs of migrants from a camp in Greece displayed on the wall with powerful messages next to them. I found the placement of these two-dimensional black-and-white photos next to a waiting room full of three-dimensional people fascinating. I thought about the stories and message each migrant told through their photographs. I wonder what stories the migrants waiting just outside have to tell, and how they might feel about the messages in the gallery.
We learned from our guide that CNAIM has been providing a variety of services to migrants of all backgrounds and legal statuses since 2004. 75% of its funding comes from other places in Europe while the remaining 25% comes from the Portuguese government. The center in Lisbon is the largest one in the country, bigger than the other two in Portugal. The organization offers answers to necessary questions about the integration process and has partnerships with other entities, including over 100 other centers in different municipalities.
CNAIM offers its services in 15 different languages on site and has access to a support in 60 languages through the telephone support line. There is also a small kindergarten near the first-floor waiting room, where the children of migrants going through the immigration process in the center can learn and play as their parents are in meetings with staff. With so much in one center, I was not surprised to learn that CNAIM has won many awards for what they do.
On our way upstairs, we walked past the health office, the board of immigration services, the family reunification services, the social security office, the ministry of justice, the education office, and the legal support office. Each office provides general information to migrants who need guidance and referrals to other centers for their cases.
In addition to the row of offices, there is also a mentoring program at the center, where over 1000 Portuguese citizens volunteer to mentor migrants one-on-one based on specific needs and skillsets. CNAIM is partnered with 60 other programs and has a 10-session entrepreneurship class that teaches and advises migrants who want to start businesses in Portugal. The program aims to promote networking and workshops with Portuguese professionals and encourages former trainees to share their knowledge with migrants currently in the classes.
After learning about all the services CNAIM offers migrants, we headed into a separate hall for a Q&A session. On our way there, I couldn’t help but think about the migrant center in Rome when I walked past a mural of a woman reading a book. It reminded me of the painting of an African woman facing Dante, the father of Italian literature, that I saw near Termini. The image represents a migrant working toward integration into society, and this is the message I got from the mural at CNAIM.
During the Q&A session, my classmates asked a lot of questions and learned a lot from the answers. I was happy to hear that there was no political backlash against CNAIM when it opened, and the Lisbon community is accepting of the center and the migrants it helps. I also learned that many new arrivals in the country first learn about CNAIM and its services through other migrants. The center opens at 8:00 a.m., but there are people waiting outside the door since midnight for CNAIM’s services.
I learned a bit about Portuguese citizenship as well. I was surprised to hear that there are no questions about the history or government of Portugal on the citizenship test: there is only a language section. As a naturalized US citizen, I couldn’t imagine a citizenship test without a question about the branches of government or years of a specific war.
Unlike American citizenship, Portuguese citizenship works under ius sanguinis, which is Latin for “right of blood.” People who are descended from Portuguese citizens are Portuguese by law. The United States works under ius soli, “right of soil,” which grants American citizenship to anyone born in the country.
Our last stop after our visit to CNAIM was the School of Law at the University of Lisbon, a public research university in the city and the largest in the country. It rained a bit after we walked out of the Metro station near the university. We did see a rainbow afterward, and I took it as a sign of a good visit ahead.
We went on a short tour inside the school. The University of Lisbon was founded in 1911 and holds over 100 years of history. We walked through its historic lecture rooms and its huge faculty room, which has paintings of faculty on its walls.
We finished our visit with a special lecture from Professor Nuno Cunha Rodrigues, a friend of Professor Rinelli’s. He spoke about how Portugal is different from other countries in Europe. There are fewer political parties in Portugal, and none of them can be considered “extreme.” The country is also geographically removed from issues that other European nations are addressing in the political scene. There are also no regions and only one dialect of Portuguese in the entire country.
Before our trip, I remember how Professor Rinelli mentioned that Portugal was a “political exception.” I heard in the Q&A session at CNAIM that Portugal is not a racist country, and Professor Rodrigues’ lecture about Portuguese history helped me understand why this is the case. Portugal was, in his words, “traumatized” by a brutal dictatorship and a horrible war that was claimed more Portuguese lives than the Vietnam was did American soldiers. Younger Portuguese citizens fled during this period in the mid-20th century, and since then, the country has been more open to foreigners.
I was intrigued by the lecture. In high school, I only learned about Portugal in the context of the 15th and 16th centuries, when Spain and Portugal split the “New World” along a vertical line on the map. I don’t remember learning much about Portugal outside of the Age of Discovery, the Spice Trade and a little bit from the Scramble for Africa. This was my chance to learn more about the history of Portugal.
Through my questions at the end of the lecture, I learned that Portugal was actually on the same side as the US during World War I! It must have been a lot, since Portugal had an unstable government for almost two decades after its monarchy was abolished in 1910.
Portugal was also one of the only countries that remained neutral and was relatively unaffected by World War II. During the Cold War, Portugal was allied with the US it was isolated from the situation because of a war with Angola, which was a Portuguese colony fighting for its independence at the time. There was also a military revolution in the 1970’s that overthrew a dictatorship that had been in place since the 1930’s. I was in awe of how a brutal dictatorship ended so peacefully with the nonviolent Carnation Revolution.
In closing, Professor Rodrigues stated that Portugal is a country with over 800 years of history and has some of the most stable borders in the world. Its people are unified under a strong national identity. You don’t learn about that in a high-school European history class! I’m glad I got to learn a lot of new things from our visit.
