January 21, 2020: exactly one month since I returned from Rome! Will time ever stop flying by like this?
Today was the first day of classes for the Spring 2020 semester. I’ve moved into my room at Holy Cross and am off to a new start!
Even though I am back the United States for the rest of my time in college, unpacking for this semester feels a bit like unpacking my suitcases in Rome. How odd it feels, to be unpacking without jetlag (or hearing Italian everywhere)! Despite the cold (it’s below freezing in Worcester, brrr!), this fresh moving-in experience does feel like move-in day last semester.
I think it’s because I’m starting a new adventure of sorts. I may not be new to Holy Cross (I first moved into the dorms in August 2017 – almost three years ago!), but I am starting a fresh journey with a brand-new perspective.
This is my first semester returning to campus with the knowledge I gained in Rome. I look forward to seeing how my experiences from my semester abroad will affect how I view my remaining semesters at Holy Cross.
One of the first people I saw after everyone was back on campus was my study abroad advisor. I was so happy to see him – it’s been seven months since I saw him in person! He was happy to see me as well, and he was even happier to see the souvenir I had bought for him: a Temple Rome luggage tag! I love starting my semesters with some cheer on campus. It makes me smile to see other people happy.
When I decorated my room yesterday, I made sure to include some of the many postcards I had collected in Italy. I also brought two sets of photographs I took in the fototessere (photo booths) at the Metro stations Rome. I found a set of pictures from September 20 and another from December 20: exactly 3 months between the two photo shoots! How I’ve changed: I have a better sense of fashion!
This is my 30th (and final) post on this blog. It was a true pleasure to be a study abroad blogger during my semester abroad in Rome. Thank you for joining me on this adventure.
I admit that there were some days where I had initially planned to update my blog, but ran out of energy at the end of the day. But even on the most exhausting days, I still find the motivation to share my experiences because of the kind feedback I get from you, whether in person or online.
I’m glad I could answer your questions on my Q&A – I had no idea how many questions I was going to get, and you really delivered!
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog as I have adding to it! I thought of myself as more of a photographer than a writer before I applied to be a study abroad blogger, and the months of maintaining this page has made me more confident in my work. In addition to the countless extrinsic joys I’ve derived from my adventures abroad, I have also gained a more intrinsic sense of self-esteem through my experiences.
Arrivederci, tutti! Adesso, torno all’università per continuare le mie avventure.
Goodbye, everyone! Now, I return to college to continue my adventures.
College of the Holy Cross – Class of 2021
Temple University Rome – Fall 2019
Time really flew since I returned from my semester abroad, and I admit that I’m feeling a bit Rome-sick! Maybe it’s the chilly Boston weather and lack of Italian on the streets that make me miss the Eternal City.
Besides unpacking (and taking a lot of naps because of my jetlag), I spent my winter break re-acquainting myself with my home city. I went to see a special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, a place I’ve loved since I was a child. I’m glad I made it to the museum before the exhibition closes on the 20th – it was a wonderful experience!
The exhibition was called “Ancient Nubia Now” and features artifacts uncovered during joint excavations between the Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University in the 1910s and ’20s. Ancient Nubia was a civilization in Africa that covered what is now south Egypt and most of Sudan.
According to the information in the exhibit, several scholars have overlooked or even completely dismissed the artifacts, focusing instead on ancient Egypt. Several panels in the exhibit address the historical biases against the civilization and state how the museum strives to move ancient Nubia into the spotlight it was denied decades before.
I was blown away by the first room of the exhibit – so many objects that, despite being created millenia ago, are so well-preserved that they look like they were made recently! I loved the turquoise-blue pigments on the stone.
The main site of the early-20th century excavations in Sudan was Kerma, an ancient Nubian city founded in 2400 B.C.E. It was the center of the civilization for centuries and holds a plethora of artifacts and cultural remnants still being studied today.
