Rome’s Amazing Baths; Building Friendship

Nathan Chapman ’14 – I’m kicking myself for choosing to blog in the middle of the trip because there is not enough space for everything I want to say!  As a result, I have broken my experience thus far down into three aspects that, together, have made this visit an incredible experience.

The first of these aspects is everything we have seen with regards to the ancient Romans.  We have visited Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capua, and Rome.  Each one has offered a distinct experience that has allowed us to take a step further into our studies of the Romans and their lives.  Today we visited a number of sites around Rome, including the Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Circus Maximus, the Ludus Magnus, and a number of others.

Chapman with Hartnett and classmates in Rome.

Though most of these sites are the great wonders of Rome, and our class was more focused on the bottom-up social history of the Romans, the two are still connected.   For example, the Baths of Caracalla were amazing in scale.  As we filed into the area and sat to listen to Dr. Harnett’s information about the site, I looked around in awe, unable to get over the size of he structure.  Dr. Hartnett gave us some numbers, but I don’t remember them exactly.  However, I do remember my reaction when he told us how many people could be bathing at once, how many people it would have taken to keep the baths running, and how much time it would have taken to build the structure.  Aliens.  It had to be aliens.  It is unbelievable that people could have built something so remarkable so long ago.

But while this site is one of the great wonders of Rome, it also gives insight into the social history of the Romans.  Romans of all social status would have been bathing in these baths.  We learned about how these people would have interacted in such structures, but actually seeing the various rooms adds a whole new element.  It allowed me to take the knowledge I had gained from articles and text books, and imagine how these people would have interacted in this specific space.

The second aspect is the various ways the immersion trip has affected me personally in ways somewhat unrelated to Roman history.  For example, I was raised Catholic, so I have always wanted to visit St. Peter’s Square and Basilica.  After visiting the Pantheon with Dr. Sears, his wife, and a few classmates, Charles Hill and I made our way over to the Square.  It’s really difficult to put into words how I felt as I walked into the square.  It reminded me of the movie Good Will Hunting, and the part where Sean gives a big speech to Will on the park bench (Forgive me if you haven’t seen the movie).  He states that Will is smart enough to tell him anything about Michelangelo, but then says “But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”  This quote is the only way I can really describe how I felt.  You can learn anything you want about these places and structures, but there is just something different about seeing them in person.  The experience is irreplaceable.

The last aspect is the camaraderie.  When I came to this class on the first day, I didn’t really know anyone.  I had met a few of the guys but had never really hung out with any of them.  I was one of two independents mixed in with a few FIJIs, some Theta Delts, a Sig Chi, a Phi Psi, and a couple Lambda Chis.  I had never said a word to most of the people in the class.  Since the beginning of this immersion trip, I think I have hung out with nearly every guy in the class on a number of occasions outside the time we are all together with the professors.

These new friendships have been the icing on the cake for this trip. Wabash is a close knit community, and with such a small campus, it’s pretty easy to meet people.  That said, it’s pretty common for people to stay in their group of friends or living units and not meet many new people.  This trip has allowed me to get to know a number of guys a lot better, guys that I now call friends.  I never would have thought that sitting in various Italian cities at night, discussing politics, music, and various other topics over a few drinks could be so entertaining.  That said, I think nearly any Wabash man would agree that that is what Wabash is all about.

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