After the lecture at the university, we went to explore the city by ourselves. My friend and I headed downtown to look at some restaurants. We settled for a small spot near the theaters of the city. We shared a plate of sauteed prawns with the heads and shells still on. I’m glad I got to eat some fresh prawns before I left Portugal! I was curious about them at the market.
We took a taxi back to our hotel and fell asleep quickly after our busy day in Lisbon. I couldn’t believe I experienced that much in just one day!
You would think that after doing so much in one day, that would already make for a pretty full trip. But wait, there’s Moor!
The next morning, we learned about the multicultural history of Lisbon, starting with the influence of the Moors from North Africa. We met José Linu, our guide from the Batoto Yetu Association, an organization that promotes traditional dances from Africa and leads post-colonial tours of Lisbon, at the Igreja de São Domingos.
I first learned about the Moors in my high-school European history class. They were Muslims from North Africa who settled in the Iberan peninsula in the 8th century. I remember reading about how the Spanish Inquisition drove them out of the area in the 13th century.
At the beginning of our tour, we learned about the African influence in Lisbon. The very square we were standing in was a major meeting place for Africans in Portugal. The church itself was an important religious location for Africans who were freed from slavery, and they referenced African saints in the regions. The priests there were of African descent as well.
The church survived two earthquakes and a fire between the 14th and 17th centuries. It was almost completely destroyed by the natural disasters, and there are still signs of the destruction inside.
José gave us some ginger candy as a little pick-me-up on our tour. He said that, according to African tradition, there was magic in ginger candy. I was more than happy to take a few pieces: I grew up eating ginger candy in the United States, and according to Chinese tradition, ginger has multiple medical benefits on the body.
José told us about the cultural importance of Fado, a genre of music that originated in Lisbon. Fado is similar to the Blues in the United States, in that it is known for its melancholic tones. Homesickness is a major theme in Fado music. He said that Fado has influences from African dance, beginning as a lively dance performed in the streets of Lisbon. We saw artwork relating to Fado and the multiculturalism of Lisbon in the historic Moor area of the city which is known for its tunnels and stairs.
This part of the city has seen a lot of cultural exchange throughout history, and it was here that some Portuguese nobles from the upper end of society mixed with the locals who performed Fado dance and music outdoors. Eventually, Fado was brought from the streets into salons and the music lost its lively percussion. José told us that it is important not only to promote new artistic-cultural movements, but also to remember the roots of cultural gems such as Fado.
Further along in our tour, we stopped by a long street teeming with customers from multicultural shops. We saw one of the older buildings from the center, which survived the earthquake of 1755. Some people called the event a “punishment for Fado.” I would call it a natural disaster completely unrelated to human activity.
We learned about the colonial history of Portugal. There are streets named after former colonies. José, who works at the migration center in Lisbon alongside his job promoting African traditions and leading colonial tours with the Batoto Yetu Association, said that he is working on education people about the often-overlooked history of the country. It is important to remember the past of a place, even if it is not very well known.
We finished our tour with a walk in the park and a group photo in front of the School of Medicine of the University of Lisbon. We stood in front of the statue of José Tomás de Sousa Martins, a doctor who treated and helped find medical aid for the lower-class people of the city. Our tour guide José mentioned that he was from African descent and hailed as a hero, with people still leaving gifts and tokens of appreciation at the base of the statue today.
What better place to end our tour in front of a statue after a walk in the park?
After we thanked José for the tour, we had some free time to explore the city before our flight back to Rome. I decided to take the Metro to the Amoreiras Shopping Center to buy some gifts. The place looked like a skyscraper, and I was excited to find out that I can get a panoramic view of the entire city from the rooftop! I bought some handbags for my friends and family (and a cute hat for myself), had some fresh tuna (can’t leave Portugal without trying some!), and bought a ticket to the rooftop. What a view, from the highest point in Lisbon!
I left the shopping center very happy with my trip to Lisbon. I was thinking about everything I learned on the plane ride back to Rome. I’m glad I had the chance to study abroad not only in Rome, but also briefly in Lisbon as part of this academic excursion. This is not an opportunity I’ve ever had before, and the unique experience has made my semester abroad even more special and memorable.
As I settle into the second half of the semester (how time flies!), I would say that my favorite part of studying abroad is getting to learn through direct experience. I love learning new things both in and outside of the classroom.
For my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean course this semester, I am learning about the ancient world through not only examining the histories of understudied people in the ancient Roman Empire, but also through seeing artifacts with my own eyes in Rome.
On our second trip of the semester, we went to the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini in Italian) on top of the Capitoline Hill. The museums are the oldest in Rome, built in the 15th century during the Renaissance, when ancient Greek and Rome were the main themes of European culture and art. The first exhibits were made of bronze statues that the Pope offered to the city of Rome, and from here came the museums as they stand today.
I was in awe even before I got to the museum. Instead of heading to the classroom that Thursday morning, I took the Metro to the Colosseo stop and admired the huge monuments all around me. In addition to seeing the Colosseum outside the Metro stop, I caught a few glimpses of the Roman forum on my walk to the Capitoline Hill.
I found Professor Bessi and my classmates on top of the hill (which was not too taxing for my legs; all the stairs at Holy Cross have prepared me well for my semester abroad). After getting into the museum for free thanks to the Musei in Comune (MIC) cards we got at the beginning of the semester, we walked into the courtyard.
We looked at a collection of stone slabs with images of women carved into them. Professor Bessi said that these were originally from a temple in the Campus Martis that was erected in the memory of the emperor Hadrian, who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century C.E. The carvings came from the base of the temple and represent the different provinciae (plural of the Latin word provincia, from which he get our word “province”) around the empire.
