Pace Students Roam Rome

Cecilia Levine, Managing Editor

Last summer I went on the best field trip of my life.

Technically it wasn’t a field trip, it was a travel course. For $5,545 myself and 19 other Pace students made the decision to participate in the six credit opportunity provided by Pace (that’s cheaper than taking six summer credits).

“The course counts as an AOK II and fulfills Inquiry & Exploration or Open Elective Credits and is a Learning Community,” the course’s description on the Pace website read. “Special attention will be given to the art, architecture, religion, urban planning, and history of Rome in its Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern expressions.”

Sold.

There I was, ingesting recycled oxygen and staring at a pixelated map of the world on a 3×5 inch television screen. A cartoon image of our airplane was positioned on the familiar, western side of the Atlantic, serving as a reminder that I was going to Italy. Like most of the other students I was nervous to experience the unfamiliarity of Europe and feared being away from home. I later learned that this travel course served as a first experience outside of the country for many of my peers. According to Dr. Lawrence Hundersmarck, the trip’s organizer, advisor and mentor, this is the case almost every year.

Dr. H has been at Pace for over thirty years as a professor of philosophy and religious studies, and served as the first university wide chair of the dual disciplines for twelve years. With multiple graduate degrees in philosophy and a PhD in history of religions from Fordham University, Dr. H is undoubtedly the best suited professor for the Rome travel course. If you know him, you can attest that his smiling eyes radiate comfort and convey delight for his passion of teaching.

He is also humbly brilliant. Seriously though, the man is an encyclopedic prodigy. Throughout the trip he kept a steady stream of information flowing, faster than the waters of the mountains to the hundreds of Roman street fountains.

“It is the most exciting, intense and joyful learning experience of a student’s college career,” said Dr. Hundersmarck, who is now preparing for the course’s tenth anniversary. “Students bring their whole self; personalities and interests, which makes for a transformative experience.”

Because of the excellence that I experienced on my journey to the Eternal City, I will never be the same. I have seen the lavish décor of the Basilica Di Santa Maria Maggiore, a church dedicated to Mother Mary which is dripping with gold and plastered with precious stones, inhaled many cones of creamy gelato – which is incomparable to America’s beloved Froyo, and attended the Papal Mass Service in St. Peter’s square (despite my Jewish heritage). I simply can no longer accept mediocrity as an option.

“What is often happening with students is that they fall in love with excellence,” Dr. H said. “Beauty, learning, and friendship; it’s about excellence.”

My trip to Rome opened my eyes to excellence. It forced me to dig deep, to live an unfamiliar life for close to an entire month and experience the brilliance of Rome with people that were once considered strangers. Something amazing transpired overseas, charged with intense emotion and connection, which made for a great sense of self-determination.

“I learned to be more independent and that it is okay to venture out,” said fellow participant and junior marketing major Alli Walther. “The trip made me want to do more by myself and made me gain confidence and to be independent.”

Undoubtedly the best part of the trip was the connection that I made with my peers. I was able to “Run Rome” with Sara, an activity where we would set out on long runs through the city. Up and down the Tiber River, through Piazza del Popolo and down The Corso. We surveyed the city to the beats of our iPods and breathed in the early morning air, which carried aromas of the pasticerias (bakeries) that were baking their daily pastry requirements. I compared gelato flavors with Matt, who at one point was eating up to an impressive three cones per day. Vero runs with Alli for ice coffee, taxi hauling with Mary, scaling the Palace of Justice with Judy, Melissa, Alex and Sara. Each experience has significance to my new relationships and to the person that I have become.

Each year Dr. H makes sure to structure the trip with a perfect balance of structured experiences and free time, to better help students form interpersonal relationships with peers, and intrapersonal relationships with one’s self.

“Students should explore on their own,” Dr. Hundersmarck said, “so I am conscious of that space.”

The allotted free time that we had was spent wandering the streets, exploring the fruit market, sampling high carb delicacies, and learning to navigate our way around Rome. Unproductive? Hell no. I feel confident that I can do anything. It’s amazing how much I learned about myself just by conquering a new environment.

“The text is the city of Rome,” Dr. H said. “We actively engage the city, bringing ourselves to the most awesome places on the planet. We come to places informed as learned, university students. The city is our classroom.”

It was a field trip jacked up on three and a half weeks’ worth of steroids. It was a patchwork quilt of excellence – from Nutella flavored M&Ms to the historical implications of the Fountain of the Four Rivers, to the David. The culmination of Roman adventures facilitated immense personal development.

“A university should change people for the better and if not, then they’re not doing their job,” Dr. Hundersmarck said. “Students return with confidence because travel broadens horizons and fosters independence and self-confidence.”

As Pace University students, we are lucky to be offered this sophisticated travel opportunity. Theoretically it seems like just a trip to Rome, but it is so much more. It is an experience of a lifetime that opens doors for new relationships and self-reflection. The people that I interacted with on the trip are now permanent fixtures in my life. We are the only ones that understand the importance and immense value behind our Roman excursions. We understand what it feels like to put hunger aside to make way for the Raphael Rooms, to take delight in being lost and finding our way back, to be separated and reunited in Campo di Fiori. One of the greatest moments of the trip was when the group got split up on one of our free nights. We were miserable without the other half, concerned. We shared a genuine love and concern for the well-being of one another, much different from the love that I have experienced in any other friendship. Realer, better.

The most difficult aspect of the trip was not in the academics, the education came easy. We yearned to engage ourselves in the city by discovering every crevice of every monument, wandering streets for hours because we couldn’t go to bed knowing that there were still places waiting to be uncovered. We were hung up on every sentence that Dr. Hundersmarck had to say, we fought for the front-row at each visit because we knew that his words would yield enlightenment.

The most difficult part, however, was a draw between finding the courage to leave home and finding the courage to leave Rome.

If I could do it all again I would. But next time, I’d eat more pizza.

The expected cost of the 2014 Rome travel course is $5,650.00. The course fills up quickly therefore students are encouraged to register as soon as possible.

Please contact Dr. Hundersmarck ([email protected]) with any further questions.