Rome Program

From Dr. Ed Best, Program Founder

After my first trip to Rome and Greece in 1964, I had been eager for University of Georgia students to experience the same excitement and intellectual stimulus that I had had. So it was with a great deal of eagerness that in late 1969 I began discussions with Al Steer who, as Head of the German Department, had established the German study abroad program and was at the time the University Director for Study Abroad Programs. With his support, I approached Jimmy Alexander, Head of the Classics Department. Jimmy, who had been a student scholar in Italy before World War II and had always had a deep affection for Italy, was encouraging and supportive. By January of 1970 I began advertising and recruiting students, not knowing what kind of response to expect. I was happy to end up with 35 participants.

That first group of study abroad students was an interesting lot, and it, more than any other group, has remained vivid in my memory. I can name almost every one of them even now. We assembled at the Atlanta airport the second week in June to begin this new venture. In addition to the student group, I had another group to be concerned with: my three young children (aged 4, 2 1/2, and 18 months) and my wife, Jenny. Luckily, many students lent a hand and Jenny was a courageous traveler. Nonetheless, there were some harrowing moments. That first year we had a most arduous travel schedule that included a seven-hour layover in New York before departure to Rome. The trip from Atlanta to Rome was a lengthy and exhausting 30-hour marathon.

We flew to Rome on only the second transatlantic flight ever made by an Alitalia 747 and were escorted to the plane by an Alitalia representative. We shared the flight with Jack Kehoe and the UGA Study Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy. Jack also had his family with him, as well as Aurelia Ghezzi, a young Italian woman who was a member of the Comparative Literature Department and who proved invaluable in the Rome airport. Collectively we made quite a group. In addition to the normal baggage, Jack and I had brought classroom supplies. Classics alone had 10 boxes of books and materials for proper schooling. Even to this day the Rome airport can be chaotic, but in 1970 it seemed lunacy to expect that we could get all the participants, their belongings and the school supplies collected without a great deal of chaos and confusion. I remember with gratitude the calmness and efficiency of dottoressa Ghezzi.

We all finally got loaded on the right busses and Art and Classics headed for the same location. After a week of touring, the Art group left for its home base in Cortona. Our destination was a place called California Gardens located in EUR, a modern section of Rome. California Gardens consisted of a series of cottages with a spring-fed swimming pool and a patio dining area. Its strong suit was the food. I still remember fondly huge platters of grilled chicken and boxes of sweet cherries. At no other place we stayed in later years was there ever such abundance and taste. Its weak suit, certainly, was its location. Although there were a number of modern conveniences and interesting sites in EUR, it was a 20-minute metro ride into the historic center. I determined after the first year that the program had to be more centrally located.

But perhaps the most difficult aspect of the entire summer was the teaching load—two lecture classes and a combined undergraduate-graduate Latin course—plus administrative duties such as scheduling and arranging all the activities and managing all the business details. I also had not fully understood the degree to which I would have to be counselor in resident and perform the role of in loco parentis.

The first summer did establish, however, the structure for the program and the general paradigm for the following years: lectures on Mondays, Wednesday, and Friday and site visits on Tuesday and Thursday. The students themselves had to deliver two site reports. I also established the pattern for the out-of-town trips. During the second week of class, we took a one-day trip to Cerveteri and Tarquinia, visiting the Etruscan tombs and museums. After the fourth week there was an overnight, two-day trip south to Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two cities destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and to Naples, principally to visit the marvelous National Museum. The night was spent in the delightful town of Agropoli, where we usually had a morning beach swim and then a visit to the beautiful Greek temples at Paestum.

This trip to southern Italy was always one of the highlights of the summer, but the big adventure of the program was the two-week trip to Greece, a feature of the program during all my years but which had to be terminated in 1990, primarily because of the increased cost. We usually went to Greece at the end of the sixth week, staying two weeks to see Athens, Delphi, Epidaurus, Corinth, Argos, Mycenae and, for several years, the island of Crete. We were often there during the Greek wine festival which, as you might imagine, proved to be one of the favorite activities of many of the students (although most of the incidents were harmless enough).

After the return to Rome, the students had to settle down and prepare for final exams, their final reports, and the completion of their notebooks. From the very conception I wanted the emphasis to be on the study part of the program. There were tests, final exams, and notebook grades. I did hear some complaints that the work was too hard but many of the same students were later proud of what they had learned. In any case, I never wanted students to think of the program as a travel adventure alone, but rather as a genuine endeavor to learn about the classical past and to be a part of Italian life.