The ancient Nubians rivaled the ancient Egyptians and fought with them in the mid-16th century B.C.E., after which the Egyptians conquered Kerma. Since then, the ancient Nubians were incorporated into ancient Egypt and adopted cultural influences from their neighbors to the north. The center of Nubian civilization was no longer at Kerma and was instead situated in a city called Meroe after Egypt occupied Nubia until the first millenium B.C.E.
Further in the exhibit, I read about how this assimilation may have contributed to negative opinions of the ancient Nubians in the past. The scholars who dismissed the findings at Kerma were more focused on ancient Egypt, the civilization which they saw as the more powerful body in Africa. Some did not even consider the ancient Nubians as a separate people from the ancient Egyptians because of the cultural incorporation. Furthermore, the Nubians were seen as enemies of the ancient Egyptians and were portrayed negatively in their records.
The Museum of Fine Arts seeks to rectify these past biases. There were videos of archaeologists speaking about present work on ancient Nubia and of people who were moved by this new perspective of an ancient civilization. There were photographs and excerpts telling the story of the excavations as well. I found these helpful in keeping these artifacts in the context of the interpretations of the findings.
One of the last things I saw in the exhibit made me smile. It was a display about the influence of Greco-Roman art on ancient Nubia. It was fascinating to see artifacts that looked similar to the things I saw while I was in Rome.
My experience in “Ancient Nubia Now” made appreciate the education I got in Rome last semester even more. In particular, I am grateful for the opportunities I had to explore so much of the ancient world in my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean class.
The ancient Etruscans formed a civilization in the Italian peninsula before ancient Romans did. They were eventually incorporated into ancient Rome, which became the civilization that is more commonly studied today. The ancient Nubians created an early civilization that was incorporated into ancient Egypt, which was seen as the major power in the academic spotlight. Both the Etruscans and the Nubians were overshadowed by the ancient Romans and ancient Egyptians, respectively.
The exhibit also reminded me of the temporary “Carthago” exhibit at the Colosseum. I think the ancient Nubians are similar to the ancient Carthaginians in that they were perceived as the “enemy” in another power’s eyes. Kerma was destroyed after the ancient Egyptians conquered Nubia, and Carthage was destroyed after the Romans won the Third Punic War. Both “Ancient Nubia Now” and “Carthago” display the remnants of the two obscured cultures from a lesser-known perspective.
Had I not gone to Rome, and had I not taken Race in the Ancient Mediterranean, I would not have been able to enjoy learning about ancient Nubia to this degree. I’ve gained not only more knowledge from a different point of view, but also more advanced critical thinking skills. I’m proud of how much I got out of my museum visit back home. I know someone who will be amused by adventures here as well.
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!
That’s right: I’ve returned home after my semester abroad! It feels strange, not writing this from Rome. The last time I published a blog post in the United States was back in September, on the day before I caught my flight to Fiumicino Airport.
As I unpack the many things I brought with me from Rome, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience abroad. So many sensations – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches – from just three and a half months in another country! The whole semester was a lot to take in and a lot of fun to explore!
I had a hard time packing my suitcases on my flight back to Boston, I can’t believe I got so much stuff! I paid a little extra for my checked bag because it was over the weight limit.
I’m slowly but surely recovering from jetlag. There is a six-hour time difference between Rome and Boston. It took me three days of naps to readjust to Eastern Standard Time.
I miss Temple Rome already. I smile every time I think about the people I met there. A lot of good memories! How time flies.
In the three days of re-orienting myself to my hometown, I looked through all of my previous blog posts and all of my favorite photos. I decided that it would be a waste not to combine the two and create a digital record of my experiences. Why not make a video of my adventures this semester?
On Christmas day, I did just that! Check it out right here!
As I continue to reflect on my time abroad, I think it’ll be nice to hear from you, my readers, about what you would like me to write about in my next post. (I’m thinking about publishing a little Q&A based on what you would like to ask me.)