Hadrian was known for being a Roman emperor who spent little time in Rome. He was fascinated by other cultures, especially Greek culture, and strove to integrate even the most remote provinces in the empire and instill a sense of common Roman identity among all the people. The temple honor him captures this aspect of his personality by featuring each of the provinces, represented by women (nouns have genders in Latin, and provincia is feminine) depicted in the Greek style.
We headed indoors and stopped at the massive Palazzo di Conservatori. I was awestruck by the gorgeous paintings that lined the entire room from wall to wall. There was not a single part of the room that was not decorated with art.
The room, whose name means “the Conservator’s Palace” in Italian, was built in the 16th century. All the artwork in the room was inspired by the ancient Romans and features scenes from Roman history as told by the ancient historian Livy, who wrote about the origins and history of Rome in his Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Founding of the City) in the 1st century B.C.E.
All around the room, I saw painting of the foundation stories of Rome. I felt like I was going back in time, back to the first time I saw Latin in middle school. One of the first stories I read in class was the myth of the twins Romulus and Remus and how they were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus, after whom Rome is named, is said to have founded the city in 753 B.C.E.
I learned more about the earliest days of Rome as I continued into more advanced levels of Latin in high school. Now, as a college student, I got to see all of what I learned in front of me!
The art depicting the story of Rome continued into the next room, where we stopped to look at one of the bronze pieces gifted by the pope in the earliest days of the museum. The bust of Lucius Junius Brutus, the leader of an aristocratic revolt that drove out the last king of Rome, represents a major shift in Roman history: the shift from monarchy to republic in 509 B.C.E. The bronze portrait of him, however, is certainly not from the 6th century B.C.E. It was much more likely made centuries after in a retelling of the tale.
Another wave of nostalgia hit me as we walked into the next room and stopped at a piece that my teenage self would have recognized from her books. I got to see the famous Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) with my own eyes! The detail on the piece is remarkable: such a sharp contrast between the roughness of the she-wolf’s fur and Romulus’ and Remus’ skin!
These were things I didn’t notice when I first saw a picture of the Capitoline Wolf in my seventh-grade Latin textbook. Eight years later, I am going on a field trip to the Capitoline Museums, where I can see the sculpture in person!
It is amazing to see that story of Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf has lingered for so long after 753 B.C.E. What amazed me more was the story about this piece that Professor Bessi told us at the museum. It turns out that the Lupa Captiolina did not always look the way it does today. In fact, it was really only the wolf! The twins were not added until the 16th century C.E.!
It was thought that the wolf was an ancient piece while the smaller sculptures of Romulus and Remus were Renaissance additions. There was a conference years ago at which chemical analyses on the base of the piece revealed that the she-wolf was sculpted in the middle ages!
In the next room, we saw a piece that was actually ancient: a Greek krater (a vessel for mixing wine) dating back to the 7th century B.C.E. The Aristonothos krater, as it is called because of the potter’s signature visible in the ancient Greek inscription, depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic about Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. I had read about Odysseus outwitting a giant one-eyed cyclops when I read the Odyssey in class, but seeing the scene on a vase in front of me was a different experience in itself!
The vase was uncovered at a site where the ancient Etruscans used to live. The Etruscans were a dominant force in central and northern Italy before 753 B.C.E., and they engaged in a lot of trade with the ancient Greeks. Greek pottery was in high demand for the ancient Etruscans, and through the acquirement of physical goods came the spread of Greek language, culture, and religion.
The inscription and imagery on the Aristonothos krater captures this perfectly. And it shows that ancient people had a wicked sense of humor – the cyclops met his downfall because he drank his wine unmixed, and now he is on a vessel designed for mixing wine!
We headed toward the recently-renovated part of the museum, where the original bronze statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius is on display. There is a replica of this piece at the top of the Capitoline Hill, just outside the museum.
Professor Bessi mentioned that when the statue was uncovered in the Middle Ages, people thought it was a sculpture of the emperor Constantine, who ruled the Roman Empire over a century after Marcus Aurelius did. The funniest part about this room is the fact there is actually a statue of the real Constantine across from the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius and the marble sculpture of the lion and the horse!
The newly-renovated part of the museum also houses some ancient ruins found in the area. There are pieces of an ancient temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad – the gods and goddesses Jupiter (or Jove), Juno, and Minerva. It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the excavation process in the middle of a modern renovation of the Capitoline Museums. There is even a wall of the Capitolium Jovis (a temple for Jupiter; there was one of these at every Roman colony) standing inside with a smaller-scale replica beside it!
After our walk through the remnants of the temple, we visited the Horti Maecenatiani, or the Maecenean Gardens. Maeceneas was a friend of the emperor Augustus in the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E. and was known for his wealth and love of art. He was also involved with the ministry of culture and displayed lots of Greek sculptures in his gardens on the Esquiline Hill. A lot of the statues are Roman copies of Greek originals, but some of the pieces are made of real Pentelic marble, which comes from an area north of Athens.
One of the most memorable statues for me was a sculpture of the mythological satyr Marsyas, who made the grave mistake of boasting that his music was greater than that of Apollo, the god of music. As his punishment, he was skinned alive. I found the contrast between the pale marble of his skin and the sheer redness of his raw flesh very striking. It really gets the message across: don’t be a braggart!
In addition to the wealth of statues in Maecenas’ gardens, there is also a large collection of jewelry in the museum. The golden pieces and their sparkling gemstones were in such good condition that I thought they were modern accessories in the fashion district of modern Rome! You can hardly tell that they’re from the first century C.E. And it wasn’t only people who wore these: the ancient Romans used jewelry to decorate pillars as well!
