Rudolph-funded study abroad

Summer 2022 Rudolph Scholar Blog
Caleb Gross ’23 – Florence

As the sun rose across the hills of Tuscany spotted by quaint farmhouses, our train zoomed out of the city of Florence and into the Italian countryside. Seated across from me, my classmates put in their headphones and closed their eyes.

“Buongiorno!” I returned the greeting to the Italian man sitting to my left. He had olive skin, dark hair, and was wearing a plain gray t-shirt. He was maybe six or seven years older than me. He was going to Rome to visit his girlfriend. It was very clear to him that I was an outsider there to tour Rome and he was eager to tell me about Italy. It was going to be a two-hour ride and I was more than glad to have the company. 

I told him that I had been in Florence for about two weeks. I was hitting all the major sites in the city. Florence had been amazing. In the mornings, I was taking my intro level Italian language course (lucky for me, my new Italian friend spoke great English!). Each afternoon, I went to a different site in town. Though I walked by it daily, I spent an afternoon wandering the immensity of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, simply called “the Duomo” by the locals. It is one of the crowning achievements of the Renaissance. On another day, I marveled at Michelangelo’s David, perhaps the most famous sculpture of the Renaissance (and maybe just sculptures in general), symbolizing strength and ideal beauty. 

My new friend was more than happy to share his favorite sites in town as well as places to dine. But as I talked to him, it became clear that his view of Italy was much more nuanced. 

“Italy is dying,” he told me. This may have been a surprise to my peers but not to me. During the previous spring, I had taken Politics of the European Union with Dr. Hollander. One of the underlying ideas of that class was that southern European countries tended to be in worse economic condition than the north. As a result, northern countries often feel they are carrying the burden for the south, while the south has more to gain from a strong European Union. We talked at length about the conflict in the Ukraine and he felt that the EU was seeing a renewed unity as it faced that crisis. While he believed Italy’s situation to be grim, he was optimistic about the future of the EU and what that would mean for his country going forward. 

When we parted ways at the train station I felt that I understood Italy in a way I had not before. Looking back at all the amazing paintings, sculptures, and architecture I had admired during my visit, I remember that the Renaissance rose out of the Dark Ages. From old Roman ruins to walls adorned with gold in St Peter’s Basilica, Italy has so much beauty. If her history is any indicator, it only takes a little inspiration to revitalize an entire civilization. 

I am incredibly grateful to the Rudolph family, without whose support through the Rudolph Scholarship, I would not have been able to have this life changing opportunity. I would also like to thank Amy Weir for working through the entire process with me.