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.