Stories From Study Abroad – Roman Italy: Engineering the Empire

CATEGORIES: September 2014

Roman Italy: Engineering the Empire, a new LAS Global Seminar, was offered for the first time in May 2014 and will be taught in alternating summers. Co-directors, Rachel Meyers (Assistant Professor of Classical Studies) and David Hollander (Associate Professor of History), took the first group of sixteen ISU students to Rome for three weeks during summer 2014. The focus of this new program is a close examination of the culture, art, archaeology, and history of the ancient Roman Empire. Students spend most days of the week visiting some of the best museums in the world, as well as the monuments and archaeological sites in and around Rome. The program affords students a unique opportunity to see first-hand how the ancient Romans both literally and figuratively built their massive empire across the Mediterranean. The study abroad program is open to students of all majors across the university, and they may choose to receive Classical Studies or History credit (3 credits). Students interested in the Roman Italy program for May 2016, should contact Professor Meyers at or drop by her office in 3118E Pearson Hall.

Below, Dr. Meyers and her students share their recollections of the trip to Rome.

Dr. Rachel Meyers: Leading this program in Rome has been many years in the making. Rome is really my favorite city in the world; every time I visit, I discover new things, whether archaeological sites, gallery shows, or new restaurants. This year one of my missions was to try new flavors of gelato, and Rome did not disappoint in this endeavor. Ricotta with caramelized fig was a top contender for favorite gelato.

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Professor Hollander and I worked closely with the College of Design, who has operated a facility in Rome for many years and has sent students to Rome for over 20 years. Their great facility in the Palazzo Cenci in the Ghetto in central Rome was our home base. Students stayed in apartments across the river in Trastevere. In addition to walking all over the city of Rome, we took day trips to Tivoli to visit the ancient remains of Hadrian’s Villa and the Renaissance palace Villa d’Este. We also traveled to Tarquinia to explore the Etruscan tombs, artifacts, and art at that UNESCO site. A highlight for many students – and for myself – was the three day trip to the Bay of Naples area. We went to the fantastic archaeological museum in Naples, got a private tour of two lavish villas in Stabiae, visited the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and got to take in some beautiful views of the sea from our lodging at the Vesuvian Institute. 

Chas Emmerson (History major): This summer Dr. Meyers and Dr. Hollander led sixteen students, including myself, on a trip to Italy to learn all about ancient Roman art and archeology. During this three-week adventure we got to see ancient sites such as the Colosseum, the Capitoline Hill, and even the city of Pompeii. Along with these ancient sites we also were able to visit many museums containing statues, busts, paintings, frescos, and mosaics. Above all, my favorite site to visit was Hadrian’s villa. It’s hard to imagine the work that went into constructing such a huge complex, let alone the amount of work that went into maintaining it. The most memorable part of the villa for me was the reflecting pool at the back. It was very peaceful, and you could watch turtles and fish swim in the water. I really wish that the colonnade and statues surrounding the fountain survived to today. All in all, this trip was the experience of a lifetime, and I would go again in a heartbeat.

Emmerson, Selfie in Rome

Hannah Pelz (History and Secondary Education major): When the opportunity to go to Rome became available I knew I had to go. I have always wanted to go to Italy not just because it has amazing food and such a rich culture, but from a history perspective it is ideal. Before my trip I had never been out of the country so at first I was nervous but my professors had prepared me well enough to know what to expect and since they had it all planned out all I had to do was sign up for a passport and get on the airplane. I was in Rome for three weeks and I can honestly say those were the best three weeks of my life and I cannot wait to go back. All the food was divine, but my favorites were definitely the gelato and pizza! I was pleasantly surprised at how different the food was there, in a good way though because it was so fresh and authentic. Some of the food was not what I expected, but that was just part of the unique experience. What I liked most was learning about the rich and diverse history of Rome. That was why I went on the trip, and getting the opportunity to see the Colosseum, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and all of the other amazing sites truly enriched my life. Going on this study abroad trip allowed me to fully enjoy my travels. I made new lifelong friends and I learned so much from my professors who were always there and willing to answer any questions and who more than happy to show us what makes Rome truly great.

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After graduation I plan on becoming a high school history teacher and this study abroad experience only adds to what I will have to offer my future students. Not only have I seen and experienced what I will teach them, but it also gives me a unique real world perspective. Since I had such a great experience I will encourage all of my peers and future high school students to travel as much as they can. I think the fact that I loved traveling to another country so much is what I did not expect the most out of going to Rome. I thought I would miss home, my family, and friends, but that was not the case because I loved it so much. After this summer I plan on getting involved with other study abroad programs because not only did I have fun but it was a great learning opportunity, and I encourage everyone to try it!