In Class

July 3, 2013 at 10:14 am

The Literature Student’s Guide to Study Abroad

By Rachel Thomas
Honors Tutorial College student studying Classics in Rome

Education abroad is widely acknowledged to be an excellent way to deepen a student’s academic experience and exposure to other cultures and types of scholarship. Yet, for those of us whose fields concern predominantly non-material matters (or who study languages without active speakers), this question may well be asked: why would one expend resources to travel to another country when one could technically still perform necessary research or academic requirements at one’s home institution?

Painting from within the Tomb of Orcus.

Painting from within the Tomb of Orcus.

As a student whose major is heavily focused upon literature in languages no longer actively spoken and written by authors long dead, I was prepared to answer this question long before I arrived in Rome. The benefits of study abroad need not be tied directly to one’s program, after all; in some cases, the experience itself may be sufficient to enhance one’s education. I knew that the act of simply examining the sites in and surrounding Rome would assist in my conceptualization and understanding of my field in its own right. As a humanities major, I am concerned greatly with humanity—and human beings are not only intellectual, but also physical. They create material structures and move in material spaces as much as they create literary works, and experiencing the physical aspect of the ancient world is vital to understanding its immaterial features as well. The benefits of study abroad were entirely clear to me.

Arch from the Roman town of Minturnae.

Arch from the Roman town of Minturnae.

Even so, I underestimated just how valuable my time with the Classical Summer School would be. I knew I would learn about and familiarize myself with the physical backdrop against which my literary interests often played out, and I’ve hardly been disappointed. What I did not expect, however, was for many aspects of the material culture in Rome to directly parallel the literary issues I am currently examining in my senior thesis.

In much the same way that I unexpectedly, and pleasantly, found myself lost in Trastevere on my first day here, I stumbled straight into a treasure trove of academia: not only do I have access to the American Academy’s library (a veritable bastion of scholarship in its own right), but even the material remains of the city around me reflect my highly literature-based topic. As a result, what I initially thought would be a great way of simply grounding myself deeper in my field has become an efficient, interdisciplinary segue into a more advanced form of study.

Rachel Thomas and a sanctuary ramp at Praeneste (modern Palestrina).

Rachel Thomas and a sanctuary ramp at Praeneste (modern Palestrina).

On one hand, then, we can easily say that any student—whether of literature or no—may benefit from a study abroad program because of the academic and personal enrichment that accompanies such an endeavor. Even beyond that, though, education abroad allows for the excitement of discovery. Whether it’s as simple as coming upon a delightful little shop tucked away on a twisting road or as valuable as uncovering a hidden piece of an academic puzzle, studying abroad allows for a kind of exploration (whether physical or intellectual) unable to be replicated by any other experience.

Thomas is a student in Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College studying Classics with College of Arts & Sciences faculty.

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