My four weeks in Italy this summer were among the best weeks of my life, and by far the best summer I’ve spent abroad. As an international student living in Tokyo, my summers typically consist of quite lengthy trips, and wanting to get the most out of a very long (12 hour) trip to Italy, I took part in the combined Northern and Southern Italy courses, spending two weeks in each respectively, and a grand total of just under four weeks.
As a senior in high school, the trips I’ve participated in in the past have clearly catered to a more ‘high school’ group of students. AHA, on the other hand, is another story completely. I was initially nervous knowing that I would inevitably end up being one of the youngest of the group, as well as being American/Japanese among what would most likely be a group largely consisting of U.K. students. However, age was practically irrelevant and I got on well with everyone in both the Northern and Southern courses. Many of the close friends I made on the trip were also international students, hailing from around the world. AHA attracts a very diverse crowd; something that definitely adds to the experience of studying abroad.
The first two weeks in Northern Italy began in the canals of Venice, stopping in the crowded streets of Florence before ending in the ancient ruins of Rome. A typical day consisted of roughly four coffee breaks, hours on end perusing the paintings decorating halls of museums, eating the most amazing food, fervently discussing an artist’s work, and stopping for a spritz before laughing while you get lost in the tiny side streets of Venice, or stumbling upon the Pantheon on your way back to the hotel. I can’t even describe the certain feeling you get as you wander through each city; it’s just the dream of being in Italy. And the art is incomparable to anything I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. From Medieval art influenced by the Byzantine empire to the Berninis adorning the rooms of the Galleria Borghese, Northern Italy is just brimming with the most incredible art. Though I may not have any significant authority on the subject, any history of art student has not been truly fulfilled before seeing the art that is readily available in Venice, Florence and Rome.
My third and fourth week in Southern Italy took me to Sicily, where I travelled with a different group from Palermo all the way back to Naples on the mainland. The south of Italy had a completely different vibe from the north, and the food, people, architecture, and art contrasted drastically to what I had experienced in the first two weeks. Day to day, we would leisurely roam the tiny street markets, drop by small churches hidden in deserted alleyways, satisfy our many mandatory coffee breaks, eat food that could give the North a run for its money, and sip bellinis while the sea breeze and the salt caught in our hair. Among the beautiful places we visited on the Southern trip, I will never forget the night we spent in Porto Palo, where we stayed in an amazing hotel by our own private beach. Some of the other students and I stargazed that night, before coming down in the morning and watching the sun rise over the mountains in the east, Michelangelo and Bernina (we named the hotel’s dogs) sitting beside us in the sand. With the South comes yet another feeling I can’t describe, much like the North, and both are feelings I don’t think I’ll be able to replicate without being in Italy with people I am easily able to call close friends.
The tutors on both the trips constitute a highlight themselves; I can’t stress how essential they were to making this trip as amazing as it was. Every single one of them loves art history, loves Italy, and loves what they do. I honestly think this was a large reason for the extent to which I enjoyed the trip, and I would be lying if I said that the ‘learning part’ of the trip wasn’t another highlight. I remember discussing art pieces with them, chatting over dinner, having celebratory drinks after a transportation mishap coming back from Lago Bracciano. The tutors were absolutely incredible, and I owe them a lot for making this trip what it was: a life-changing experience.
I’d only ever studied art history in relation to my own art, and I’m still unsure about whether it’s a path I want to take in the future, but that definitely did not hinder my time in Italy. I’ve come out of this trip knowing terms and facts I never thought I would know, and yet if asked, I would never say that I endured a draining academic summer.
If I was back at Christmas time last year, deciding what to do for the upcoming summer, I wouldn’t only not change my choice, I would be insisting that I go on this course. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.