“Everything we talked about we got to see in person,” says Michelle Coblens ’16.

By | Alexandra McLaughlin ’16

A few weeks ago, Michelle Coblens ’16 (Portland, Ore.) stood in the middle of the Roman Colosseum and delivered a presentation to 16 classmates and three classics professors. She looked around and thought, “This is the coolest venue I’m ever going to speak in.”

The presentation was part of a January in Rome course in the Classics Department. A group of students and professors spent two weeks studying the history of ancient Rome through its architecture and art. “Everything we talked about we got to see in person,” says Coblens.

Some students tracked their mileage with Fitbits; Coblens calculated that they traversed 125 miles around the city, or about nine miles a day, seeing sights such as the Roman Forum and St. Peter’s Basilica. “I remember things that I wouldn’t have remembered if I had just read them out of a textbook,” says Coblens. “Now certain time periods mean something to me because I’ve seen columns or arches that were built during those periods.”

The class, which is offered every other year, is the brainchild of classics professor Beth Severy-Hoven. This year, classics professors Nanette Goldman, Brian Lush, and Andy Overman shared the teaching responsibilities.

Jacque Lenarz ’19 (White Bear Lake, Minn.) has not yet declared a major. Upon hearing about the class, she seized the opportunity to learn about the Classics Department and visit Rome.

The class welcomes students from any discipline. “There were quite a few people on the trip who weren’t classics majors or minors and they loved it and learned a lot. I don’t think it matters what your major is. It’s completely worthwhile,” says Coblens.

Coblens, a classics and biology double major, was unable to spend the typical semester abroad. This class fulfills the study abroad requirement for the classics major, a useful provision for athletes, double majors, and others unable to commit a full term to overseas study.

In this, her final semester, Coblens is taking a class with Overman called “Pagans, Christians, and Jews in Classical Antiquity: Cultures in Conflict.” It focuses on early religion in Rome, something the group discussed often on the trip.

Both Lenarz and Coblens spoke of the ease with which everyone got along. “By the second day, everyone was friends,” says Lenarz.

In exploring the city, the group became familiar with the public transit system. “Oftentimes we would walk into Rome and just wander and hope we’d find our way back in time for dinner,” said Coblens. “It was a great way to learn the city. I’d never been just set free in a new place.”

For several years Goldman has accompanied the class with students who are mainly visiting Rome for the first time. “Seeing how students respond and react to the city never gets old,” she says.

Lenarz appreciated having the professors as constant resources. In making connections with classmates and gaining firsthand experience of the city, she did not at all miss the normal “Netflix time” of winter break. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”

February 12 2016

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