Home

I’ve been home for over a month, but it doesn’t feel like home. My body has gone straight into a routine but my mind has been lagging, still figuring out where I belong now. I’ve been traveling a lot, and working on moving into a new house; this has made my ‘home’ more fragmented. I’m still figuring out where I want to be and it’s made my transition a bit uneasy.

Being back in the U.S is definitely bittersweet; I’ve missed my friends and family but I crave Melbourne. Everyday I have a little reminder of my life back in Australia, the friends I made there, the places I was memorized by. Looking back on my trip it doesn’t feel like a dream, it feels very, very real. The constant reminders I get bring me back to a good place, full of amazing memories. Though, my stomach can’t handle American portions now-I even think a venti coffee from Starbucks is absurd! I wish I could be there still, but I’m not and that’s okay. I came back with a change in my mindset, and a craving to travel more, and I’ve been able to continue that.

 

 

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Back in New York!

Hey everyone!

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Throwback to my second day in Jamaica. I was standing in front of a mural on campus representing all the majors a. UWI.

Its been a week and change back home and although it feels great to be home, I also feel like a piece of my heart is in Jamaica. The amazing people, children and places in Jamaica taught me so much about myself and the world around me. Reflecting on my experience has made me realize how grateful I feel for choosing to study abroad but studying abroad in a complex but beautiful place like Jamaica.

As much as I am missing all the amazing people I met in Jamaica, I am also equally missing the University of the West Indies campus and Rex Nettleford (My Hall). I loved living in Rex for the month because this is where I met friends and created memories. Alex and I would go on our “fruit adventures” to find guineps and mangoes all around campus! UWI is such an amazing campus.

This study abroad is just the beginning for me. This experience has given me ambition and drive to keep traveling the world and learning about new cultures and interacting with new people.

I love you Jamaica!

#SabInJam #StudyAbroad

Ending my last blog with the Jamaican Island vibes!

I love listening to this.. It makes me happy! Hope it does the same for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection

Being back in the United States for a week has given me time to reflect on all of the amazing experiences I’ve had in Spain. In fact, I created an Oviedo scrapbook so that in the future I can look back on the photos, souvenirs and knick-knacks I collected from study abroad. While flipping through my scrapbook I feel extremely thankful that this opportunity to study in a foreign country was available and that I took action to make it happen. In addition, I reflect on my feelings before leaving the US. I was excited but also very nervous to be placed in a completely new country, family, and school. However, the night I arrived, I was consoled by a fellow New PIMG_1727altz student who was in my program. He told me that even though it may be overwhelming at first, by the end of the program I would not want to leave. Boy, was he right! I have gained a greater world perspective by meeting students from all walks of life. Due to this I was exposed to new perspectives, values, and customs that are different from that of the environment in which I grew up. I have gained a new appreciation for history, too, seeing that ancient history plays such a fundamental role in the culture of Asturias. In terms of language, I feel much more confident in my Spanish speaking and listening skills which have improved. Even though I have no definitive way of “measuring” my progress, it now feels second nature to alternate between Spanish and English while in conversation with someone without even realizing that it’s happening. Overall, this has been one of the most influential learning experience that I have had in my lifetime and I am forever grateful for making the most of this program.

Saying Goodbye

The last seven weeks in South Korea were honestly so amazing. Being able to go to a different country by myself and try to navigate and figure out things in a completely different country with a completely different language was a little nerve wracking but amazing. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Continue reading…

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The Conclusion

After being home for about a week, it seems so strange to think that I was in a different country last week. Back home, it feels the same, nothing too outstanding that’s different. It’s weird to think that I’ve changed, because I left for a month and had all these new experiences. Let me tell you, I was NOT ready to get back on that plane to come back to NY. Part of me still feels that way. Above all, I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, and I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. Its weird to think that if I never had a friend that studied abroad, never went to the study abroad fair to see him or to check it out, never had the encouragement of friends to apply, to click the damn button to submit the application, to me chickening out and someone clicking it for me…the whole month never would have happened. It was one of the busiest months that I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying something. From being in London right after they voted to leave the EU, to visiting Paris in its current climate and feeling some of that fear in the air… its something that is different from just reading about it in the papers. I was in London when they got their new prime minister and it really was business as usual. Seeing the world news in person instead of reading about it is a most fascinating experience.