We walked through the basement of the museum and looked at some gravestones. The inscriptions were still legible on most of them, and I had a lot of fun practicing my ancient Greek and Latin! According to Professor Bessi, Greek was the universal written language of all the ethicities in ancient Rome. We spent a longer time looking at the gravestone of a Jewish woman who had the majority of her funerary inscriptions in Greek but the last part of it in Hebrew. Amazing to see cultures overlap!
We were in for quite a treat when we got to see the Roman Forum from a good vantage point in the museum! I loved seeing all of the space outside the museum from one spot! It was my first time seeing the Forum, and it was a wonderful experience to process the breathtaking view!
Our last stop was at another famous piece in the Capitoline Museums: the Dying Gaul. The ancient Gauls were a Celtic people who lived north of Italy in the alps and to the west where France is today. Julius Caesar waged war against several Gallic tribes and recorded his battles in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries Regarding the Gallic Wars) in the 1st century B.C.E. I read part of Caesar’s work in high school. I was excited to see the artwork in person!
For a decade, the Gauls were his enemies, yet he chose to respect them by featuring a piece depicting them gracefully in defeat. The Dying Gaul is a Roman copy of a Greek original thought to have been commissioned by the King of Pergamum, an area to the east, centuries before Caesar was born. The man in the sculpture is identifiable as a Gaul by his hairstyle and jewelry around his neck. He is about to collapse, but keeps most of his composure despite the pain of defeat.
It fascinates me how of all the ways Caesar could have represented his fallen enemies, he chose to display this piece in his private estate. No caricature of the Gauls or humiliating trophies in this statue! Talk about sportmanship!
I left the museum very pleased with what I saw. For years, I have been studying the historic and cultural contexts of the ancient world, but have very rarely seen them outside of paragraphs of text. Seeing all the artwork in three dimensions and with my own eyes – now, that’s what I call an enriching experience! I cannot imagine another place that can offer such a fulfilling expansion of my knowledge in this way as the Capitoline Museums.
I have never taken a political science class before, so I didn’t know what to expect when I enrolled in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy. The topics and discussions in the class really challenge me to consider perspectives and ask questions I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.
I’m always excited to learn new things from Professor Rinelli and from my peers in the classroom. For the session before our midterm exam, however, I was in for a bigger treat: a field trip to Piazza Vittorio in the middle of the city!
One of the readings we did for the class focused on the experiences of people who migrated to Rome, both from within and outside of Italy. We read a book titled Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. The book is a murder-mystery organized into testimonies from different characters, with each one coming from a different place and having a different story to tell. We examined the characters’ histories and prejudices and analyzed them in the context of broader questions such as why people migrate (and what separates different types of migrants – immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers – from each other), what stereotypes develop about certain groups, and what kinds of challenges do migrants face in Rome today.
Our guide worked for Migrantour, a non-government organization (NGO) that strives to raise awareness about the cultural diversity of Europe by organizing tours of multicultural cities. She introduced herself as an Albanian immigrant who lived in Rome for 16 years. I was excited to learn from a migrant in Rome, especially when discussing migration and diversity!
The tour focused on the Esquilino Square, which is the most culturally-diverse area in the center of Rome. Unlike the districts filled with the remnants of ancient times, the was developed as a way to modernize the city after Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871. Italy was not a unified country since the end of the Roman empire until the mid-19th century, when Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of Sardinia, became king of all of Italy. The area called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (near the Vittorio Emanuele Metro station, right after the Termini stop), called Piazza Vittorio for short, is named after him.
We left our meeting-point at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in downtown Rome and walked a few minutes past Termini station. Roma Termini is the largest station in Rome and is the major center for buses, the Roma metro, trains, and rides to the airport. I’ve been there multiple times to transfer to the Metro B or to catch trains to places outside of Rome, but I have never learned about the history in much detail until our class trip that mid-October morning.
We stopped at a place near the station, which Professor Rinelli described as a crucial location for migrants, since it was at the center of the city and held its main point of transportation and movement. It was a center for migrants that offers several different services for people who migrated to Rome from different places. Not only is this place a school where migrants can learn Italian (similar to the place my parents and sister took ESL (English as a second language) when they first moved to the United States), it is also a place where migrants can find legal advice for their status as immigrants or asylum-seekers and obtain medical assistance, a crucial service for the survival of vulnerable people.
It appears to be run-down, but this is only because it is very difficult to run a center like this one. The organization is not funded by the government or the church – in Rome, when it comes to helping human beings, a lot of things need to go through the Vatican. Furthermore, it is especially difficult for migrant women, especially Muslim women, to integrate into Italian society. Professor Rinelli added that this is an issue of marginalization because of religion and gender.
Around the migrant center were murals by a street artist named Sgarbi. To the right of the building, painted on the corner, was a portrait of Alberto Manzi. He was a teacher who taught Italian to one million people through television in the 1960’s. To the left was a larger painting of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, which includes Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (the first of which is what we call “Dante’s Inferno“) and widely considered the father of Italian language and culture. That is the reason why Dante is facing an African woman: the mural is a message and commentary on the multicultural society gravitating around the center.
Sgarbi’s work around the migrant center is one of the most moving things I’ve seen in Rome. I’ve always known I was an immigrant: I noticed that my family and I looked different from most people in Boston since I was in elementary school, and when I was a little older, I learned about my family’s journey to the United States. However, it wasn’t until I started taking this class that I learned what it means to be a migrant.