That first year my assistant was Ellen Jackson, then a graduate student in Latin, later Mrs. Bob Harris and a Latin teacher. She certainly set a fine example for all the succeeding assistants. Always eager to be helpful, she was a big asset.

I am certainly pleased that the UGA Classics Study Abroad has been around for so long and that thousands of students have thrilled over the wonders of classical Rome and Greece.

Edward E. Best, Jr.
Founder and Director of the UGA Classics Study Abroad Program
Professor Emeritus, Department of Classics, UGA

Dr. Timothy Gantz

Timothy Gantz' first long stay in Rome was in 1965 when he was an undergraduate at Haverford spending a semester at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome. In the years that followed, he was back there as a visitor and also as a teacher at the Center in 1971 and ‘72, but he always felt that that first time as an undergraduate had been especially important for his formation, and he would often refer to it in relation to the UGA Classics Study Abroad Program, wishing for his students that they would have an equally meaningful experience.

He was back in Italy many times, especially in Murlo, near Siena where he was excavating the Etruscan site of Poggio Civitate along with Dr. Kyle Phillips. It was then that he learned and became passionate about Siena, the famous Palio horse race, and frankly, all things Italian.

In 1977, 78, and 79 he took part in the Classics Study Abroad Program as an assistant to Dr. Ed Best and Dr. Jimmy Alexander, and then in 1980 he went as the director along with Dr. Bob Curtis.  He was back in 1983 as an assistant to Dr. Alexander and then, starting from 1984 until the summer preceding his death in January 2004, he was the director of the program.  In the early years the program included a two week tour of Athens, Greece, and Crete. Those two weeks were always a special moment for everybody, especially Timothy, who was a Hellenist, so it was very sad for him to have to be the one to make the tough decision of cutting the Greece trip in 1990 due to rising costs.

Timothy loved Rome, and he loved Italy. To him the country evoked memories of art, history, good food, excellent wine, free-style living, opera…. He was as comfortable talking about modern Italian art, history, culture and more as he was about archaeological sites and classical topics which were his own fields. He wanted the students to learn about all those things and to appreciate them as much as he did. He would encourage them to attend an opera, recommend sites to see, help them with their travel arrangements to visit other Italian cities, and find out information about unusual things they were curious about—there was no Google or Wikipedia in those early days.  It actually pained him if he noticed that someone was distracted while he was lecturing because he felt that the person was missing something precious. On field trips, while young healthy students might get tired, he would march on at a steady pace, apparently feeling no discomfort, he who was not much of an athlete and abhorred high temperatures.

I accompanied him most summers, both as a spouse and later as the other professor, and I observed him as he was directing and teaching, but also as he was preparing for the program, and I must say that its welfare and success were always his first concern. He had very precise ideas about what constituted a meaningful experience for the participants and he did not deviate from that. He took great pride and pleasure in any kind of recognition from the students, but he never compromised his standards in order to gain popularity.

Timothy was first of all an intellectual, a brilliant mind, and a perfectionist. The excitement of being in Rome for him was all about the things he would learn about the city. He would start the summer unpacking the boxes of books that had been collected through the years and he would salute every book as an old friend. Then, over the summer, he would spend all the time not devoted to teaching, guiding, or administrating the program, busy in studying his books and compiling notes. I still have dozens of pads full of his very peculiar handwriting as a reminder of his constant activity. He knew he would never use all the information that he was gathering when guiding the group, but that was beside the point.  If I ever wanted to get him out of his hotel room after an especially exhausting day, I knew that my best bet was suggesting a trip to one of Rome's beautiful bookstores, where we would spend hours finding and choosing the books that would become his new intellectual entertainment. Of course, he could have used notes from previous years, since the program would visit more or less the same sites year after year, but his way of maintaining freshness was precisely learning more every time. I wish the students could have seen the subtle ways in which each lecture improved and differed from the previous ones.

The rest of Timothy's time was spent organizing the trip and making sure that everything ran like a Swiss watch. Now, anyone who knows Italy (or Greece, for the years when the program went there) knows very well that Italy is no Switzerland, geographic proximity aside.  Timothy would personally go to museums ahead of time to check what was available for view, inquire about opening hours, buy tickets in advance if possible, and check bus and train schedules, all of this for the sake of achieving a totally flawless experience—even though we all knew that this was often an impossible task.