And, for my mini recap, a pic of me in each country I visited:

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The first class at the top of The Shard

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Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)

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Wales (UK)

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Top of the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

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Tower Bridge (London, UK)

I didn’t know I’d appreciate a country so much after just one month. It’s been one hell of a ride London. Much love, and till next time, Cheers! 

Returning Home

These past few weeks in Spain have been absolutely incredible! On one hand, I am happy to go home and see friends and family. On the other hand, however, I know it will be an adjustment settling back into the American lifestyle. I think living with a host mother helped me get accustomed to the lifestyle of northern Spain. Even though I have only been living here for a month, I already feel so knowledgeable about the culture and city of Oviedo. In fact, my parents came to visit and I was able to show them around the entire city, telling them stories as we passed each landmark. I am sure going to miss Oviedo and the wonderful experience that I had while studying here. If I could, I would study abroad again in a heartbeat. It may sound cheesy, but the people I met and memories I made were worth so much more than the six credits that I gained from the program.

Seeing the famous painted Tomb of the Diver in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

O sole mio: pizza and the past in Naples

Between nerves from being on a ship overnight and a broken-down air conditioning system on our deck, most of our group did not get a lot of sleep. We docked in Naples very early this morning (5:30 AM!) and hauling our luggage was exhausting, but the warm greeting we received at our hotel, even down to a welcome sign, made us feel right at home. To wake everyone up, we took everyone to Scaturchio, a famous Neapolitan bakery in the heart of the old city, for traditional local pastries and plenty of espressos and cappuccinos.

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Naples’ name comes from “Neapolis” or “new city,” which is what the Greeks called the new settlement they founded near the earlier nearby colony of Partenope. In fact, the coastlines of Italy from the Bay of Naples southward were so peppered with Greek colonies that the region was known as Magna Graecia or “Great Greece” in antiquity. Like many of these cities, Naples was laid out in a grid plan that is still easily recognizable in the modern road network of the historic center, particularly the three main east-west thoroughfares. Even parts of the ancient walls have been uncovered in different areas.

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

One of Naples’ greatest treasures is its extraordinary archaeological museum, which is home to the finds from the Roman towns and villas buried by eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and other ancient treasures found in southern Italy. We toured the museum’s highlights, including the infamous “secret cabinet” of material once considered too racy to be available to the public, which gave us all a good chuckle or two.

Giggles in the "Secret Cabinet"

Giggles in the “Secret Cabinet”

We saw incredible mosaics from homes in Pompeii such as the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, likely a copy of a Hellenistic Greek painting of Alexander the Great fighting against the Persian king Darius at the Battle of Issus. The students also got their first exposure to Roman wall painting, which decorated both domestic and public spaces.

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

We admired massive sculptures uncovered in the remains of the Baths of Constantine in Rome, many of which are Roman copies of ancient Greek originals, as well as a special exhibition on depictions of nature in Greco-Roman art, which featured many pieces in the museum’s collections that are rarely on display, including one of my favorite Athenian vases depicting the siege of Troy, and the cover slab from the Tomb of Diver, on loan from the archaeological museum in Paestum.

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

After our lunch break, during which many of us indulged in Naples’ famous pizza, we went back into the city’s past by taking a tour of underground Naples. The modern city rests many feet above the original street level The Greeks built their new city from the bedrock beneath their feet, creating a system of man-made caves that were converted into cisterns, supplying the population with a constant supply of water. Over time, these cisterns fell into disrepair, were filled with garbage, and generally forgotten until World War II when Neapolitans needed to build bomb shelters to protect themselves.

The start of the Naples Underground tour - more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The start of the Naples Underground tour – more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The cisterns were reopened, becoming home to thousands of people, and today they are visited by tourists to experience Naples’ 2500 years of history. The tour was a fun candlelit adventure, but definitely not for the claustrophobic because of some of the narrow tunnels at times.

Exploring Naples' past by candlelight

Exploring Naples’ past by candlelight

Due to threats of thunderstorms tomorrow, we have changed our plans a bit to stay closer to home by going to Cumae rather than going to Pompeii and Herculaneum. This meant a last-minute dash for me this evening before all of the stores closed to find picnic supplies for everyone’s lunch tomorrow. Bless the deli down the street from our hotel – they really came to my rescue!