From a young age, I’ve understood how important it is to learn the lingua franca of a place. I was luckier than the rest of my family because I never needed to learn English as a second language: I grew up in Boston and learned English at the same time as the other children. I do not speak with the same accent as my parents or my sister and did not have the same struggles with reading and writing as they did. I remember being around my parents when they got phone calls in English and sometimes explaining what the person on the other end of the line was saying. I remember speaking on the phone in English myself when my parents got too confused to understand what the other person was saying.
Seeing the picture of Manzi and learning about who he was and what he did for a million people really touched me. The fact that he was able to teach so many people the valuable skill of communicating with, understanding, and creating bonds with others through television is amazing. Learning about the meaning of the mural also brought me back to my childhood. My mother told me that when I was little, she and I would watch children’s programs on TV. Most of my family’s exposure to English at home came from the television back then, and I grew up watching the same shows as my classmates did. We got better at English through watching TV, and I think I learned a lot of my English from the kids’ shows that focused on vocabulary and grammar. I could relate to the people who learned Italian through watching Manzi on TV in the 60’s.
Another one of Sgarbi’s works: Dante (who wrote Inferno) face-to-face with an African woman. A very important piece around Termini!
Professor Rinelli mentioned that adding the image of the African woman facing Dante on a wall around Termini was also a strong statement in favor for integrating migrants in Rome. I thought about his point about how migrant women in particular struggle to integrate more than migrant men do. I felt sorry for migrant women in Rome after hearing that – I am a migrant woman myself – and found solace in seeing the woman in the mural juxtaposed with the one and only Dante. The deeper meaning of Sgarbi’s piece gave me hope that integration is happening right here and now, and made me fully realize that this progress is unfolding right in front of us thanks to the power of these artistic representations.
We concluded our time outside the migrant center learning about the general time periods of migration in this part of Rome. The first major wave of immigration from places outside of Italy happened in the 1970’s. Italy was first a nation of emigration, but we also learned that in the late 19th-century, after the unification of Italy, Piazza Vittorio has always been a melting pot of cultures and languages from the workers who built the area after they moved here with hopes for better lives. It wasn’t until decades later when more people started moving into Italy from other countries.
The first groups of immigrants were from North Africa, in particular Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, countries that Italy once colonized and were part of the Fascist Empire during World War II. There were also people moving to this block in Rome from southern Italy. This part of the city was fairly empty at the time because of an economic crisis, and the new immigrants opened small shops in the properties, which were later purchased by Chinese immigrants.
We headed further downtown toward the Mercato Esquilino. In 1991, it was an open market that was a setting for The Bicycle Thieves, one of the most famous neo-realistic Italian films that was also hit in international cinemas. The Mercato was then moved into a new closed space in 2001. It is the largest and the most important market in Rome, with roughly 150 shops, most of which are food and grocery stands.
On our way, we stopped by a garden that was once part of the department of Asian languages at the Sapienza University of Rome, a few minutes north of Esquilino. There, I was surprised to see a statue of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, of all people! Professor Rinelli described the piece as something “unique” to Rome and in Italy overall. He said that the art in Italy is mostly euro-centric and that there are almost no references to other religions or cultures, so a piece of Asian art on display in a public space is rare to see. I’m glad I got to see it on this field trip!
We made our way to the market and entered to see a bustling area inside. There were too many shops to count, and I saw people selling things from different types of clothing, accessories, food, household essentials…you name it!
We walked through the first part of the market and headed outside to the newer part of the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. We learned about an initiative to give unsold goods to marginalized people in the area. So far, the market has donated a lot of food. I was happy to hear that everything is going to good use, even if unsold. It feels nice to know that people are helping those less fortunate than they are in this way.
We turned around and saw another one of Sgarbi’s pieces: a mural of a woman and a child reaching toward a scene of different fish in the ocean. On the top left were the words “Diversita Elemento Di Vita,” which means “Diversity is the element of life.” A powerful message that added to his other works around Termini!
The new part of the market was even busier than the first part. I saw a lot of fresh grocery stands selling produce, meat, fish, spices, and condiments. I walked past a display of bok choy and Chinese eggplants and got hungry. These are things my family and I always buy at Asian supermarkets back home. The stand made me think of my mother and her cooking. I could almost imagine smelling fresh eggplants cooking in our wok with some soy sauce and garlic. I think I’ll call Mom and ask for her recipes so I can make use of the nostalgic vegetables I saw on this trip.
On our walk through the market, I heard some of the people greet me with not “Hello” or “Hi,” but with the standard Chinese “Ni hao!”
Professor Rinelli told me that a lot of the people working in the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino were migrants or descended from migrants, and that they know “how to treat a Chinese.” I asked him if people in Rome saw me as American or Chinese, and he said that if I don’t speak, I am Chinese. I am 100% Chinese by blood, so it makes sense. Wait until they hear me speak Italian with an American accent!
Our last part of our adventure in the market was a short talk with one of Professor Rinelli’s friends, Omar. His family has run several butcher shops in the area for 39 years. He surprised me by speaking to me in Chinese. It turns out that he is a polyglot, speaking Spanish, French, Tagalog, Romanian, Chinese, and English! We also met his father, who told us about the importance of selling halal meat in Rome. Butchers like Omar and his father provide a valuable service to the Muslim community in the city.
Islam is not the only Abrahamic religion that is part of Italian society. There is a long history of Judaism in Rome, with services that offer kosher food is important in the city. Islam’s entrance into Italian society is fairly recent compared to the centuries of Jewish history in Rome. Learning about the cultural history at the butcher stand was a unique experience. I found Omar’s father’s explanation of how to prepare halal meat fascinating – I really learned a lot from him! Right behind us was a Chinese butcher stand that also prepares halal meat. I was amazed by this additional layer of cultural diversity in the market! It makes me happy to see people from different cultures cater to each other.