Leave a comment, and I’ll either respond to it on this post or include it in the future as I continue to look back on my experiences. It may take a little bit for comments to appear on my post, but be assured that I do take every bit of feedback I get! Can’t wait to hear what you would like me talk about as a study abroad blogger.
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.
December: my last month in Rome! Time and time again, I stop to wonder: where has all the time gone?
Three months ago, on September 9, I had my first day of classes. And now here I am, attending my final classes for the semester, taking care of big projects and papers, and preparing for final exams.
I don’t know how to feel about this day. It feels like only yesterday I published my first monthly reflection. I thought my October 9 post was a good landmark of where I was in my semester abroad, so I was happy to write another one on November 9. Today, December 9, will be my last monthly reflection on this blog. I guess I would say that this is quite a bittersweet moment as I sit at my desk and write this on my computer.
A lot has happened in the past month. I went on my first class trip to a different country (read about my adventures in Lisbon here) and got to see my parents in Italy over Thanksgiving break. I really missed Mom and Dad this semester. I talk to them on the phone sometimes and saw them through the occasional video call.
I picked them up at Termini station after they flew to Rome from Boston. Mom says that I’ve changed a lot since they dropped me off at the airport in August. I can owe part of that the haircut and the sense of fashion I’ve picked up in Rome (clothes seem to fit better on me here), but deep down, I can tell that I’ve grown a lot from my experiences learning to be independent in a foreign country.
I showed Mom and Dad the major sights in Rome. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountains, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon.. We went back to the Colosseum a few days later to get tickets to go inside. I was happy to tell them all the things I learned about the place in class. In a way, I was like their personal tour guide!
We also saw the Vatican Museums (which is right behind my apartment in the Residence) and went to Venice on Thanksgiving Day (read about going to the Floating City during flood season here). My parents were in just as much awe as I was the first I saw Italy. Even at the end of the semester, there is always another sight and experience else to take in.
I turned 21 on the last day of November, and I am glad I got to celebrate it with my family. The sun was shining on that wonderful Saturday afternoon, and I got to rent a boat in the Parco di Villa Borghese (a short walk from Flaminio station near Temple Rome’s campus).
I had gone to the park before and have always wanted to get a closer look at the ancient Greek temple in the center of the pond, but I couldn’t rent a boat unless I had at least one other person with me. With Mom and Dad there with me, I got the row a boat on my birthday! It took a while for me to figure out how to row, but once I got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing from there!
Mom and Dad treated me to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, where I got to show them how much Italian I had learned in the past three months. They were impressed at how I spoke to the waiter without using any English.
I’ve surely come a long way from my basic phrases of “survival Italian” at the beginning of the semester! I’ve been speaking to the Residence staff in Italian almost every day, and they say that I’ve improved as well. I like to tell them about my day and ask how they’re doing.
I’ve also been getting involved with events in the Temple Rome community. I was often given the task of photographing events both on and off-campus, and from my year as a student photographer I gained a lot of experience with my camera from my duties. I helped my professor take pictures throughout the Lisbon, and I think word of my photography skills reached a few others in the community.
I was invited to photograph a long-time staff member’s retirement party. I was very happy to help out like I had at Holy Cross earlier this year. And what perfect timing: I had found out about the retirement while I was in Lisbon, and I happened to walk past a nice cherry-red (Temple University’s school color) handbag in the shopping mall on my last day in Portugal. You bet I bought it as a retirement gift!
It is my token of appreciation for Mrs. Morelli’s kindness when I first arrived in August. She was also one of my first fans: several of the Temple Rome have come across my blog and read my posts! Mrs. Morelli liked my post about Santa Marinella the most. She said that it made her feel 20 years old again. As a new 21-year old, I can confirm that I too feel 20 years old when I re-read my posts. She seemed amused when I said that during my speech before giving her my present.
My photography isn’t limited to events, though. I’ve taken a lot of pictures on my travels and had a hard time picking just two for the student art exhibition. I was surprised to see my photographs on display outside of the faculty offices on campus! I’ve gotten a lot of praise for my pictures. Some people even asked if I was selling prints of these! I’m very flattered that the community likes my work!
