Imagine this: thirty-six Classics majors living, eating, breathing and doing everything together for almost four months in Rome. That’s enough to make anyone want to run and head in the opposite direction. Except for us. We eagerly took on this adventure and welcomed the “boot camp” designed especially for lovers of the Classics. Almost every day consisted of a field trip to visit ancient excavation sites, archaeological digs, tombs, temples, churches, etc. Our schedule was jam-packed with classes, activities, and of course, lots of home-cooked Italian meals. Though it was an intense program to take part in, it truly was a unique experience that proved to be unforgettable.
On our first day, Franco, our Director, told us that this experience was going to change our lives. I merely kept my expression blank and looked around to see that everyone else was thinking what I was skeptically pondering: are you serious? Yes, we were all excited and ready to experience a new lifestyle but surely we were not expecting to change our lives simply by studying abroad. Ironically, this statement was something that stayed with me the entire semester. I found myself often wondering whether or not it had happened yet. Is my life completely turned around yet? Nope. Have I made friends for life yet? Possibly. Am I smarter? Maybe.
I was expecting these life-changing experiences to occur all in one day, but I discovered that epiphanies are realized only after the moment has passed. Each day we would go to one or more sites for lectures, equipped with our listening devices (lovingly called “Cicero”), clipboards, pens, paper, backpacks, and lunches. The routine was the same: visit sites in the morning (rain or sun), have classes in the afternoon and evening, and come back to the Centro (our school) to enjoy wonderful meals with friends and professors by nightfall. This agenda was ingrained in me by the end of the second week. I remember when after the first week was over, it felt as if we had been there for a month already. That’s how much we saw and spent time with each other.
The most profound experiences for me, in the program, were seeing ancient structures still standing and in use today, and admiring some of the most beautiful artwork in the world including those of Raphael and Michelangelo. I would go from climbing a mountain of broken pottery shards one day, to attending Sunday mass in St. Peters’ basilica at the Vatican the next day. The week was always filled with dynamic places to see and learn about, which at times exhausted many of us. Every space in Rome was filled with history and significance, and we were given a chance to learn as much as we could with highly-selected professors. So this was an opportunity that I knew I could not take for granted.
Now that I am back at USC, I ask myself the same questions that were triggered by Franco’s original statement. Has my life changed? Definitely, I now understand where I want to take myself in the academic world and which direction to head for my career goals. Have I made friends for life? Most certainly, no one else can even begin to fathom what we went through in three and a half months. Am I smarter? Probably. I have never been surrounded by so many intelligent Classicists before, students and professors alike challenged me to strive for my highest potential. Summing up my experiences with the ICCS Rome program in a short essay is extremely difficult, but I do have to say that I chose the perfect program to participate in and that I will be a Centrista for life. So I strongly encourage all aspiring Classicists to apply and to embark on this journey, just like I did.