Before embarking on this trip, I had hoped that it would change me from a mere tourist into a sophisticated world traveler. Through the significant amount of information provided at every sight we visited, as well as the numerous Symposium Seminars (group discussions), Abbey Road succeeded in making me the type of traveler I so desired to become.
Instead of glancing at a painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and swiftly moving on to the next, the counselors gathered us together to discuss in-depth the history and details of the particular painting and encouraged us to study and debate why the artist created it in that manner. Before the trip, I had promised myself that I would embrace every aspect of European culture and make the most out of each new experience.
I know that I kept this promise throughout my month in Europe because I approached moments of nervousness or apprehensiveness as an opportunity to stretch beyond my comfort zone and grow as a person. My walk through the Santa Maria dellaConcezione (the Bone Church) in Rome was one such occasion. As our counselors explained, the nuns and leaders of this very sacred church bury its holy men in the church’s vicinity and do not believe in cremation.
However, the church quickly ran out of space to bury all of the dead, so the leaders used the bones to decorate the church’s walls and ceilings. As I strolled through this narrow, holy Church of Bones, I felt as though I was entering an underground grave. I knew that these bones were not disgusting in the eyes of the leaders of this church, so I made sure to look at it from their point of view. Experiencing this sight from a different perspective expanded my knowledge and understanding of the different customs and philosophies that exist throughout the world
. I anticipated that this trip would include a respectable balance of work and play, and indeed it did. In addition to exploring the cultural sights, we participated in a wide range of leisure activities such as exploring Florence while on a photo scavenger hunt, dancing at a Discotheque, nightly excursions for gelato, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night while on the rides at a festive carnival in Paris, dressing up with face paint to watch the Women’s World Cup Final in a restaurant in Rome and playing beach volleyball on an inflatable raft in the water at the Glyfada Beach Resort in Athens.
These were only a few of the many exciting and surprising adventures that I encountered; however, the escapades brought more than just fun. They fostered a bond of friendship among a group of thirty students that I would have thought impossible beforehand. I have learned so much not only about the culture of Europe, but also from my relationships with the people I met on the trip. We shared many stories about our own unique experiences, which greatly enhanced my understanding of my traveling companions, as well as of the places we visited.
My life-changing experiences have taught me more about the meaning of life and revealed more about who I am than I could ever have learned without stepping out of my current environment. I will continue to share with others the remarkable journey that I have experienced with Abbey Road. As I think about these countless memories, sift through all my breath-taking photos of the Acropolis in Athens, the Vatican in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Skype and message with my many new friends, I know that my Western Civilization trip to Europe with Abbey Road will always remain a part of me.
How did you find out about the International Studies Scholarship? What were your reasons for applying?
When I applied to Abbey Road, the International Studies Scholarship for an outstanding student of history sounded perfect for me. History is one of my favorite classes and I love participating in class discussions so I asked my History teacher to write me a recommendation. I was thrilled when I found out that I had been selected!
I also applied [to be a Student Ambassador] because I love to write. I started the Communications Club at my school and I am also Features Editor for the school newspaper. Becoming a web blogger seemed like a great opportunity for me to write about all the new experiences I would be having on the trip and to be able to share them with others.
Was this your first time traveling abroad?
It was my first time traveling overseas. I wanted to study abroad because I had studied Western Civilization in my history class this year and I was eager to see the historical sites that I had read about and to experience European culture firsthand.
Why did you choose to go with Abbey Road and then the Western Civ. Program?
Well, I told my mom I wanted to travel abroad so she looked online at different study abroad programs. My mom found Abbey Road’s Western Civilization Program and it was exactly what I was looking for. Visiting Athens, Rome, Florence and Paris sounded like the perfect combination of learning and exploration. Also, the students on the website looked like they were having a blast!
You did not travel abroad with a friend, how was it to travel on a summer program without knowing anyone beforehand?
I was little nervous, but I was excited and thought that it would be a good preview of what college life would be like because you don’t know most of the people beforehand and you have to make new friends. Also, looking back I am happy that I didn’t know anyone. I feel like if I had known someone it wouldn’t have been a whole new experience and this way I felt I could truly be myself. I made some amazing friends on this trip and we still are in contact. I hope to visit with them sometime soon.