Reflection of Myself

IMG_2005So I have returned to America, wow, it is really weird to be back after being in Japan for a third of a year. Until recently, I was used to getting out of my bed, opening up my mini-fridge to get my breakfast and walking down three flights of stairs to eat it in the dining room, now I just roll out of bed and walk to the kitchen, knowing that something will be waiting for me. I loved Japan, but it is really good to be back in my home with my parents, its peaceful here and that`s how I like it best! My mom of course, was so happy to see me and marvel at not just my slimmer physique, thank you low-fat Japanese food, but the astonishing amount of things that I miraculously got home and through customs, nothing weird, just a lot of over-stuffed bags. My mom bought me everything that I asked for, so I will probably put on some weight, though going swimming will counter that. My dad and I went to the county fair, this weekend, it was really great to spend time together and catch up, he is a very reserved personality, but I could tell he was really happy to be with me in person.

I am just so happy to see my car again, she, yes I refer to my car as a her, is one of my most precious possessions and it really gives me a sense of freedom to be able to drive wherever I want, rather than be limited by the rail lines as I was in Japan. Walking is great and healthy, but man is it nice to sit on a cushioned seat with A.C. and just go for a drive. Its so nice, to get back to the roads of America, though I have to build up my driving skills again like when I had my learners permit due to not being behind the wheel of a car in months!

There is definitely a major shift in my worldview, Japanese media is focus on Japan by itself, while American is focused on our relations and interactions with other countries. Japan is a literal island and that mindset is a staple of their culture because of most of it having limited outside influence and achieving success like Anime, they take a lot of pride in it. While its culture was focused on itself, it was really interesting to see a music culture, dominated primarily by domestic groups. I actual feel that American media is much more globally focused, I used my same news sources while I was in Japan, and really did not get much from Japan, I know that sounds odd, but it definitely gave me a very different perspective on the world.

It was amazing to live in a nation that is very focused on progression, the trains will arrive exactly at this time, the location is exactly X amount of kilometers from where you are standing, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom today only, so everyone will go to see them. there is a very precise way that Japan moves and that is how I have to move in order to be part of it. Japanese society is very homogeneous, all office workers wear grey or black suits only, students wear a specific uniform depending on the season and school, everyone moves together as one and it is fascinating to watch. As well, the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been dominant in Japan for 60 years, is the only major political party in Japan, so politics flows in an easy to predict direction here, in contrast to the various parties of influence in America.

Because of the population being over 90 percent ethnically Japanese, everyone has the same religion, Shinto-Buddhism, a unique blend of two entirely different religions. Everyone has a protection charm, talisman, statue, necklace or another object on them and in their house, they sold at almost every temple, it is an abnormality not to have a charm of sorts, even I carried a few, with one in my wallet right now with a good luck paper next to it, and gave one to each of my parents, who carry them with them as well. Despite obviously not having the same faith, I never felt out of place or stared at, when I went to any of the countless temples or shrines that I visited.

My best friend has been really happy to see me again, he was there at the airport to welcome me back, we have missed each other a lot, and plan to make up for lost time. The hug we exchanged at the airport was so strong, that I thought he snapped my spine, cause it definitely cracked. Fortunately, he has vacation this week from work, so we will be doing all kinds of fun things, video games, movies, Anime and just enjoying the rest of the summer. The look on his face, when I gave him all his souvenirs was priceless, I bought him two birthday presents, a bunch of knickknacks, good luck charm, matching t-shirts, key-chains and health charms, and even a holiday present because I found the perfect gift. Seriously, you will find the most awesome presents imaginable in Japan especially in pop culture stores! Despite the distance and the time, we caught up in mere hours and our bond only grew stronger over the time. Its as if I never left and we have been spending every minute together doing what we love and me telling him all kinds of crazy stories and memories from my adventures.