We said goodbye to Omar and his father and headed outside. We said another goodbye to our Migrantour guide and met in a square for a little bit to discuss the last part of the book. After a discussion on how the author captures the experiences of migrant women, I learned more about the history of the place.
The Esquilino square is, as Professor Rinelli said, “what you might call a melting pot in the United States” with people speaking different languages. In a way, he added, it was like a Babylon. In the 1990’s, the market was spread all around the square. I can only imagine what that must have been like, a square surrounded by markets stocked with international goods! Luckily, I can visit the old Esquilino through The Bicycle Thieves, the movie Professor Rinelli mentioned earlier. I can’t wait to watch such a famous film!
Finally, we learned about the architecture in this area and how it reflects the multi-layered soul of the ancient city. The psychology major in me was excited to recall that Professor Rinelli mentioned Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and likened it to Rome: he wrote, “Dreams stand to childhood memories, in the same relations as some baroque places in Rome to the ancient ruins, whose slabs and columns have provided the material for the construction of modern forms.”
I found it hard not to laugh when Professor Rinelli said that the architecture around us “makes no sense in Rome.” He himself is a Roman, and many parts of Rome do not look completely Roman. There was structural influence from northern Italy and from models categorized as the “Parisian style.” There is also a lack of balconies, which I hadn’t noticed until then. Fascinating how much you notice after learning about it firsthand!
This trip captures my favorite parts of studying abroad. Not only do I get to take classes on topics I had never tried to learn before, but I can also get am immersive approach through experiencing the topics in the real city. I’ll admit that Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken, but it is a very fun challenge I am eager to take on. I look forward to learning more about the world around me through further adventures in Rome.
And so ends another week at Temple Rome! Midterms are done! The semester is flying by quickly.
Looking back on my experience so far, I would say that one of the best parts of studying abroad is the fact that I can walk around Rome, but also experience other cities in Italy as well. Two weeks ago, I took up a classmate’s offer of spending a weekend in Florence with her and some of her friends. I bought my train ticket, packed my bags, went to Termini, and headed north.
Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is a city in Tuscany, which is a province in central Italy. It is almost two hours north of Rome and has an area of over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles; Rome is an area of almost 500 square miles) and has been around since the time of the ancient Romans.
Firenze is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (15-17th centuries C.E.) and was home to the wealthy Medicis, a family who held power in northern Italy. One of the Medicis commissioned works from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
I was in awe when I exited the train station on Friday morning. Everything I saw was like looking at a painting. Such grand architecture and brilliant colors complementing the beautiful Florentine sky!
My classmates and I stopped at a local restaurant, where I tried a maiolona pizza. I thought I liked meat-lover’s pizza in Boston, but let me tell you, when it comes to pizza, the original really is better!
I managed to finish the whole thing in one sitting and decided to sleep it off at the place we were staying afterward. After I woke up, we went to see the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio, which is Italian for “old bridge.”
And this is no misnomer: it really is an old bridge, dating back to medieval times! Hard to imagine that it was the only bridge not destroyed during WWII. It is currently a major center for jewelry shops in Florence.
For dinner on Friday night, my classmates and I tried some Tuscan cuisine: charcuterie! I tried a lot of different breads and cured meats. I never had charcuterie in the United States, so it was good to try it in Florence!
Enjoyed some Tuscan cuisine with a Florentine charcuterie board! From left to right: bread with olives, slices of mortadella, bread with tomato-chili paste, some olives, slices of prosciutto, some sheep’s cheese, pieces of spicy salami, and some roasted vegetables.
The next day, I took another train north, this time to the city of Ferrara. We had a guest speaker one day in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, one of the classes I am taking a Temple Rome this semester. Sara Prestianni is a photographer and advocative for migrant rights. She focuses the effects of migration policies in north Africa. I was fascinated by her talk and heard that she and her colleagues would be presenting at an International Festival at Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.
I knew I was going to be in Florence for the weekend, and it was only an hour away via train, so what was there to lose? Unfortunately, by the time I got to the venue, I asked one of the festival staff about the event and she said that the place was full and could not fit any more people.
At least I got a cool-looking program about the Internazionale a Ferrara! I hope I can read it in its full Italian one day.
I wasn’t going to let my efforts to get from Florence to Ferrara go to waste, so I walked around the city for an hour. I was happy that I got to see a new place on a sunny day. The famous Castello Estense, which is a medieval fortress surrounded by a moat in the center of the city, was so beautiful in the sunlight!
I bought some postcards at a local gift shop. I love collecting postcards everywhere I go; they make great decorations for my bedroom wall! I brought the postcards from Ferrara to class along with the Internazionale a Ferrara 2019 program to class after I went back to Rome. I showed all my souvenirs from Ferrara to Professor Rinelli, who teaches Immigration, Race, and Immigration in Modern Italy. He said that it was unfortunate that I couldn’t see the festival, but he looked amused when I showed him my postcards from the city.
I walked back to the Ferrara train station and went back to Florence. I met my classmates for dinner at another restaurant. There, I tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce. Two for two with the good food, Firenze!
On my last day in Florence, I decided to do a bit of shopping. Florentine leather is known for its high quality and high demand in the global market. There are leather good everywhere, sold both in the vast outdoor markets around the city and in smaller indoor shops along the sidewalks.