One thing that every student certainly appreciated was Timothy's quick and witty sense of humor, which always surfaced in the most unexpected ways. Yes, there where some stories that every participant heard (a reference to the movie The Etruscan Strikes Again anyone?), but for the most part, as a true comedian, he would never use the same joke twice, no matter how good it was. He used to say that repeating a joke bored him, but humor was one of his most effective ways of communication.

Timothy really wanted students to love and respect the city and culture as much as he did. I don't know if they all understood him and the values he was trying to teach them at the time when they were in Rome. I think, though, that they could all recognize that he was an immensely generous person, that he was very honest, and that he was also tender, sweet, and vulnerable.  I know he would be extremely proud hearing students saying that their lives had been positively affected by his teaching and guidance, and by having been a part of this trip.

From Dr. Ingrid Edlund

I have many happy memories from the summers of 1975 and 1976 when I taught at the UGA program in Rome. For many students it was their first trip abroad and I remember their bewilderment in trying to adjust to life in downtown Rome. As Dr. Best pointed out in his account of the history of the program, the location of Pensione Ercoli on via Collina was ideal just for this reason that the students could experience a real neighborhood with small shops and restaurants and yet be close to the ancient monuments. One of their first assignments was to locate the five monuments that were closest to the hotel, ranging from the Gardens of Sallust to tombs along the Aurelian wall, pieces of the Servian wall built into modern structures, and, further away, the majestic baths of Diocletian, now the Terme museum.

In looking through my diaries from those years I marvel at how much we were able to accomplish, both in terms of classroom teaching and field trips! And to my delight, there were students who were willing to go beyond the required curriculum to explore less known sites, both inside Rome and further afield. We searched for the remains of the circuit of the Servian wall and climbed the eighth hill of Rome, Monte Testaccio, constructed from broken amphora sherds, then surrounded by the local slaughter houses and gypsy camps, now an area known for its chic restaurants. By train or bus we ventured to Lake Nemi, south of Rome, known for its ancient sanctuary to Diana, and also for the festival of wild strawberries, and to Orvieto and Siena to experience vibrant towns with a long history and rich culture.

The scheduled field trips allowed the students to prepare for seeing new things as well as to be responsible for giving class presentations. The photographs I took during these trips show students demonstrating buildings and sites to their classmates who eagerly wrote down information in their notebooks. It is not easy to talk about something you've only learned from books, but I remember very clearly how the student responsible for the site of Herculaneum masterfully showed us around the city as if he had always lived there, even though it was his first visit to the site!

Times have changed and so has Rome! But every time I walk in the area of via Collina I'm reminded of the Georgia students who were introduced to the modern and the ancient aspects of the city and who no doubt have their own stories to tell of what the summer program meant for their lives and future careers!

Ingrid Edlund-Berry
Professor Emerita
The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. David Thompson

Excitement is what comes to mind when I think of David. He just seemed to know what is wonderful in life. We would meet him in Rome in the summer, and invariably there was a restaurant he had just heard of, a new wine we had to try, a piece of music we had to listen to…. And then there were the stories about people he knew, foods he had tasted, places he wanted to visit. Life had to be lived with passion, big and small things had to be savored.

I don’t think it was possible to come in contact with David without being charmed. He always started his tour of Herculaneum by showing an artistic rendition of the city that had appeared in National Geographic and which he had helped to create. Then he would take the students on a long tour of the city under the hot sun, with all of them still fascinated at the end of the tour and oblivious of the fatigue they should have been feeling. In the evening, as soon as we arrived at the hotel Carola in Agropoli, he would be off to the kitchen, where the cook, a close friend of his ever since his first stay at the hotel, would dig out his freshest fish and most succulent recipes just for him. It was fun to be with David. He knew how to listen, how to make you feel special and therefore worthy of experiencing great things: he was inspiring.

Italy held a special place in his heart. He had to overcome his fear of flying in order to get there, but there was no doubt in his mind that it was worth it. I was not surprised to find that in his will he had donated a considerable amount of money for a scholarship to send students to visit Rome and Italy. It was his way to continue sharing his excitement for life and for Italy, modern and ancient, and to live forever in the memory of the people who, with his help, would experience the things he loved.