It was definitely worth going to Japan, though I left my life completely in America and will now have to catch up to everything, still it was an exciting way to finish my last semester of college. I learned so much about myself, my passions and a nation unlike any other in the world. I learned that I have the ability to live on my own in a foreign nation and prosper with great success. I will return here one day, when I do not know, but I will and intend to bring my best friend or maybe even my own children here, so that they can learn to love this nation as I have, some day in the future. Certainly international experience, will be a really great point on any resume that will give me an advantage at job interviews. Many people that I have met, told me that they wished they had done what I did and studied abroad, so I really feel that this was a great experience and I will never forget it. I have told you countless times, what I have done, but one lets go over it as a whole, I climbed mountains, I conquered castles, I rode bullet trains, I met famous warlords, I ate a variety a bizarre food, Purple Sweet Potato ice cream was good, I met all sorts of wonderful people, traveled to at less 50 different places of worship, each with their own centuries long history, watched baseball, played amazing arcade games, observed Sumo in person, celebrated festivals, took literally thousands of photos and all around never lost my enthusiasm to go out and do something, no matter the weather, the time or the place, I did it ALL!!!! As I have said so many times before, if you really want a once in a lifetime chance to go beyond any boundaries you have ever encountered, study abroad, find a nation that fascinates you, learn about it, look into study programs, there are so many offered not just at New Paltz, but through the SUNY system as a whole, go talk to an adviser, they are all really nice, trust me I have been in that office so often asking about programs, that I am on a first name basis with the secretary. If you think that studying abroad is too far, hard or expensive, ask about scholarships or grants, talk to those who went including me, seriously ask me anything and I will answer, it can be a lot easier than you would ever imagine. If you think that a semester is to long to be away, try a two week summer program and view it like an educational vacation, I did that and liked it so much that I returned to Japan! As my parents always told me, you are young with no commitments or obligations to weigh you down, go, go as far away as you can and explore this amazing world, learn, laugh, grow become the person that you always dreamed of being!

The Palermo Cathedral

Palermo: Celebrating Cultural Diversity in Medieval Sicily

Sadly the archaeological museum in Palermo remains closed after many years, so we were unable to visit the wonderful architectural sculpture from the temples at Selinunte among other treasures. Instead, we used our time in Palermo as an opportunity to explore post-antique Sicily and how it was influenced by its Greco-Roman heritage. The island’s strategic location made it highly desirable to many groups of people over time because it allowed for control over much of the Mediterranean. In 486 A.D., as the western Roman Empire collapsed, the Vandals took control of the island, only to be pushed out about half a century later by the Byzantine Empire, which made Syracuse the island’s main city and introduced the rearing of silkworms. The Byzantine governor invited Arabs to Sicily in 827, and within 50 years, they had taken over governance of the entire island, bringing with them skilled craftsmen, both Jewish and Muslim, and new agricultural products including rice, cotton, pistachios, and oranges. By the 10th century, Sicily was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, and Palermo, its capital, was a great center of learning and art, rivaling places like Constantinople, Cordoba, and Cairo. The island’s riches made it a tempting target for Norman knights who served as mercenaries for the Arab leader of Catania, Ibn at-Thumnah. Among these mercenaries was Roger Hauteville, who controlled all of Sicily by 1091. The Normans adapted Arab, Jewish, Byzantine, and Roman traditions extant on the island and respected all different faiths and customs. Norman rule reached its apogee under Roger II and his son William I, who actively built a series of extraordinary churches and chapels decorated with elaborate series of mosaics executed by Byzantine artisans, many of which are in the Palermo area.

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

We began with a visit to the Palermo cathedral, built by the Norman rulers of Sicily, but preserving little of its original decoration, particularly in the interior, which was given a major overhaul in the 18th century in Neoclassical style. It is here that Roger II and the later Aragonese leaders of Sicily are buried. On the northern exterior is the entrance most commonly used today, consisting of an elaborate Gothic porch of the 1400s in which there is a column preserved from the earlier mosque that stood on the same spot.

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

However, the greatest Norman architectural treasure in Palermo is found in the Arab palace enlarged by Roger II, which now serves as the seat of the Sicilian regional assembly. The chapel inside, known as the Cappella Palatina, is a marvelous example of the beauty and brilliance that emerges within a society tolerant of all faiths and traditions. The chapel combines the architectural structure of a western-style basilica seen in the rectangular nave, and a centrally-planned Byzantine church, which makes up the sanctuary in the east. The upper walls and vaults are decorated with lavish mosaics, probably the handiwork of Byzantine Greeks, and it is significant that this form of decoration should have been selected by a Western European dynasty that was in almost perpetual conflict with the Byzantine Empire less than a century after the Great Schism (1054) that separated Western Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy.

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Arab craftsmen also contributed to the project, building a magnificent cedar ceiling in the muqarnas technique covering the nave and side aisles in the western part of the chapel. The ceiling is covered with paintings of figures including drinkers, dancers, and musicians, as well as Arabic inscriptions that appear to be royal qualities like “power” and “magnificence.” The opulence continues with the pavement and lower part of the walls decorated with white marble inlaid with red, green, and gold tesserae in varying geometric patterns. The overall effect is almost overwhelming as one’s eyes hardly know where to look first.

