St. Thomas Perspectives Abroad: Italy

By , Andrew Stafford  |  Monday, January 28, 2013 11:16 AM

I found myself waking up at 3 a.m. this morning in Venice. My study abroad class was packing for an early flight back to the cities after spending nearly a month hopping around the heart of Italy, identifying art styles and observing how certain art forms have been historically and visually communicated throughout the media.

After arriving in Rome on Dec. 30, a group of thirteen students including myself were ready to begin a month together, learning and adjusting to a relaxed, yet celebrated, Italian lifestyle. It was my first time being in a European city, and where better to experience European culture than where it all began roughly 2,700 years ago.

Dashing our way around the cobblestone streets of Rome, our class didnʼt waste any time visiting the plethora of ancient monuments and churches that were littered throughout the city. Starting out with 8 a.m. lectures, the next 14 days were booked with visits to the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, various art museums and churches, and a day trip to the ancient city of Pompeii. I quickly became an expert in identifying art styles throughout museums and churches and associating them with eras they were created in.

Eating fresh margherita pizza accompanied by peach juice for lunch, blended with spaghetti bolognese or carbonara for dinner, my taste buds were loving the change from my college “cuisine” of Ramen or egg sandwiches back home. I also gained an affection for green olives while I was in Rome. Thank God, those little things are amazing.

After two weeks in Rome, our group departed for Florence to see the works of Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists during the 14th-17th centuries. Walking throughout Florence was a pleasant contrast to the enormous layout and congested streets of Rome. Our group often spent time bargaining at the leather market for scarves and leather jackets, as well as the mercado central for fresh fruits, meats, and nuts. My diet switched from cappuccinos and green olives in Rome, to fresh peaches and pistachios from the Mercado Central, which was conveniently only blocks away from the apartment we were staying.

I also grew fond of a small joint just down the street from our tourist home, which I went to often for delicious four-euro pizza. I think I ate there everyday I was in Florence; it was hard to resist.

Witnessing Michelangeloʼs David and Brunelleschiʼs Duomo in the center of Florence was a wonderful model of Renaissance art which expanded across Europe until the late 19th century. We spent a week in Florence, finishing up the class portion of our journey before heading northward to Venice, where we relaxed for the last leg of our trip.

Adapting to a city where there are absolutely no cars was the most unique experience while abroad in Italy. We traveled throughout the Venice by boat, hopping from boat stops that were anchored along the Grand Canal of Venice. They were comparable to bus stops in America, just on water, which made it easier to get around rather than trekking by foot throughout Rome and Florence.

Our group had the opportunity to tour a family-operated glass blowing company (CAM Glass) in Murano. At CAM Glass, they value handmade production as opposed to manufacturing their products with machinery. It was cool to witness a family-run operation with different generations coming together to produce such elegant glass-blown pieces by hand.

We also ventured throughout the Venetian Lagoon yesterday, visiting a small island called Burano, roughly 45 minutes away from Venice. I enjoyed seeing the many colorful houses that composed the little village of Burano.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have studied and traveled throughout Italy. I highly recommend studying abroad to anyone else considering it in the future. It was a wonderful experience learning a new culture and adapting to the Italian lifestyle.

Andrew Stafford can be reached at

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