Just about two weeks before our scheduled departure, 15 students met at our home to enjoy a slice of a 30-inch pizza from D’Orios and to play Roma JeoParody. The Roamin’ Knights, the name they adopted for themselves before the trip, responded to prompts from six categories that reflected their study of Rome during the fall semester: Parle Italiano?, Roman Leaders: Past and Present, Religious Art and Artists, Architectural Wonders, Buon Appetito and Misto. The game served as a great review before our trip, but the most important measure of student learning came during the journey itself. Three memories, or “snapshots,” of this learning stand out in my mind.
Snapshot No. 1
The ‘Oneness’ of Public Transportation
Lee Hinson-Hasty, faculty co-chaperone, and I usually use public transportation when we travel, especially in big cities. Subways and buses enable you to avoid long delays due to heavy traffic. Late in the afternoon on the day we arrived in Rome, we decided to take a bus to visit the Colosseum and the Basilica of San Clemente. If you have taken buses late in the afternoon in big tourist cities, you will know that they are usually packed. I could tell from expressions on several students’ faces that packing into a public bus and standing close enough to strangers that you couldn’t easily turn around was a new experience, and it appeared to feel intimidating and somewhat scary. Early on, there were times when some expressed hesitation about ever hopping on the bus again.
By the end of the week, however, several students said they felt empowered by being able to navigate this tremendous transportation system and so easily get around. The one ride during which this lesson became very clear was when we took the subway from Termini Station to Piazza Barberini during rush hour. “Packed” doesn’t begin to describe the number of people on each car; we were so squeezed together that you could feel other people breathing. When we reached the Barberini stop and gathered at the end of the stairs leading to the piazza above, I remember observing that our ride was truly an “intercultural experience.” Students laughed and agreed. We headed into the stream of people, hopped onto the escalator, and pushed through the turnstile, emerging from the subway station with a sense of oneness and solidarity with others—Roman and tourist—headed to various places.
Snapshot No. 2
Piazza from the Cupola
On the day that we visited St. Peter’s we all agreed to climb up to the top of the cathedral. I have been to St. Peter’s many times, but I am also afraid of heights. Others in our group shared that fear or were claustrophobic. The elevator takes you only so far. You exit onto a terrace where you can get closer to the statues of Jesus and the apostles that adorn the façade of St. Peter’s, visit a shop or make your way on up. Before you reach the tiny, narrow circular staircase that leads to the cupola, you have to walk along a corridor from which you can get a bird’s eye view of Bernini’s baldachin and the intricate patterns of the marble floor.
And then you start to climb the staircase with a long line of pilgrims and tourists. Slowly and steadily, you climb. I had never seen the piazza of St. Peter’s or the city of Rome from the cupola before. We all stood there in awe, surveying each street and piazza, and taking pictures like tourists do, and then reflecting on the story of a city built in layers, over centuries. Breathtaking. There really is no other word to describe it. St. Peter’s is a place where history and faith barge into your personal space and redefine you.
Snapshot No. 3
The ‘Beautiful student’
Flying home, Lee and I sat near Elizabeth Dugan, a senior biology major who will be going to medical school. Elizabeth was seated in a row near an Italian couple traveling to Atlanta to see the United States. We noticed how much they talked during the flight—a little in English, a little in Italian. They found ways to communicate. Elizabeth stole a few moments to read when she could. At the end of the flight, as we were readying ourselves to deplane, the couple asked Elizabeth who we were. When she told them that we were leaders of the trip, the couple said, “Beautiful student.”
Elizabeth and the other Roamin’ Knights really challenged themselves to leave their comfort zones and to communicate in new ways across differences defined by culture. The pictures that you see here will give you a sense of our itinerary, and the quotations from student blogs written during the trip will give you a sense of how students describe their own transformations. I cannot encourage you more to read on about these Roamin’ Knights in Rome—intercultural, breathtaking and beautiful!
By Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty
‘The Decisive Moment’
In Rome, every vocabulary word and essay you’ve ever written can be seen in every direction. At the Galleria Borghese, I found myself face to face with my written thesis on sculpture: Bernini’s David. It’s not the David everyone knows, but he seemed to have escaped out of my textbook for me. Artistically, I am fascinated with movement, and if there’s one thing Bernini can do, it’s make the marble move. Literally and figuratively, David comes out of his marble form into our space, interacting with me and the other onlookers. He pulls back on the sling, eyes focused, his body off-balance as he draws momentum. In art, we call this the “decisive moment.” It’s the moment you wait for, when the image is at its most dynamic, right as the action happens.
When I think of all the experiences I’ve had on this trip, it’s full of these decisive moments. Hands raised above the ruins of Ostia Antica, a ceiling being blown off by painted angels, a look of understanding between people who may not have otherwise met. Our travel to Rome came into my space; I had to interact with it and learn to become a part of what made it so beautiful.
I’ve sort of been a rough “art translator” for the group. But the thing is, this trip to Rome and the people who joined me on it, have taught me a lot more about what art is and can be. This is our decisive moment.
‘Getting an Answer’
Today, I had an incredible connection with the maid at the hotel. It did not last long, but long enough that we both understood each other. She passed me in the hall singing Amazing Grace—in English! It was just beautiful, and I joined in. Just for a moment, we both understood each other, even though we couldn’t communicate in basically any other way. It lasted until we did not know the words, and then it was over. But it doesn’t have to end. I feel we can take some of it back with us.
‘Unintended Spiritual Awakening’
In … the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a quiet space reserved for prayer, that’s when it all hit me. I saw the beauty of the massive golden angels framing the altar, feeling the stillness of the air, followed by the ceasing of the mindless chatter.
In this moment I began to reflect on my entire religious identity, specifically with where it began, growing up and being raised Catholic. Instantly an unexplainable emotion filled me … It wasn’t that I was overwhelmed, it wasn’t that I was happy or even sad, but it honestly was inexplicable. I hadn’t truly prayed in many years until this very moment, and that’s because I felt the presence of my God. Maybe this God isn’t the same one I thought I knew growing up that I identified with many Catholic traditions for so long, but maybe this was the God that has walked with me and been in each of the truly transformative obstacles I have encountered throughout my 21 years. In this moment I was beyond connected with my humanity, where I have come from, where I was then and where I will go from there.
This spiritual encounter was the last thing I expected to find in St. Peter’s. The whole idea of even entering a church has honestly made me uncomfortable for the past couple of years, but this experience was different. I have grown to realize I don’t necessarily abide by the God I was taught about, the big bearded man in the sky, but rather I have found and learned about my own God, a being and an energy that walks with me and engulfs the life that surrounds. I also realized I shouldn’t feel any sort of regret for creating my own path of belief, because it is just as valid and as moving as the several [that] many others seem to follow.
While in Rome I not only explored history and reminisced on memories of my childhood, but also came to a closer understanding and peace with my belief in God.
To read more student stories, visit bellarminehonorsrome.blogspot.com