What was a typical day like for you on the program?
We would wake up and get dressed for the day. Then we would have breakfast in the hotel and the group leaders would tell us the plan for the day. In the morning, the entire group would visit a museum or a historical site and learn about what we were seeing. Then we would go to lunch in smaller groups and after that have some free time to shop or relax and to explore the area.
The larger group would then come together and we would have another group activity. There were also optional activities that I would usually participate in, but it was nice knowing that if I was really tired I could stay behind and relax. After our afternoon activities, we would go back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. I particularly loved the group dinners because the group leaders would always choose fun and interesting restaurant. After dinner, we would have more time to explore, get gelato, or participate in a planned event such as going on a photo scavenger hunt.
How were classes handled – how did they differ from your classes back home?
Instead of sitting in a classroom, we would go to a historical site and learn about the site, its significance and why it was built. For example, when visiting the Palace of Versailles, I could imagine what it must have felt like to be a part of King Louis the XIV’s great empire. Being there and seeing a structure I learned about in school helped me understand its relevance to that society.
After the lecture, we had more time to explore the site or museum and we could always ask the instructors more questions. I had taken Western Civilization in my sophomore year and am presently taking European/American history. I was surprised during the trip that there was so much that I had not learned in school, but I guess you can only cover so much in class. I also take Latin and I was pleased by how much of what we saw related to things we had learned about in Latin class.
Were you satisfied with the caliber of your instructors? Did the staff work well together?
I was extremely satisfied with the Instructors. Both Chris and John also knew a great deal about the places we visited. John focused more on art history and architecture, while Chris focused more on artifacts and their significance and what they were used for. They each had their own area of expertise and complemented each other well. Emily, the program director, and Kathy, the resident advisor, did a fabulous job leading the group and keeping us under control. I felt they could easily relate to us. It was obvious that they really cared about us and I felt very comfortable talking with any of the staff and asking them questions.
What does it mean to say this is an “academic” summer program?
It means that instead of just going to a site and touring it, you were able to really learn about it. The program was academic but emphasized the fun of learning. The places you are able to visit are awesome, but because it’s an academic program you truly learn about the historical significance of the sites and are able to enjoy it even more.
We would also have group discussions with the counselors after visiting the sites. This type of learning is completely different from the classroom style where you are just told something while looking at a picture in a book or copying notes from a board. It was engaged academics. Also, it was not a stressful environment like it can be in a classroom because everyone was relaxed and friendly.
Do you think this trip helped prepare you for college in any way?
Definitely. It gave me the chance to meet other students and interact with them. I was able to learn about others and myself. I feel like I became more independent on this trip, especially in Florence where we had to shop for and prepare our own meals and pack our own lunches. I also had more responsibility because I had to make sure I got up on time and pack my clothes as we moved from one location to another. Being in a new country with new people and new responsibilities gave me insight into what college life would be like.
How would you describe a typical student on the program?
I would say the typical student on this program is friendly, funny, enthusiastic, always excited and looking forward to the day, honest and smart.
How valuable was your free time? Were you satisfied with the amount? Did you think there was a good balance? I thought my free time was very valuable. It was nice to be able to take a step back and walk through the streets of the place you were visiting. I could buy gifts and shop around a little bit. It was also really nice because sometimes I just needed to rest or to have some down time with my friends. As much as I loved the time spent with the entire group, it was nice to have some time to chill. I thought the amount wasn’t too much or too little. A few hours every day was great.
What advice would you give a future Abbey Road Student?
I would tell them to go into the trip ready for anything and to go for it, even if you’re nervous. Take advantage of all the opportunities because you will learn so much about others and yourself, and don’t be worried because the teachers and staff are there to support you.
Do you think it’s important for students your age to study abroad?
I think it is very important to study abroad when you are my age because by going to another place and studying there, you can see and learn about different customs, religions, and societies and get a clearer picture of other peoples’ perspectives about the world. Now that I’m back at school, I have a better understanding of people and their different beliefs.