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Art History, Theatre, and Creative Writing Students Study Abroad in Italy

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. — It’s one thing to study other countries and cultures in the classroom but studying them up close and in person brings that education home. That’s what students at Young Harris College did this summer, recently returning from Italy where they spent several weeks studying abroad.

Building on concepts studied on campus during the spring semester, students explored the role of mythology in the arts and culture of the Italian Renaissance and beyond. 

“The study abroad opportunities YHC gives our students are invaluable!” said Professor Anne Towns, Associate Professor of Theatre, and one of three faculty members who helps coordinate the summer trips. “To see locations and art we have only experienced in books is a powerful and moving experience for everyone.”

Leading up to the trip, students immersed themselves in the mythological stories, paintings, sculptures, and theatre of Italy. They also read contemporary poetry featuring mythological characters and wrote their own portfolio of myth-inspired poetry, which allowed them to understand how such legends reflect a culture’s values, beliefs, and even political developments. 

Students also considered Greek and Roman myths in art from the Italian Renaissance, exploring the use of myths across ancient times, during the Renaissance, and contemporary society. 

“I never thought I would see these renowned works of art up close and in person,” said Karah Shea, Class of 2023. “In class, we learned the extensive history and various interpretations of these artworks. While in Italy, I was able to fully appreciate the scale, mediums, and messages in the works.”

The group spent 13 days abroad, with the first week dedicated to the exploration of Florence and its many landmarks and museums. The Duomo, or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is the centerpiece of Florence. The students climbed to the top of the cathedral, built by Brunelleschi, and saw the famous frescoes adorning the inside of the dome. They also visited the Opera del Duomo Museum and saw the original famous “Gates of Paradise” doors of the Baptistry. 

“This trip was a once in a lifetime experience to immerse myself in a different culture,” Shea added, “while using my knowledge to interpret the meanings and significance of these unique, ancient pieces of art.”

Young Harris students saw thousands of pieces of art from the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods, including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera, and other significant works by da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Artemisia Gentileschi. 

The group also had the chance to study Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Accademia Gallery, as well as famous work by Donatello at the Bargello Museum.

“During the first week, we took multiple excursions in the area,” said Dr. Gale Thompson, “including, a hike through the Cinque Terre, a string of charming seaside villages on the Italian coastline of the Lingurian Sea.”

Visiting the Piazza della Signoria allowed students to survey a collection of famous sculptures, including The Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna and Perseus Holding the Head of Medusa, by Cellini. Students also walked across the historic Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval stone pedestrian bridge that spans the Arno River, as well as toured the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. They were inspired by the sunset over Florence from the famous Piazzale Michelangelo.

“We also toured the Teatro Olimpico, a Renaissance theatre in Vicenza, and then went on to Venice, with the canals and gondolas,” Dr. Thompson added. “The entire group spent a day in Pisa, where we toured the cathedral and took pictures by the Leaning Tower.” 

Young Harris students spent several days in Rome, where they had the opportunity to visit the Roman Colosseum and the Pantheon. They also travelled to the Vatican City, where they admired famous artworks: Laocoön, Augustus of Prima Porta, Raphael’s The Annunciation, and Raphael’s The School of Athens in the Vatican Museums. The students were in awe of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and fresco Last Judgement as well as St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Of course, a trip to Italy would not have been complete without cappuccinos, macchiatos, pasta, and gelato. After exploring the Catacombs and Crypts of the Capuchin Monks, the students walked to the Spanish Steps and threw coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure that they would one day return to Rome.

This year’s study abroad experience in Italy was coordinated by Thompson, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English, who engages the influence of mythology in poetry, most recently in her book Helen or My Hunger; Dr. Mary Brink, Associate Professor of Art History, who specializes in Symbolist painting and regularly teaches classes on Italian Renaissance art; and Towns, Professor of Art, who recently served as the artist in residence for the inaugural Belgrade International Workshop and ChekhovFest in Belgrade, Serbia and has led numerous study abroad trips.

Learn more about the Study Abroad Program.

About Young Harris College  

Young Harris College is a private baccalaureate and master’s degree-granting institution located in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Founded in 1886 and historically affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Young Harris College educates, inspires and empowers students through an education that purposefully integrates the liberal arts and professional studies. The College has four academic divisions: Fine Arts; Humanities; Mathematics, Science and Technology; and Professional Studies. More than 1,400 students are enrolled in its residential and Early College programs. The College is an active member of the NCAA Division II and remains a fierce competitor in the prestigious Peach Belt Conference. For more information, visit