I strolled through the San Lorenzo market, a major outdoor shopping space in Florence. I got curious about the large building in the middle of the market, so I went inside and was surprised to find in the bustling Mercato Centrale (pronounced mur-cah-toe chen-trahl-le) of Firenze!
I was fascinated by all the food stands. It reminded me a little of the food court at my local mall, only each shop had its own unique history of being founded and run by artisan chefs. I stopped by a fried food station, where I grew curious about one of the items they had on their menu: fried rabbit.
I spent €10 on a special combination of fried foods: fried chicken on the bottom with some fried rabbit on top, sprinkled with bits of fried vegetables and a few lemon slices. (Don’t worry, Mom: I’m eating my vegetables!) To this day, I’m impressed that I didn’t get any of the batter crumbs on me as I ate it while sitting on a bench near the market entrance.
This was my first time trying rabbit. I’ve had boar and venison in Titignano last month, but fried rabbit was really quite something! I could tell it was rabbit because it was the meat that didn’t taste like chicken; trust me, I know what chicken tastes like. It had a mild flavor but a strong aftertaste.
After my spontaneous lunch in the Mercato Centrale, I resumed my stroll through the shops at San Lorenzo market. I stopped at a few outdoor stands to buy some gifts for friends and family in the States (get ready for some real Florentine leather from Hui!) and to buy some new accessories. I think the felt hat and silk scarf fit me quite well after I take off my ponytail!
I decided to spend my last hour in Florence seeing the Arno one last time. As I headed toward the Ponte Vecchio, I noticed something I had missed on my first visit on Friday evening. There was a statue of a pig that I looked up on my phone a bit later. It is a bronze statue called Il Porcellino (Italian for “The Piglet”). I saw people placing coins in its mouth and rubbing its nose. Turns out this is a tradition in Florence, and feeding the Porcellino some coins before touching its snout is supposed to bring good luck!
Il Porcellino (“The Piglet”) in the middle of Florence. I saw people putting coins in the boar’s mouth. I read that rubbing its nose brings good luck. No wonder why the bronze looks a bit different on its porcine snout!
The river looks absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun! I’m glad I decided to revisit the bridge and enjoy the view at a different time of day. Time seemed to stand still by the Arno that afternoon, and I could have sworn I was there for hours until my phone screen lit up with a reminder that I had agreed to meet my classmates to pick up our luggage at the hotel half an hour before catching our train back to Rome.
It was a wonderful weekend in Florence. Such a rich culture and history in a small city! Very different from Rome in its atmosphere and scenery. I’m happy I got to experience it firsthand. I bought some things for myself as souvenirs. I think of Florence every time I wear my leather jacket. It is the first leather product I’ve ever owned, and the shopkeeper said that it will last a lifetime. Just like the memories of this weekend in Florence.
I’ve enjoyed attending guest lectures since I was a first-year at Holy Cross. I love not only learning about our visitors and the work they do, but also listening to the community discussions and engaging in the Q&A sessions afterward. I was excited to hear that we were getting a visitor on campus for a discussion on an important topic: race in Italy.
I signed up to attend the event right away. I knew from the start that this discussion would enrich my experience and goals at Temple Rome. I am taking two classes relating to race in Italy this semester. These were the courses I wanted to take since the moment I saw them on Temple Rome’s website last semester. One is a political science course called “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy.” The other is a Classics course called “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean.”
I was thrilled to secure seats in both of the classes and was excited to compare and contrast the role of race and identity in Italy from both ancient and modern perspectives. I knew my family’s story of moving to the United States from a different country. I know how my race and identity have shaped my experience as a minority from an immigrant family. And now I have the chance to learn someone else’s story through a discussion on race in Italy.
Our guest was Susanna Twumwah, a local activist who will be graduating soon with a degree in International Relations and Development. She is part of the association QuestaèRoma (Italian for “This is Rome”), which addresses racism and discrimination through activities involving art, sports, and cultural heritage. QuestaèRoma also advocates for a more inclusive definition of Italian citizenship. Susanna hosts workshops for communities who arrived as part of a diaspora into not only Rome and other places in Italy, but also in different places abroad as well.
Benedicta Djumpah, who works as a student life assistant at Temple University Rome, is an activist as well and hosted the discussion alongside Susanna. I see Benedicta a lot on campus and enjoy talking to her in my free time. We have conversations about growing up as minorities in our communities and how we empower ourselves to find our own paths and adapt to the world around us. I am grateful to Benedicta for her orientation speech on how the Italian concept and perspective on race are different from how American students see race and racial issues in the United States. The information in her presentation was useful and helped me adjust to living in Rome.
Benedicta (left) hosted a discussion with Susanna Twumwah (right) on Race in Italy. Photo by Jesse Gardner, Temple University ’21, taken and used with permission from the Temple University Rome Facebook page.
Both Benedicta and Susanna are of Ghanaian descent and are part of the Afro-Italian community. Benedicta spoke about how she became “aware of her blackness” at age 6. She was proud of her Ghanaian heritage and learned her parents’ languages and ancestral culture when she went to Ghana at age 10. In her teens, Benedicta felt more proud of and identified as Italian more than she did Ghanaian. It was only a few years ago that she understood herself as an Afro-Italian.
Susanna had a similar story about the “moment of realization” regarding her identity. When she was a child, her classmates asked her, “Are you Italian?” She had an Italian passport and said that she “felt Italian.” She didn’t like using her Ghanaian surname and was afraid to speak English and Twi (one of many local government-sponsored languages in Ghana); she wanted to be “100% Italian.” Currently, she speaks about herself through both an African and Italian view.
