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Study Abroad group tours Italy during summer visit

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Sept. 5, 2013

By Kensley Stewart

This summer, 11 Flagler College students and their professor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, travelled to Italy to experience "la dolce vita" (the sweet life).

Comprised of art, history, philosophy, religion, education, political science, psychology, and liberal arts majors, this study abroad trip was designed to expose students to the extraordinary cultural wonders that Rome, Pompeii and Assisi have to offer.

Wandering the streets of ancient Rome, our group was able to see the wondrous Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and we even made wishes in the famed Trevi Fountain. But as our professor told us repeatedly, we were not just tourists. We were pilgrims on a journey to soak in as much knowledge and culture as possible to further our understanding of ourselves.

Philosophy/religion major James Hastings specifically enjoyed the amount of cultural interaction he experienced in Rome. He said in an email interview, “Although the Sistine Chapel and Coliseum attracted me to Italy initially, it was the people I met from Russia, South Africa, Dubai, Spain, and so on that made the trip unforgettable. Interacting with all kinds of cultures foreign to my American perspective gave me a better sense of the globe's vastness.”

Day after day our eyes were opened to the magic of Italy. We were enchanted by the ancient ruins and towering arches, Bernini’s Daphne and Apollo in the Borghese museum, the accordion players who wandered through restaurants, the immaculate perspective in St. Peter’s Basilica, and a favorite among everyone in the group, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Museums boasts one of the world’s greatest art collections. As we travelled through the museum for over three hours, we witnessed countless ancient statues and tapestries, sarcophagi and paintings. As the tour came to an end we were guided through Raphael’s famous rooms and then finally to the Sistine Chapel. Upon restoration in the 1980’s, Michelangelo’s ceiling panels and Last Judgment fresco look brighter than ever. Many of us stood in awe at the gruesome depiction of the apocalypse, tears welling up in our eyes as we pondered the majesty of this artist’s creation.

The vast beauty of Rome’s greatest artists especially touched Art history student Lindsay Mahalak. She said that, “The trip was surreal. The aura of being around all of the ancient buildings and great works of art were completely overwhelming. I learned a greater appreciation for Italy that you can only get through cultural immersion.”

After soaking in Rome’s rich culture, we ended our tour in Assisi, the birthplace of one of the most beloved saints of all time, St. Francis. Visiting the medieval hillside city with it’s sloping cobblestone streets and countless overflowing flowerboxes was like stepping back in time as we traced the path of St. Francis, visiting his places of baptism, conversion, and death.

St. Francis is famous for his articulation of “the gospel life” and his humble, peaceful way of living. St. Francis gained even more momentum and significance when on March 13, 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope and chose the papal name Francis. In an article from the Guardian published on March 16th, Pope Francis said that the name “came to my heart… [St. Francis] is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church.”

It seems like now more than ever St. Francis’ values and philosophies circulate the globe, reminding humanity of what it means to love, to give, and to walk in the light of Jesus’ example. Walking the streets of Assisi was no less powerful a message. Many students retreated into little chapels, praying in front of the wooden cross of San Damiano that whispered to St. Francis “rebuild my church” during the 13th century.

We were pilgrims this summer, set out on a journey to find ourselves. With the help of our knowledgeable professor Dr. Johnson, we were guided through the streets of Italy with the purpose of understanding the relationship between art and religion. We studied the mythical roots of the ancient Greeks and Romans and learned how their legacy has had a profound impact on today’s religious climate.

Through cultural engagement, our group was able to see the world in a different way. Upon reflection of our study abroad trip, Hastings said, “Going to Italy I expected a life changing experience and it still managed to surpass my wildest dreams. I will cherish every memory for my whole life, and I believe everyone should be exposed to an international city like Rome.”

It is my hope as well that all students will be able to experience such majesty—whether learned at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy or on the steps of Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel. There is wonder all around us; we just have to look for it.


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