Elena Bianchelli

My first encounter with the UGA Classics Study Abroad Program in Rome was in 1983 when, as a young wife, I accompanied my husband Timothy Gantz, who was teaching in the program along with Dr. Alexander.  After that, I would be back year after year, as a wife, an observer and one of the teachers, affording me the longest association with the program of any living professor. After my husband's untimely death in 2004, I thought I would never be part of the program again, but ten years later, with much time gone by and my son a sophomore in college, I was offered the position of director, and I jumped at the opportunity as it felt right to be back.

I grew up in Italy and had spent time in Rome and in the Bay of Naples before. I had also visited Greece once--the program included two weeks there back then. Everything should have been familiar to me. Still, in that first trip, and all of the following ones, I was impressed with the number of sights we visited, the depth of the presentations, and the range of things we learned.

One of my most vivid memories is actually not from Italy or Greece, but from America, traveling on an Eastern Air Lines plane from Atlanta to New York (yes, Eastern still existed at the time). The flight attendant recognized Timothy as her professor from the Rome program and greeted him enthusiastically.  She talked of what a life-changing adventure her trip to Rome and Greece had been for her and said that that was the reason she had decided to become a flight attendant: to be able to travel and continue to experience all the different parts of the world as she had done in that first trip abroad of her life. She also said that she was still traveling the way she had learned back then in the program: with a Blue Guide in her hand and a journal. I distinctly remember Timothy's sense of satisfaction and pride in the conversation we had after the encounter.

After that first summer of 1983, I accompanied Timothy again and again, dividing my time between Rome and Arezzo, where my parents lived. Then in 1988 Timothy asked me if I would be interested in teaching the Roman Civilization course. To be honest, he asked me because I was his cheapest option, and making the program as affordable as possible was always a priority. I accepted without totally understanding what I was getting into, but I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the closer contact with the students.  I always tried to be available when they needed me, and ready to help them understand Italian culture, but I also wanted to be unobtrusive and let them figure out on their own how they could function in a foreign environment and gain confidence. I would observe how differently people reacted to living in Rome for an extended period of time.  There were those who remained happy and upbeat for the whole length of the program and there were some for whom life in a big foreign city far away from home would eventually become harder than they thought. One thing never changed though: whenever we would meet the students months or years later, they would invariably talk to us of what an amazing experience they had had, of how much they missed the city and of how they felt that their lives had been impacted and changed for the better. They said that they had learned a great deal, about Rome and Italy, but also about themselves, and they were immensely grateful that they went.  Flavio himself, owner of the Hotel Ercoli, where the program stays, receives numerous visits every year from past students who have come back to Rome and have stopped to stay at the hotel or just to say hello. They all have wonderful memories, and they join the large number of people who, having spent time in Rome once, sooner or later have to come back and bring their families.

Working on the new website, I have gone through many old pictures, calling a slew of memories and people back to my mind. I see an array of smart, promising young men and women. I have maintained contact with a few of them, reconnected with others through the program’s Facebook and website, and hope to hear from still more. I am also excited about the new generations of travelers and learners. I expect all of them to eagerly throw their coin into the Trevi fountain, wishing to come back.

Dr. Linda J. Piper

Reflections of a Rome Program participant and fellow classics devotee…

Although I had encountered Dr. Linda Piper at various Classics Department functions, I really got to know her via her role as co-faculty director for the 1985 Classics Study Abroad Rome Program.  At the time, I taught Latin at a metro Atlanta high school and was interested in embedding more historical connections and art history into Latin language instruction.   Of course, the depth and breadth of the on-site visits in Rome, Naples, Paestum, Athens, Crete, Olympia, and Delphi was enticing but equally so was the opportunity to learn from two outstanding master teachers, Dr. Timothy Gantz, Classics professor, and Dr. Linda J. Piper, History professor. 

On most days, the mornings were spent in museums or on archaeological sites with well articulated commentary, humorous historical incidents, and thought-provoking insights. Many afternoons presented time to explore on our own, and Linda and I often took the Blue Guide to Rome and Environs to investigate locations not on the scheduled sites.  These explorations were made all the more engaging through her commentary on the historical context.  Once when the group was touring southern Italy, near Paestum, I along with Linda Piper, Tim Gantz, David Thompson, and Elena Bianchelli persuaded the hotel owner to lend us his car to view the ancient site of Velia.  The sight of five adults packed into a tiny Italian car must have been quite comical, but we all enjoyed exploring this out-of-the-way ancient town.  On another occasion while in Athens, a friend of Linda’s visiting family in Peiraieus, took us along the shore line drive where we were able to see long stretches of wall fortifications.  Fellow program participants also enjoyed conversations with Linda, who always found time to discuss what interested them.

