This past summer I spent six weeks in Sicily. When I initially chose that program, my intention was to take Classics courses at the host school and pick up some Italian. However, the Classics courses available were not that appealing so I decided to take a class on Piracy of the Mediterranean and beginner's Italian instead. The experience that followed was amazing.
I found studying Italian to be exhilarating since I had to speak it. I found that I learned just as much from the class as I did from going to the market or the pasticeria down the street that sold much of their bread to the nuns next door or on the train from Rome where I sat with three Italian men (two of whom were in a band) an Argentinean working at his doctorate in physics in Rome, and a Romanian on holiday.
Despite the fact I did not take any Classics courses, I managed to see so much that had to do with Classics. The island we were on (Ortigia), just off of Siracusa, contained many ancient sites, including a temple to Apollo (that is actually signed) and a baroque church that was a mosque that was a Norman church that was a temple to Athena. A few blocks from my apartment was the Fountain of Arethusa, mentioned in the Aeneid. Another student and I made a long bus trip to the other side of Sicily to Agrigento to see the Valley of the Temples. We saw the Greek theaters of Siracusa and Taormina and climbed up part of Etna. In Siracusa there is one of the best collections of classical artifacts at the Paolo Orsi Museum, which contains, among other things, the famous running Medusa relief. While in Malta I saw the Tarxien temples, the oldest megalithic structure in Europe. I also visited the Malta history museum, which contained many artifacts from the site.
The most amazing part of my trip was visiting Rome. A few students and I traveled by train from Siracusa (the train gets on a ferry). We saw most of the major sites including the Flavian Amphitheater, the Forum Romanum, the Pantheon, Trajan's Column, the Circus Maximus, Augustus' Mausoleum, the Ara Pacis and Vatican City. Vatican City was the high point of the entire trip. We arrived early and saw much of the museum. I was walking down a corridor full of Roman busts, trying to see which one I could recognize. I turned a corner and was looking along the left side of the hallway, when I turned around, and there, in a brilliant ray of light, was the Augustus Prima Porta. The shock at what I was seeing nearly drove me to tears. In addition to this, I was part of a tour of the excavation below St. Peter's basilica, where I saw St. Peter's tomb. I don't know if it was real, but it was awe-inspiring.
I would highly recommend that anyone, no matter what their major, study abroad in Sicily. The people, the classes, the food and the sites all make it the trip of your life.
Note: Yes, I did take over a thousand pictures.
CJ Kamp '08 is a senior and a Latin major. His trip was partly made possible by the William J. Hogan Summer Assistance Scholarship.