The summer of 1984 was typically hot in both Rome and Athens, and in those days almost nothing was air conditioned. At that point in its history, the program was based in Rome for four weeks, Athens for two, and then returned to Rome for a final two weeks. In spite of the summer heat, I felt that I was a very lucky young faculty member. Along with Professor Tom Poss, I had been chosen to help study abroad director Dr. Timothy Gantz teach (and manage) a bumper crop of students. I had spent the previous summer as a participant in an NEH summer seminar on medieval Rome, but I knew almost nothing about the classical city beyond the major tourist sites of the Colosseum, the Forum, and the republican era temples near Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Timothy Gantz taught all of us about classical Rome and about Roman Italy and its culture. We learned about the remnants of the gardens of Sallust just outside our hotel and about what seemed like every stone in the Forum as well as visiting most of the major museum collections of classical art and artifacts in the city. We traveled to the Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia and Cerveteri and took a longer field trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum. Tim also taught us to love the culture…the art, thought, and literature…of the people who had created the physical remnants of ancient Rome we were seeing.
Students and faculty stayed in the same hotels the program still uses: Ercoli and Piave, and the staff did their best to keep us all well fed and as comfortable as possible in those pre-air conditioning days. It could be hard to concentrate on Virgil’s Aeneid during the hotter days, especially on one Monday I recall when the students were squirming in their seats because they had taken advantage of a free weekend to explore Italy’s beaches and were sunburned in places where they had never been sunburned before.
Field trips into the city were always a welcome adventure and a change of pace from our improvised classrooms. Generally Tim led the way onto the ATAC bus on Via XX Settembre with Tom in the middle of the group of students and me bringing up the rear shouting “Avanti! Avanti!” to those who were slow to get on board. I still have a vivid memory of the group sitting in the shade of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina while Tim explained the elements of Roman architecture using the remains in the Forum as examples. I was sketching pediments and architraves on a legal pad for one of my students who was having some difficulty putting together what she was hearing with what she was seeing. She and I both learned a lot: she about Roman architecture and I about teaching in a study abroad environment.
In addition to learning about teaching in study abroad, I learned tremendously valuable lessons about dealing with students and about group travel from the examples that Tim provided that summer, lessons that would serve me well for many years to come when I would lead study abroad groups in Tuscany. A particularly memorable moment involves the airport in Athens. We were there to return to Rome for the final two weeks of the program, and Tim had gathered us all in a circle right after we had checked our bags at the airline desk. “Does each of you know where your passport is?” he prudently asked. Noah, one of our students, promptly replied, “Yes, mine’s in my bag going down that conveyor belt over there.” A mad scramble followed as the bag was chased down and the passport retrieved. Noah got back to Rome with the rest of us, and I learned that you simply can’t think of all the things to tell students not to do.
On hot summer evenings in Rome the professors would often flee to the rooftop of the nearby Hotel Marcella where the view of the city and the summer breezes provided a welcome respite. Sometimes Tim’s wife Elena and my wife Risë would join us, and we would all have a pleasant social hour with “just the adults”. Eventually the students worked out where we were disappearing to, and they were welcomed as well.
It was a wonderful group of professors and students that summer. We bonded with each other, and many of us kept in touch for years afterwards. I know the experience of traveling in Italy and Greece and living in another culture changed our students’ lives forever: from their appreciation of art and of other cultures to their perceptions of themselves and their own abilities. The experience certainly changed me. It gave me a wealth of material, and thanks to Risë’s skill with her Nikon, a wealth of images to use in the History courses I have taught ever since. That summer I fell even more in love with Italy than I already was, and I came to appreciate study abroad as an essential component of higher education. Study abroad allows students to learn and to grow as individuals in a way that is unique. I will be forever grateful to the program and to my friend and colleague Dr. Tim Gantz.