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

To get a better understanding of the ancient Greeks’ colonial experience in the western Mediterranean, I decided that we would travel from Sicily to mainland Italy by sea on an overnight ferry from Palermo to Naples. The ferry is essentially a cruise ship that also carries cars, buses, even 18 wheeler trucks!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Standing on the top deck and watching the coastline of Sicily silhouetted by the setting sun disappear behind us, I think all of us felt a little lump in our throats as we headed off into the unknown of the open sea, despite knowing that we were perfectly safe. I knew that the students would really enjoy Sicily and its wonders, many of which are unknown to most Americans, but I was surprised and touched by how attached they became to the island. In fact, I think many members of the group would have been very happy to stay there for the remainder of the program, and they could readily understand why Sicily was seen as a blessed land to our Greek predecessors, who believed that the island was the home of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Having a bit of a "Titanic" moment (minus the iceberg)

Having a bit of a “Titanic” moment (minus the iceberg)

The ancient temple of Segesta, ca. 425-415 B.C.

How the Other Half Lives (Ancient Sicily Edition)

While the focus of this course is the impact that Greeks had upon ancient Italy, it is essential to remember that they hardly lived there in isolation. Today we learned about other groups with whom the Greeks interacted in western Sicily. We started with a trip to the island of Mozia, which was settled by the Phoenicians, later called Carthaginians after their main colony on the coast of north Africa, which became the seat of their empire after they were pushed out of their homeland in the Levant (modern Lebanon and Syria) by the fifth century B.C. The Phoenicians were gifted seafarers who began exploring the Mediterranean from 1200 B.C. onwards. They tended to found cities either on rocky promontories that gave them two harbors or small islands lying off the coastline that were easy to fortify and defend in case of siege. Mozia, located just off the coast of western Sicily, is an example of the latter type. The name “Phoenician” comes from the Greek word for the purple-red of the precious dye that the Phoenicians were famous for producing from the glands of the murex, a sea crustacean. Preferring not to farm, the Phoenicians were skilled craftsmen trading their products for foodstuffs and raw goods, but their greatest invention, which affects us today is their alphabet, which is the basis for the Greek and later Latin letters that we still use. To varying degrees, the Phoenicians/Carthaginians controlled the western part of Sicily until they were expelled by the Romans during the Punic Wars in the third century B.C.

Taking the ferry to Mozia (note the windmill that serves the salt works)

Taking the ferry to Mozia (note the windmill that serves the salt works)

Today, Mozia is accessed by a small ferry that takes you by the salt pans of the area, where sea salt is harvested through evaporation. Sadly, during our visit today the usual heaps of glittering white sea salt on the docks were not to be seen. In antiquity, Mozia was connected to the Sicilian mainland by a submerged causeway, just a few inches below the water’s surface, so that when it was in use, it appeared as though carts and horses were riding upon the waves. While ingenious, this causeway had its disadvantages, making it easier for Dionysius, a tyrant of Syracuse, to sack the city in 397 B.C. and causing the main harbor on the south of the island to silt up.

Admiring the Mozia Charioteer

Admiring the Mozia Charioteer

Mozia was first settled by the Phoenicians during the eighth century B.C. After Dionysius’ siege, it never flourished again to the same extent and was eventually abandoned. In the late 19th century, the island was purchased by Joseph Whitaker, whose family were distinguished Marsala wine merchants. Besides being a distinguished ornithologist, he was an amateur archaeologist, and he began the island’s excavation, which continues even today (which we witnessed first hand!). The island now belongs to a foundation named after Joseph Whitaker, and the museum on the island is located in his original home, displaying the material uncovered at the site. The greatest pride of place goes to the museum’s tour de force sculpture of a young male athlete, the Mozia Charioteer, carved from imported Parian marble and likely produced ca. 470-460 B.C. It was found intentionally buried, perhaps to protect it during Dionysius’ attack, and it may itself have been a spoil of war, taken from a monument dedicated to a victorious athlete in one of the Greek Sicilian colonies conquered by the Carthaginians in the late fifth century B.C.

A student presentation on Phoenician religion at the Tophet of Mozia

A student presentation on Phoenician religion at the Tophet of Mozia

We then explored the island itself, visiting several excavated sacred sites including the Kothon, a man-made pool containing water from a fresh-water spring, and its neighboring sanctuary and the Tophet, a Punic sacrificial burial ground dedicated to the goddess Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon, where children, possibly the male firstborn, were sacrificed, cremated, and their remains placed into terracotta urns. Besides these sacrificial urns, over a thousand carved stone slabs were uncovered in this area featuring a variety of motifs carved in relief, either symbols of the cult of Tanit or human figures, perhaps the dedicators themselves. My intrepid budding student archaeologists even found murex shells, the remains of the famous Phoenician dye production in Mozia.

