Art, and the beauty held within it, is said to be in the eye of the beholder. Italy has been a major center for art for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is for this reason that every year, thousands of students flock to Rome, Florence and other Italian cities to study abroad—to live and learn among a culture that is not their own.
This practice of “studying abroad” in Rome is not a new concept. The British elite sent their young adults on a “grand tour” of Rome as far back as the 18th century. The objective of their tour was very similar to the reasons to study abroad today: the perspective gained through living in a place where the politics, lifestyle and language differ from one’s own is an enlightening one and one that the tourist can use to better themselves and their own country when they return.
Speaking of perspective, I could go on and on about the great works that I saw while participating in the Winter In Rome program. Works by Michelangelo and Caravaggio, great frescoes which have stood the test of time, the Villa Borghese, the Sistine Chapel—while all of these beg the emotion and test the intellect of the viewer, their perspective is not the most important one, nor is the reality of their art paramount in Italy.
The the true art to be found in Italy is found in the experience of the country as a whole. There is no work of art, no iPhone photo with an Instagram filter and Photoshop, no way to capture what one can view while in Italy. For certain moments, it simply cannot be done.
For instance, while abroad I spent half a day in Sorrento. On the famed Amalfi Coast, Sorrento is a city whose very essence exudes beauty. The water is a shade of blue unlike any other, and the way the cliffs fade into it creates a range of colors beyond the scope of any paintbrush. I will never forget the way the sunset looked as we left the city, the deep hues of red, orange and purple reflecting off the water as if it were a mirror made for some heavenly being to view at that same great moment. I did not even bother attempting to snap a picture; it would have been futile.
Venice proved to be another place where one can only attempt to capture its beauty in vain. The unique nature of the city is apparent, with its gondolas rather than cars and its canals that give the city a scent closest to dead fish that in any other place would be utterly repulsive. However, in the frame of Venice, it is absolutely charming.
While Venice and Sorrento were awe-inspiring, gorgeous, picturesque scenes, they could not have been experienced in the same way if I had ventured to Italy by myself. While the professors who traveled with the program were fantastic, knowledgeable and greatly enhanced the trip, the experience could not have been anywhere near as enlightening and gratifying as it was without the other students in the program.
In 18 days, by traveling, studying and going on a whole new experience with each other, the group that left New York as strangers has returned as something much more. We have had experiences together that we will not have with any others. Swimming in the Amalfi Coast in 30-degree weather, watching a man walk a squealing pig in a collar at 5 a.m in Venice while waiting for a McDonald’s to open, seeing the stunning view of Pisa from the top of a tower infamous for its angle—these experiences are ours and ours alone in our lifetime, and because of this we have become much more than strangers, and more than friends. In 18 days, we have formed a bond unlike any other, and the beauty I behold in that is the paramount work of art in Italy.