ACCENT Rome: Journey to the Land of Ash

This week, Kenyon College student Luke Hester describes an excursion his Study Abroad class took to the Bay of Naples. There, the group explored the ancient Roman sites of Stabiae and Pompeii with Professor Eugene Dwyer, a veteran academic and researcher specializing in Italian architecture, archaeology, and, in particular, the uniquely beautiful and eerie ruins of Pompeii.

I am Luke Hester, a junior at Kenyon College in Ohio studying at ACCENT Rome for the Fall semester. And though endless pages could be spent praising the Rome program as a whole, the example of one in-depth weekend excursion will serve as an exemplar of the ACCENT Rome experience.

The trip was to the Bay of Naples region, specifically Naples itself, Castellammare, and Pompeii. We arrived by train to the smaller town of Castellammare, or the ancient Roman site of Stabiae, and instantly knew this was an area filled with history. Our first stop was to the soaring Mount Faito, and after the slightly unnerving yet beautiful cable-car ride to its summit, we were able to get a full scope of the area before delving into the cities themselves.

We checked in to our place of residence for the weekend, the Instituto Vesuviano, which proved to be a delightfully accommodating space, with both filling meals and an inspiring view of the city of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. This served as our base camp, and any time spent here was recuperating for more travel to many of the amazing sites we visited.

Visiting sites both ancient and new truly speak to the success of the ACCENT Rome program from my position as a student. The week prior, some of our classes were spent learning specifically about the areas we would tread in the Bay of Naples. The experience of then being at these sites attests to the value of being in such a historical location. Most of our actual visits were elevated by being led by a distinguished, almost legendary Kenyon Professor, Eugene Dwyer.

I had Professor Dwyer’s class one semester before the abroad program, and this was his first semester out of retirement. Being able to return to some of the locations where he studied and excavated during graduate school must have been nostalgic for him, and was certainly a treat for us to learn from such a source. His book, Pompeii’s Living Statues: Ancient Roman Lives Stolen from Death, speaks to his knowledge of the area. His guidance allowed for the best “insider look” at what we were studying.

Our first ancient sites, two villas in Castellammare, or Stabiae, were particularly transporting since they were out of the way, and thus less populated. This allowed for us to experience them without the pressure of crowds, and let Proffesor Dwyer give us a full introduction to the sites. We could almost imagine it was our group briefly living in these locations, experiencing it how the original owners might have.

Our next day was mostly spent in Pompeii, a transformative experience for me. Led by such a knowledgeable guide, along with the amount of time allotted to us, made for a truly immersive experience in the ancient city. The most powerful part for me was being able to take some time and write a portion of my novel while sitting in the amphitheater, being directly inspired by the history surrounding me.Our final day was spent in the city of Naples, experiencing its Museo Archeologico. It was overwhelming to see in person the sheer amount of works that our group had only studied in a classroom setting, adding another depth of experience to these works. This is one of the most valuable benefits of studying abroad.

This excursion was made so successful due to the combination of the amazing sites themselves and the administration of the excursion. Nearly everything was planned thoroughly and events were able to flow seamlessly. Especially on the part of our Programs Coordinator, Alice Mangia, who ensured that everything from meals, to transportation and lodging, to our entry into historical sites was able to flow smoothly. This allowed us to maximize our time and get the most out of the area.

Essentially, this level of preparation and execution has been characteristic of my whole experience so far with ACCENT Rome. Again, even though endless pages could be spent praising the program, it is sufficing to say these kinds of excursions provide an example of what one will get out of a study abroad program.

~ Luke Hester, Kenyon College

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