For over 600 years, Florence, Italy was a global hub of commerce, art, culture, and politics. The heyday of that epoch may now be relegated to the history books, but this city very much still has the ability to transform lives.
For Alison Schoen ’15, travelling to the Tuscan capital to take part in Professor Sandy Burns’ Humanities 270 class, titled “Exploring Florence,” it meant an eye-opening perspective into a world that she knew only from her studies. To what extent, however, she could never have been prepared.
According to Burns, who accompanied the students, this is yet another progressive example of the experiential learning that has been given an increasing emphasis at Bay Path College. People remember 75 percent of what they experience, she said. “It then becomes logical for educators to take students to museums, locations, and places of interest.” This class was a prime example.
Prior to the trip, Schoen’s plans at Bay Path were to study elementary education. While that didn’t change, the Tuscan countryside inspired her to work on a minor in art history as well. “It literally felt like we were there in Renaissance era,” she said. “It wasn’t as modern as I thought it was going to be. It brought you back to a different time.”
Burns said that Florence can effect such profound moments of insight because it isn’t the scale and scope of, say, Rome.
“Rome is ancient, it’s spectacular,” Burns said. “It’s Bernini and the Vatican and antiquity. To really get a sense of place, Florence is the perfect size.”
Before their bags were packed, students prepared academically for their week-long stay. Assignments on topics such as “The Portrait Style of Women and Their Cloistered Life,” “Bernini’s Style Reflects the Baroque Era,” and “Botticelli: Myth and Christiantiy Collide/ Coexist” allowed the students to examine in-depth some of what they would see firsthand.
No visit to Florence would be complete without taking in Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece “David,”, but just the very act of seeing these works and others in the very spot they had been created set her into the tapestry of history itself, she said. Massaccio’s 15th century painting of the crucifixion of Jesus took her and her fellow travelers fully outside of the 21st century.
But the trip wasn’t just a slideshow of the past. Speaking to Italians on a daily basis, becoming part of the day to day rhythms of Florence… this was just as rewarding as the glittering visits to some of Italy’s finest cultural offerings. Burns and Schoen reported that every night the city came alive in cafes and restaurants. One night, a parade of hundreds of Florentines celebrated the Catholic holiday, the Epiphany, in full Renaissance regalia.
What effect did such a week have upon the class? “This was a bold step out of their comfort zone,” Burns explained. “Be it trying new foods, learning how to communicate with a language barrier, just going into grocery stores to get daily supplies for their apartments.”
These students became temporary residents a few thousand miles from home; Florence will help keep them learning about themselves long after the class is done.