Oglethorpe Students Discover “La Dolce Vita” in Italy

A group of Oglethorpe University students and professors recently returned from a short term, for credit academic study abroad trip to Florence and Rome, Italy. Here, Dr. Jeffrey Collins shares some of their life changing experiences, accompanied by photos courtesy of student Robert Findley.

I could not begin to describe this extraordinary trip, Oglethorpe’s tenth to Italy. Perfect May-like weather throughout, and we spent six hours a day in examining art, architecture, and sites, lecturing, and giving fabulous reports.

Think of our students standing in front of the Pantheon, walking Piazza Navona, walking through and discussing the art in the Vatican, analyzing the sculptures of Michelangelo, Bernini, many Baroque churches, paintings from Leonardo to Caravaggio, examining the ruins of the Roman forum. It was the best kind of education—they all agreed, and were passionately engaged—well, it is Italy, and art is everywhere.

In Florence, we explored and spoke and questioned the art in the Uffizi, the Piazza Signoria, studied the architecuture of Santa Maria Novella, the Santa Maria della Fiore, and a host of churches—Santa Croce of course—discovering how the Renaissance emerged here, how perspective was rediscovered, how Medici money and genius and artistic perfection and rediscovery of ancient works all fused and formed an era unmatched in western history.

Each day was a day of unparalleled discoveries for most of the students who, by the way, never stepped on a plane before. They learned some Italian, more than just ciao or bona serra, tasted some fine Italian brunellos and montepulcianos, ate prosciutto in the Tuscan noon up at Fiesole. I brought them to the best leather factory in all of Florence, where several bought the best leather purses designed for Grace Kelly. Days spent laughing, studying, dodging vespas, eating marvelous pastries—la dolce vita—walking for miles, building a remarkable community of scholars. As we talked in museums, onlookers from elsewhere would gather and listen and comment upon the student presentations. Two people from boring tour groups told us they wish they were with us.

Professor Alan Loehle and I tag teamed [this trip], and his commentaries and his artistic insights were sheer genius. We are indeed fortunate to have a Guggenheim artist at our university, and the students loved his perceptions and revelations about every painting. I cannot think of a better colleague to work with on these trips, as he rose to the occasion and served with me as teacher, scholar, father, counselor, friend, and a few times, positive disciplinarian.

Our hotels were splendid, the food more so. Students cried during our final meal, and many of them, having learned Rome and Florence, went in small groups and explored on their own—they became confident, capable, and independent, exactly what we want, telling us in excited breath their views of Pozzo’s ceiling in Il Gesu or what they found in the hidden symbols of Botticelli’s Primavera. Their most memorable night, no doubt, was the opera at St. Mark’sLa Boheme. Our ladies all cried, the men tried to hold back the tears.

Adrienne Findley, the wife of Oglethorpe’s Board Chair Norm Findley, was absolutely remarkable—she was THE great model of energy, excitement, and joy for our our younger women on the trip, and she too served as a “Mom” and asked great questions that stirred and inspired our students. Everyone was sad the day she had to leave us. She will hold a reunion party for us all at her home soon. The students loved her.

It took some all-in-fun effort to get them focused on broken pediments and balustrades as we passed shop after designer shop—shoes, belts, crosses, icons, leather books, more shoes. Not one complaint though, and the transports were all perfectly timed. Soon, through some blogs, and pics and Facebooking, you will hear and see what they discovered.

I never saw so much community and friendship and cameras and support among students: they acted like an army when we needed them to be so, delivered reports like first-rate scholars when asked to do so, and brought each other home to the hotels each night, the guys guarding the ladies like knights, walking back with gelato in hand, the ladies with scarves and purses—they realized they too could be quite sophisticated, and were.

They all want to go to Greece now, and will; they all told us Oglethorpe was the best, they all will graduate and remember nights in the Palazzo Vecchio and the Tuscan dawns, the touch of refined marble, the rich expresso, and the light pouring upon their faces for eternal moments under the vast dome of the Vatican.

One student, Robert Findley, said it perfectly: “I cannot go back to what I was now, I see the world so differently. I have been blessed by beauty.”

To see more of Robert’s photos from the Italy study abroad trip, visit Oglethorpe’s Flickr photo page.

Part II: Italy was “life-changing” for Oglethorpe student
Part III: Oglethorpe professors help history come alive in Italy
Part IV: “Learning experiences at Oglethorpe came full circle” in Italy

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