Benedicta asked Susanna about her thoughts on the concept of race in Italy. Susanna responded with an explanation how the Italian lacks the vocabulary on the topic. The word “race” is more commonly used in the United States than it is in Italy, where the equivalent razza is rarely used. When the concept of “race” is used in Italian, it refers to “whether a person is white or black.”
In “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean,” I learned that the word “race” is unlike many of the words in the English language. Professor Bessi, a Classical archaeologist who is teaches the course, said that it does not have roots in ancient Greek or Latin. Instead, it comes from “raca,” a word from an early French dialect dating to the 12th or 13th century C.E. “Raca” (and later “raza” in an early Italian dialect) referred to horse breeding and was extended to humans during conquests from the 16th-17th centuries. It took me some time to process this when I learned this story.
One of the questions Susanna hears a lot is, “How do you want me to call you? Person of color, black, or African?” I was surprised that the term “person of color,” which is what I would be considered in the United States, would not apply to me in Italy. As a response to the question, Susanna replied that she would prefer to be called by her name: Susanna.
Susanna then spoke about her physical appearance in relation to her identity. She cut her hair one year ago; she used to wear wigs before then. She wore what she called a “natural hairstyle” four years ago as well. She described how people approached her differently after she adopted her new hairstyle, and she found the experience empowering. She felt comfortable in her own hair and gave us some sound advice: finding your identity takes time. It took years for her to embrace herself in this way.
Benedicta and Susanna also spoke about stereotypes of Africans in Italy. There is a misconception that Afro-Italians are “all the same,” even though individuals and families in the Afro-Italian community come from different backgrounds, identifying themselves as different ethnicities, tracing their ancestry to different countries of origin, and speaking different languages. There is also an assumption that people of color in Italy don’t speak Italian; I almost laughed when I heard this, because I’m sure that Benedicta and Susanna can speak Italian, given what they do.
Both Benedicta and Susanna added stories about their experiences embracing their families’ languages, homeland, and cultures. They stated the importance of knowing where they are from and to learn the culture and history, even if much of it has been lost through imperialism. (Ghana was one of the places colonized during the European “Scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century.) One needs the language to understand the culture, so both Benedicta and Susanna learned the local languages in Ghana.
I was intrigued by the stories about learning local culture in Ghana. It vaguely reminded me of how my family and I used to visit relatives in China, where no one spoke English. I learned to use Mandarin Chinese from a young age and learned about my ancestral culture firsthand from my parents and from local people in China. I also remember learning about my heritage through museums in both my hometown of Boston and in my parents’ homelands in China. My mother tells me about the historic and cultural contexts of the Chinese artifacts we see in exhibits.
I asked Susanna about learning about her heritage through visiting not only Ghana as a whole country, but also through seeing smaller parts of her ancestral culture such as through Ghanaian exhibitions in museums. I was especially curious in how she perceives the presentation of Ghanaian artifacts in Italian or Ghanaian museums. She said that she liked the Ghanaian museums better. There is a clear difference in how much one culture would understand another one compared to a culture representing itself on its own soil.
I also asked a question about the earliest Afro-Italians. I remembered how Professor Rinelli, who teaches me in “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy,” described Italy as a country of mass emigration before it became a country of mass immigration. He stated that there were more Italians leaving than there were people from other countries moving into Italy until the latter half of the 20th century, when larger waves of immigrations occured. I wanted to learn about the history of Africans in Italy and how the term “Afro-Italian,” vague as it is, came to be used as a prominent description in the modern day.
Susanna helped me understand that the term “Afro-Italian” is a fairly recent one and is difficult to apply to a more historical context. The closest people who we can all the earliest Afro-Italians were in Italy since the late 18th century. These “Afro-Italians” were born and grew up in Italy. In the community today, there is a difference between first-generation immigrants and their children, who are referred to as the “New Generation.” Those part of the New Generation have a large responsibility for the contributing to the terminology on the topic.
Some of the other students asked about the social-political challenges the Afro-Italian community faces today. I have a lot of respect for my peers – they were not only listening to Susanna’s story, but also considering the more current and widespread implications of the situation. One of the other students asked about the political scene more specifically. Susanna’s answer was what I think one of the most important take-aways from the discussion.
Not only is it difficult to have a national conversation and discussion about race in Italy because of the lack of terminology (the Accademia della Crusca, a key institution that focuses on the Italian language, isn’t listening to Afro-Italian communities on the topic), but also because movements of anti-racist sentiment in Italy are not unified and not strong compared to the more racist beliefs of the larger political parties in the country. Furthermore, there is a lack of representation of Afro-Italians in the media. When there are people from the Afro-Italian community in TV programs, they are usually based on stereotypes. Susanna said that some people “think there aren’t black Italians” or harbor misconceptions about the community because of this.
This event was a fascinating and eye-opening experience for me. Even though Benedicta and Susanna have a different cultural background than I do, I could relate to their stories. I could relate to hearing myself described in generalized terms (in particular “Asian-American”) while I identify as a Chinese-American and to growing up in an environment where people used to ask me, “Are you American?” I was also self-conscious of my foreign name (both “Hui” and “Li” are Chinese) and what I “want[ed] people to call” me. I could also relate to how I rarely saw people like me on TV and didn’t feel represented in the media.
I stayed after the end of the discussion and thanked Susanna for coming. I learned a lot from her talk and said that even though I could not identify as a “person of color” in Italy, I understood and could relate to her experiences. I went home feeling empowered and not alone in my experiences as a woman of color in the United States.
The discussion “Race in Italy” took place on the evening of Tuesday, October 1. Photos from the event were posted on Temple University Rome’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 12.