Pick a point in history and see if it doesn’t include a tale of exploration. Find a time when not any one person desired to conquer another land. Dig through the fine print and explain what propels mankind to travel. Is it fate? Destiny? Or is there some inner drive, a glowing ember, that spurs us to go beyond our reach?
No matter one’s gender, age, race, beliefs, political party and the like, people share some mystifying urge to escape from their reality. An urge to open their minds to something greater than themselves: the snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the cerulean seas of the Caribbean or the spattering of stars across an Australian sky.
Yet, while most share this dream, whatever its form, few today ever act on it. Time and means seem to be the trending factors to this end. But there are a blessed few who take charge of the opportunities presented to them. Amber Battle, a junior majoring in early childhood education, became one such individual who fulfilled her lifelong dream of touring Italy.
“There’s so much history,” Battle said. “I guess [I loved] the architecture, the art…I romanticized it my whole life.”
The opportunity arrived through a study abroad seminar designed to investigate the connections between Italians, culture, food and sustainability. A team of three professors and 20 students left for 12 days to explore cities of Venice, Florence, Assisi, Rome, Pompeii, Sorento and Capri.
Battle realized beforehand that the trip would cost a fortune, but while she worked diligently to earn the money, a generous Christmas present from her parents lightened the load. And the gift exceded expectations.
“It was pretty cool because the trip was all about culture and food, so we did a lot of touristy stuff like [riding] gondolas, [visiting] Vinta Loma in Florence and [touring] a lot of churches and art galleries,” Battle said. “We went to the Vatican and took a boat ride around Capri.”
With so much stacked up on the itinerary, it seemed doubtful these students had any time to themselves, but this was not the case. Each major stop allotted enough time to see the highlights as well as ample time to venture off the beaten path. Even so, in a country so cram-packed with an imposing history, grandiose architecture and quintessential culinary arts, no amount of time is ever enough. The excursion amounted to be so impressive that Battle could hardly decide which aspect of the trip she enjoyed the most: the view from atop Giotto’s Bell Tower of the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, or getting to step inside the Roman prison that once held the apostles Peter and Paul.
“When I was looking out [from the bell tower], there was a song – ‘Amazed’ by Philips, Craig, and Dean – and it was just playing through my head just singing of all the beauty and of God and His love,” Battle said. “And it was really cool to stand [in the prison] and take it all in, like, this was where Peter and Paul were, and [I saw] what the experience meant for them.”
These sojourns and many more were later documented in daily journals, followed by reflection papers and a one-time blog post. Each entry, required as a part of the course, could be about anything the student experienced, thoughts about the day, or notes to transfer into the final project as long as each was approximately 400 words.
One of the main topics covered, as per the objective of this study abroad seminar, was the food. Not only did the tastes differ between Italian foods from Italy versus the “Americanized” versions, but they differ between regions of the same country. But the dissimilarities did not stop there.
“They had like three courses for one meal, and that didn’t include the bread, and some places had even more than that,” Battle said. “Everyone was telling us beforehand that Italian portion sizes were smaller, that European portion sizes were smaller, but while they may look small, they give you like three times that.”
And the adventure certainly served its purpose.
“I think what I took away was the value of seeing other cultures and learning the difference between us and other places,” Battle continued. “You don’t always think about how different the cultures are – the way that they eat, the way that they dress, the way that they do life.”
With this in mind, Battle is eager to return to Europe one day to relive and expand upon her 12-day experience. Maybe next time with her family surrounding her. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Battle’s parents vacationed in Italy shortly after she did and for about the same length of time. Yet their travels were spent in different locations or different parts of the same towns.
“Italy is gorgeous. Italy is my dream. I would probably go back there before going anywhere else,” Battle said.