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Home  > Article

Get Me Out of the Tuscan Sun

By Rachel Martin

One student's summer at an archaeological field school in Italy went horribly awry. Learn from the pitfalls of her experience, and prepare yourself for challenges as well as triumphs in going abroad.

I want to be perfectly open about this: I hated my study abroad.  I know I'm supposed to say it was a wonderful experience-words can't begin to describe all the fun I had.  I wish that were true.

            Let me start at the beginning.  I like ancient history.  Ever since high school I thought I might like to be an archaeologist.  So this summer I enrolled in an archaeological field school.  A field school is where you go to learn how to run a dig.  This was one of the best.

            This was not my first study abroad.  Two summers ago I spent a month in Athens studying mythology.  I loved it.  I expected to love Italy as well.

            By now you may wonder what went wrong.  I think the environment was a major factor.  Athens is a city.  This summer, I was in rural Italy.  There was no public internet.  Buses to other towns came about four times a day, and never on Sundays.  The dig schedule kept everyone busy until all but the last bus had left, so it was effectively impossible to go anywhere, except on Saturdays.

            In a city, there are things to see and do.  If you don't like your classmates you can find other friends.  This does not work in a village.  Those who did not like to drink (me, for instance) could not easily make friends.  Those who could not make friends within the group (again, me) were in for a very long summer.  I felt very much alone.  Yet I was very crowded, because all the students lived together in one run-down old house.  The environment was stressful, and tended to bring out the worst in people.  I called home more than anyone else, often in tears.  My brother suggested sending me cookies to share with the group, to help me make friends.  I asked him to send earplugs instead.

            There was another difference too.  The class in Athens was strictly academic.  The field school was basically hard labor.  I am a very small person, with no upper body strength to speak of.  I've been on digs before, but they were never this labor intensive.  No one in this field school seemed to accept that different people have different abilities.  I could barely walk to the site every day, let alone handle a pickaxe once I got there.

I finally told the director that if I had to keep going up to the site I had to drop out.  To his credit, he was sympathetic.  He said field work wasn't for everyone.  He let me stay in the field lab helping the conservator.  There was one problem: I still had to live with the other students, and now they were hostile to me for leaving the site rather than suffering in silence.

Finally, field school ended.  No doubt, some life lesson will present itself down the line, but so far nothing comes to mind.  I have learned that I don't want to be a field archaeologist after all.  I like conservation.  I haven't made any friends, but I don't expect to see these people again anyway.  My mother thinks I should consider the summer research for a novel.  All I know is I'm glad it's over.

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