Traveling to Europe is a dream for many college students – and getting class credit for it is always a bonus.
For the first time, Liberty offered a four-week study abroad trip to Rome this summer, where students had the chance to be immersed in Italian culture while taking two history courses.
The trip, held May 21-June 19, was led by Dr. Douglas Mann, associate professor of history and an associate dean in the Graduate School. He was accompanied by 11 students from a variety of majors, including Social Science, History, Communications, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Pre-law and Vocal Performance.
For his Renaissance Reformation class, students would discuss required reading materials before heading out to the many historical sites they had studied.
“Once we got there, Rome really was our classroom,” Mann said. “We wanted to get out and see as much of Rome as we could.”
The students became their own tour guides in a way, he said.
“What a better place to study the Renaissance, and Renaissance art and architecture than in Rome? And for the Reformation era, with Roman Catholicism, that seemed a natural fit for the course as well,” Mann said.
The other course was designed more as an independent study.
Amber Conley, a second-year graduate student, chose to study modern football (soccer) culture in Rome. The trip fulfilled her last two courses needed for her Master of Arts in History.
“Finishing up my master’s degree over there was wonderful; it was a culmination of everything I’ve studied,” she said.
She said she enjoyed living in the middle of Rome, away from the tourist areas, so she could learn more about everyday Italian life. Students lived in rented space in a convent in the city.
“My highlight was going and seeing where history actually took place. … You’re living in a city thousands and thousands of years old and it doesn’t quite click until you’re there,” she said.
The cross-cultural experience was especially valuable for Conley, who plans to pursue a job with the government that could include a lot of travel to Europe.
Senior history major Hailey Mullins studied humanism in the Renaissance. With a passion for art history, she said she especially enjoyed visiting the Uffizi gallery in Florence, home of some of the great Renaissance masterpieces.
“That was the highlight for me, seeing so many of the paintings that I’ve seen on screens and I’ve seen in a book. Sometimes you go to other art museums and it’s pretty but you don’t know them and the fact that I had studied so many beforehand it meant so much to be able to see them in person,” she said.
For Elijah Hosse, a sophomore social science major who studied Christianity in the first century, just being able to visit churches (students were encouraged to visit several in the city) and learn about the Roman Catholic culture was “eye-opening.”
“Doing my studies over there, I didn’t realize how much a prominent majority Catholicism is to Christianity,” he said.
Just like in classes on Liberty’s campus, the trip was partly designed to challenge students in their faith as well, “to think a little bit how about who they are as Christians, as Liberty students, as Protestants,” Mann said. “Of course we’re going into a heavily Roman Catholic area and this was essentially the struggle Martin Luther had when he went to Rome — he sees all of the glories of Rome and that was very formative for him. He asked, ‘Is this real? Is this the way Christianity really is?’ … That’s one of the values of going to Rome, it goes even outside of the classroom here — to be able to deal with some of those questions that are important as Christians.”
Conley said seeing Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday Mass was a learning experience.
“People were freaking out seeing him. It seemed that people traveled from all over to be at his mass and be blessed by him and that’s a foreign concept to us,” she said.
Conley said she had a chance to talk with a tourist from Ireland who had grown up seeing the struggles between Catholics and Protestants in that country. She spoke to her about Christianity for several hours and has kept in contact with her since she returned home.
“Hopefully something will come of it and I can minister to her,” Conley said.
Mann said the real learning comes from experience.
“I can talk about Martin Luther going to Rome and climbing a set of steps on his knees (the same steps Jesus walked up in Pilate’s house) — I can talk about that in class and it’s a really dramatic story. He prays on every step. … But then to take the students to those steps and to see they’re still filled with people going up the steps to this day, on their knees, and saying a prayer, and to talk through it while they’re there, and show how it’s still important in Roman Catholic lore to today, it’s a completely different experience than talking about it in class.”
Mann has travelled extensively on research trips and faster-paced, shorter study tours through Europe. He said he prefers the longer trips, “where you are situated and you get to know a city. After two or three days students became very comfortable moving around Rome -- you don’t get that experience on a tour bus.”
He said he hopes to offer the trip every year, possibly including a service project, where students will partner with a local church there.