I have taken all the feedback I’ve gotten into deep consideration, and I am working on something I can do for the with these photos. What do I have in mind? We’ll have to wait and see!
I’ll leave you with a set of photographs I’ve taken throughout the semester. Every month, I have taken a picture of the postcards and books I have above my desk in the Residence. Every month, my collection grows with all the new places I’ve seen on my adventures. It’s amazing to see how much I’ve experienced in what I realize is a short time!
Lastly, I would like to thank all of you, my readers, for going on this journey with me. It was a pleasure writing down all my adventures abroad for you to experience as well. I am sad that this is my last monthly reflection to you. If there is something I’ve learned from how quickly this semester as gone by, it is to appreciate every experience you come across, even the difficult, challenging ones. I’ve found all of my experiences, both good and stressful, very rewarding in the end. I’m happy with all I’ve done in three months. I will look back upon these entries and smile at these experiences in the future.
Onward, to wrapping up the semester! I wish the best of luck to everyone at Temple Rome and everyone at Holy Cross. You got this!
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.
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 am pleased to share that after my unexpected delay and improvised adventure (hence my previous post), I made it to Pompeii on Saturday, September 21! Glad that went according to plan, at least.
After a three-hour bus ride, I arrived at Pompei (spelled with one “i” in Italian) at 3:10 p.m. I got to see the central and southern Italian landscape we drove into and past the city of Naples (Napoli in Italian).
I walked thirty minutes to the Parco Archeological di Pompei (Archaeological Park of Pompeii). Almost two millenia ago, in 79 C.E., Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed several ancient Roman cities in the area of southern Italy (which is now the Gulf of Naples).
Pompeii was one of the cities wiped out during the volcanic eruption, but the ruins of the city and eyewitness accounts from the ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder still exist today and tell us the story of the place both before and during the eruption. While the volcano that buried the city in ash was a destructive force, it was also a protective one by shielding the ruins from erosion on the outside.
I learned a bit about Pompeii in Classical archaeology. My professor said that the site has been excavated, studied, and visited since the 18th century – it was a stop on the “Grand Tour” during the Enlightenment. Men from wealthier families, who studied the Classics as part of their education, travelled around the Mediterranean to see the ancient world. In the 19th century especially, Pompeii was a common destination for the “Grand Tour-ists.”
The rich were not the only ones who stopped by Pompeii after its rediscovery. In addition to the city itself, people have also found tunnels dug by robbers who looted valuables from the site. I wonder which areas of the park were excavated by trained archaeologists or looters first.
A closer look at Pompeii on Google Earth.
I was fascinated by Pompeii even before I came to Holy Cross. I took a course on ancient Roman history in high school and learned about Pompeii. We read a well-researched realistic fiction book about the city before and during the eruption of 79 and wrote our own short stories set in 1st-century Pompeii. My classmates and I used the names of actual people who lived in Pompeii at that time and reconstructed their lives and final moments during the pyroclastic flow of the eruption.
I first saw images of Pompeii through images on books and screens and learned more through videoes and documentaries. I was curious to see Pompeii firsthand when I researched aspects of daily life in the city and found interesting details about the eruption. It was one thing to see and learn about Pompeii in two-dimensions when I was younger: now, I got to see the real thing with my own eyes as an adult.
I thought about Mr. Blake, the teacher who first introduced me to Pompeii in high school, during this trip. He is the Head of the Classics department at Noble and Greenough School, which is a few minutes south of Boston. I graduated from Nobles over two years ago. He taught me Latin and ancient Roman history in high school and was my academic advisor. Mr. Blake and I have stayed connected and we talk as fellow Classics majors on occasion. I also come back to Nobles sometimes to give guest lectures to his students.
I knew quite a few things about Pompeii before I even planned to study abroad, but I was still blown away by my first view of the archaeological park. For years, I had seen Pompeii through pictures smaller than I was. I was amazed by the sheer size of the place – these were the ruins of a full-size city in front of me!
