Reliving Rome’s Past, Leaving Rome’s Present

This week, University of California student Sherry Wang, participating in UCEAP’s Art, Food and Society Program in Rome, reflects on her final days abroad, contemplating the connection between past and present and how art, academics, and daily life intersect.

I leave Rome in two days; it’s a bittersweet fact. Yesterday I had my last class of the quarter — a site visit to Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill, designed by Michelangelo during the Renaissance — which ended at sunset looking over the city.

As I sat on the steps of the Campidoglio, the sky was darkening with clouds and at one moment it began sprinkling. I took in the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius standing proud in the middle, the Palazzo Senatorio (town hall) to my left, and tipped my head back to look up at the Capitoline Museum directly in front of me. I felt a sense of grand calm as Professor Alei lectured about the columns leading up to the life-size statues on the roof of the building, the elliptical and trapezoidal themes of the piazza which connected it to St. Peter’s Square and the Colosseum, and the triumphal parades and papal processions that passed through hundreds of years ago. Through my professor’s words, I felt the power of the ancient Roman emperors colliding with the Renaissance papal authority; I saw the Campidoglio’s surroundings transforming through the Baroque then the unification of Italy into the Capitoline Hill I sat on today.

There are no words to describe how it felt — synthesizing my learnings on ancient Roman civilization and its revival during the Renaissance, then seeing its physical manifestation in modern times. The collection of art and archaeological museums I visited in Rome, Verona, Mantua, Padua, and Vicenza piece together the facts I learned in class like a jigsaw puzzle. After taking these courses, I have a solid base of knowledge about ancient Roman civilization and Renaissance art — enough to see its architectural influence around the world in the dome of the White House in Washington DC, the Reichstag building in Berlin, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and more, all inspired by the ancient past.

If I leave Rome with any thing, it’s my appreciation for how the influence of the past echoes forth into the future. Much of what we see today is reminiscent of history. And even human nature has not changed that much over the centuries. Reading the ancient sources of Ovid, of Suetonius, and of Livy has shown me that we are, for the most part, the same humans with similar needs, wants, and patterns of thought — the present is not far from the past.

About halfway through the program, I realized that study abroad is different from what I expected it to be. In fact, while I didn’t exactly come in with expectations, it played out in a way that I would’ve never imagined. Being able to take courses outside the realm of my major and minor (economics and accounting, respectively) has been one of my favorite college experiences. I loved poring over books in my school’s specialized library and connecting the dots between different sources to synthesize my own ideas. I wrote serious historical research papers for the first time since high school.

The best part was being able to learn about the past and see traces of its physical manifestation in the present. For example, I was introduced to the painting Sixtus IV and his Nephews by Melozzo da Forli on the first day of class. Seeing it in person at the Vatican Museum three months later is a feeling I cannot put into words, and all I can say is that I must have gasped audibly. Many of the students in my class shared the same sentiment about this painting, admiring it in astonished whispers to one another, even if we are not art history majors.

I personally felt the time crunch of the program since day one; time was limited and three months would fly by. With this sense of urgency, I did push myself to be continuously doing something, whether it be traveling, trying new foods, or always being ready to meet up with friends.

There was a constant and growing list of things I still had to do and to try. I spoke with others about it and it seems most people did not feel this sense of unfinished business — that by the second half of the program, they had slowed down on the exploration. People experienced study abroad quite differently based on the friends they made, the classes they took, and their priorities throughout the program.

Prior to leaving for study abroad, all my friends back home said, “you’re going to have so much fun!” And I must say the past three months were filled with unforgettable adventures visiting Naples, Siena, Paris, Verona and eating gelato and pizza every day with new friends. In the end, study abroad is not always a life-changing experience, but it is an important and deeply personal one. Perhaps I’ve become more independent, thoughtful, or observant — I can’t quite place my finger on it, but there’s a part of me that has shifted ever so slightly.

~Sherry Wang, UCEAP Art, Food and Society Program

You can find Sherry’s original post here!

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