Discovering ancient murex shells used in the production of costly purple-red dye for which the Phoenicians were famous

Discovering ancient murex shells used in the production of costly purple-red dye for which the Phoenicians were famous

Our second stop of the day was the site of Segesta, one of the principal centers of the Elymians, the indigenous inhabitants of the western part of Sicily. Legend says that they were led to Sicily by the Trojan prince Aeneas after the defeat of Troy by the Greeks, which eventually led to the city receiving special privileges when this part of the island was conquered by the Romans in 248 B.C. because of the Roman claim of descent from Aeneas. The Elymians had a mixed relationship with their Greek neighbors in Selinunte, often descending into conflict with one another. Segesta’s efforts to aggravate the Sicilian Greeks resulted in their entering into a treaty with Athens, promising to help fund the failed Athenian invasion of Sicily. It was this desired alliance that likely led to the construction of Segesta’s most famous landmark, the never-completed Greek temple located outside the settlement. The Elymians were very conscious of the need to impress the Athenian diplomatic mission that came to Segesta by not only demonstrating their wealth, but also their familiarity with Greek culture. The temple borrows proportions and architectural refinements found in Athenian sacred architecture of the mid 5th century B.C. One can imagine the structure being started shortly before the Athenians’ arrival in Sicily in 417 B.C. and abandoned soon thereafter when the Athenian ambitions in the west crumbled with the disastrous siege of Syracuse.

Visiting the temple at Segesta

Visiting the temple at Segesta

The ancient theater of Segesta (the current state dates from the 2nd century B.C.)

The ancient theater of Segesta (the current state dates from the 2nd century B.C.)

The natural setting of Segesta’s ancient structures is evocative to say the least, but I was impressed by how moved the students were by their experience there, a couple stating that they never wanted to leave. Not only did we get to enjoy the surrounding natural landscape around the temple, but even more so from the ancient theater perched on top of the city’s acropolis that looks out towards the Gulf of Castellammare beyond Monte Inici, a truly breathtaking view. Since we had visited well-preserved Greek theaters already in Catania and Syracuse, I decided to mix things up a bit by having the students experience this theater in quite a different way – by actually acting in one. The night before, I divided the students up into three groups and allowed each group to pick one of three classic children’s books as the inspiration for their play: Strega Nona, Make Way for Ducklings, and Where the Wild Things Are. Each group worked together to produce a skit in which the text of the book was read out loud by a narrator while the other group members acted out the story. To be honest, I thought that the students might simply refuse to participate since it was a pretty goofy thing to do, or at best, the skits would be pretty slap-dash at best given the limited time the groups had to work on this project. Little could I have anticipated the lengths that my New Paltz colonists would go to in order to win the grand prize of free gelato for the members of the best performance of the day. (Like any ancient Greek theatrical festival worth its salt, we had three “playwrights” competing for glory.) In a nutshell, there were props, choreography, costumes, music, sound effects, American Sign Language interpretation, and more. I was truly impressed by everyone’s creativity and willingness to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the project. One my favorite traits of this particular group of students is how they fully engage with the material and the experiences at hand. This ability to embrace opportunities and try new things, even when they feel a bit afraid, makes it such a joy for me to work with these students overseas.

The cast of Strega Nona

The cast of Strega Nona

The cast of Where the Wild Things Are

The cast of Where the Wild Things Are

The cast of Make Way for Ducklings

The cast of Make Way for Ducklings

I videotaped each fantastic performance on my phone, and it took all of my self-control and abdominal strength to keep from laughing and shaking the camera. We attracted a significant audience, which applauded loudly along with us. Among them was an American couple who commented to me how much they had loved reading these stories to their children and listening them to again brought back so many happy memories. We also learned how effective the acoustics were, an intentional design feature of Greek theaters, as people in the very highest rows of seats (the ancient nosebleed section) could hear every word spoken with no artificial amplification. It was clear that large portions of gelato from the café at the entrance to the archaeological park had been earned by one and all, which we enjoyed as we piled into the bus to head back to our home in Castellammare del Golfo for the night.

The view from our hotel in Castellammare del Golfo

The view from our hotel in Castellammare del Golfo