I walked into the entrance of the park after buying a ticket (I paid the adult fare, or €15) and saw bright colors still on the stones they were painted onto two millennia ago. Impressive how colorful the place is!
After I had recovered from my mini Pompeii-shock, I walked into main sites within the site. The Basilica and Forun were huge, open spaces which would have been the equivalent of a central square in a modern city today. There would have been a lot of busy buildings and people walking about in antiquity – now, it is like the remains of a ghost town of sorts. Stunning, but also haunting, with the fragmented pieces of Pompeii standing on site with the currently dormant Mt. Vesuvius in the background.
On my walk around the Forum, I found a fence that separated the site from a storage area where I saw a lot of artifacts organized into shelves and displayed on ground level. Interesting to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the archaeologists’ work in Pompeii.
Like I did on my first day in Rome, I walked around the city. There is something about walking on the cobblestone paths that makes it feel like I’ve gone back in time. Pompeii is a city frozen in time, after all!
I headed toward the enigmatic-sounding Villa of Mysteries after exploring the streets. I walked past some tombs and grave monuments once I exited the central part of the ruins. I had learned to read some grave inscriptions in Latin when I was at Nobles and knew what some of the abbreviations stood for.
A tomb with bright flowers stood out to me. I couldn’t read all of the text because of the lighting, but once I returned to my apartment and enhanced the photo, I recognized enough of the words to read the inscription. I did some more research online for the pieces I was having trouble with and found out that this was the tomb of a man who was a major leader in Pompeii. He had an expensive funeral and a monument dedicated to him in the Forum.
The Villa of Mysteries was farther along the path. It is a large building separate from the rest of the houses in Pompeii. The “mysteries” in its name do not come from the literal sense of the word. The ancient Romans had many gods, but some deities has more of a cult following than others. The rituals of these worshippers are more obscure than the more common religious practices. I have seen the activities of certain cults referred to as “mysteries” in my studies.
The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius claimed the lives of many Pompeiians, and several of the bodies were buried in volcanic ash. As time passed, the ash hardened and preserved the spaces the people once filled. Archeologists have been able to create plaster casts from these voids and gain insight on the final resting positions of the victims.
The villa also houses colorful paintings on the walls. I learned about the four styles of Pompeiian wall paintings in Mr. Blake’s class, and I recognized some of the paintings as art in the Second Style, which features realistically-proportioned architecture similar to those in the backdrops of theatres. The Second Style is an older style that was in fashion a century before the eruption. This is a good indicator that the Villa of Mysteries is an older building in Pompeii.
The park was about to close by the time I stepped out of the Villa of Mysteries. I also had to catch my ride back to Rome: couldn’t stay out too late because it would already take more than three hours to get to Roma Tiburtina. I bought some souvenirs. I’m particularly excited to read an interactive book about Pompeii in the past and present! I bought a copy in English and another in Chinese (so I can learn to describe Pompeii in my other language).
I wish I could have spent more time at Pompeii. There was so much more I would have liked to see, but I was happy that I finally saw the ancient city I had learned so much about since I was younger. I got to see Pompeii come to life in three dimensions.
I emailed Mr. Blake and told him about how, years after I was vigorously reading about Pompeii for my Roman history project, I got to live my dream of studying abroad in Rome and seeing Pompeii with my own eyes. I thanked him for teaching so much about the ancient world and asked if I could mention him in an anecdote in my blog. He was pleased to hear from me and to follow my adventures online. He said that I could mention him and his history class.
On my way back to Rome, I watched the sun set over Pompeii. The colors of the sky over the deep blue of the sea and the black silhouette of the coast were beautiful. Like Pompeii, it is a sight I want to see again. I think I might revisit Pompeii sometime and see more of the place.
Until then, dear Pompeii! May we meet again. As Mr. Blake would sign his emails to me in Latin: cura ut valeas! Take care, so that you are well!