This program remains one of the jewels of the UGA Classics Department greatly enriching and inspiring its participants. Lynne McClendon 

Dr. Howard Shealy

The summer of 1984 was typically hot in both Rome and Athens, and in those days almost nothing was air conditioned.  At that point in its history, the program was based in Rome for four weeks, Athens for two, and then returned to Rome for a final two weeks. In spite of the summer heat, I felt that I was a very lucky young faculty member. Along with Professor Tom Poss, I had been chosen to help study abroad director Dr. Timothy Gantz teach (and manage) a bumper crop of students.  I had spent the previous summer as a participant in an NEH summer seminar on medieval Rome, but I knew almost nothing about the classical city beyond the major tourist sites of the Colosseum, the Forum, and the republican era temples near Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Timothy Gantz taught all of us about classical Rome and about Roman Italy and its culture.  We learned about the remnants of the gardens of Sallust just outside our hotel and about what seemed like every stone in the Forum as well as visiting most of the major museum collections of classical art and artifacts in the city.  We traveled to the Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia and Cerveteri and took a longer field trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Tim also taught us to love the culture…the art, thought, and literature…of the people who had created the physical remnants of ancient Rome we were seeing.

Students and faculty stayed in the same hotels the program still uses:  Ercoli and Piave, and the staff did their best to keep us all well fed and as comfortable as possible in those pre-air conditioning days.  It could be hard to concentrate on Virgil’s Aeneid during the hotter days, especially on one Monday I recall when the students were squirming in their seats because they had taken advantage of a free weekend to explore Italy’s beaches and were sunburned in places where they had never been sunburned before. 

Field trips into the city were always a welcome adventure and a change of pace from our improvised classrooms.  Generally Tim led the way onto the ATAC bus on Via XX Settembre with Tom in the middle of the group of students and me bringing up the rear shouting “Avanti! Avanti!” to those who were slow to get on board. I still have a vivid memory of the group sitting in the shade of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina while Tim explained the elements of Roman architecture using the remains in the Forum as examples. I was sketching pediments and architraves on a legal pad for one of my students who was having some difficulty putting together what she was hearing with what she was seeing. She and I both learned a lot:  she about Roman architecture and I about teaching in a study abroad environment.

In addition to learning about teaching in study abroad, I learned tremendously valuable lessons about dealing with students and about group travel from the examples that Tim provided that summer, lessons that would serve me well for many years to come when I would lead study abroad groups in Tuscany.   A particularly memorable moment involves the airport in Athens. We were there to return to Rome for the final two weeks of the program, and Tim had gathered us all in a circle right after we had checked our bags at the airline desk. “Does each of you know where your passport is?” he prudently asked. Noah, one of our students, promptly replied, “Yes, mine’s in my bag going down that conveyor belt over there.” A mad scramble followed as the bag was chased down and the passport retrieved. Noah got back to Rome with the rest of us, and I learned that you simply can’t think of all the things to tell students not to do.

On hot summer evenings in Rome the professors would often flee to the rooftop of the nearby Hotel Marcella where the view of the city and the summer breezes provided a welcome respite. Sometimes Tim’s wife Elena and my wife Risë would join us, and we would all have a pleasant social hour with “just the adults”.  Eventually the students worked out where we were disappearing to, and they were welcomed as well. 

It was a wonderful group of professors and students that summer.  We bonded with each other, and many of us kept in touch for years afterwards.  I know the experience of traveling in Italy and Greece and living in another culture changed our students’ lives forever:  from their appreciation of art and of other cultures to their perceptions of themselves and their own abilities.  The experience certainly changed me.  It gave me a wealth of material, and thanks to Risë’s skill with her Nikon, a wealth of images to use in the History courses I have taught ever since.  That summer I fell even more in love with Italy than I already was, and I came to appreciate study abroad as an essential component of higher education. Study abroad allows students to learn and to grow as individuals in a way that is unique. I will be forever grateful to the program and to my friend and colleague Dr. Tim Gantz.