That first group of study abroad students was an interesting lot, and it, more than any other group, has remained vivid in my memory. I can name almost every one of them even now. We assembled at the Atlanta airport the second week in June to begin this new venture. In addition to the student group, I had another group to be concerned with: my three young children (aged 4, 2 1/2, and 18 months) and my wife, Jenny. Luckily, many students lent a hand and Jenny was a courageous traveler. Nonetheless, there were some harrowing moments. That first year we had a most arduous travel schedule that included a seven-hour layover in New York before departure to Rome. The trip from Atlanta to Rome was a lengthy and exhausting 30-hour marathon.
We flew to Rome on only the second transatlantic flight ever made by an Alitalia 747 and were escorted to the plane by an Alitalia representative. We shared the flight with Jack Kehoe and the UGA Study Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy. Jack also had his family with him, as well as Aurelia Ghezzi, a young Italian woman who was a member of the Comparative Literature Department and who proved invaluable in the Rome airport. Collectively we made quite a group. In addition to the normal baggage, Jack and I had brought classroom supplies. Classics alone had 10 boxes of books and materials for proper schooling. Even to this day the Rome airport can be chaotic, but in 1970 it seemed lunacy to expect that we could get all the participants, their belongings and the school supplies collected without a great deal of chaos and confusion. I remember with gratitude the calmness and efficiency of dottoressa Ghezzi.
We all finally got loaded on the right busses and Art and Classics headed for the same location. After a week of touring, the Art group left for its home base in Cortona. Our destination was a place called California Gardens located in EUR, a modern section of Rome. California Gardens consisted of a series of cottages with a spring-fed swimming pool and a patio dining area. Its strong suit was the food. I still remember fondly huge platters of grilled chicken and boxes of sweet cherries. At no other place we stayed in later years was there ever such abundance and taste. Its weak suit, certainly, was its location. Although there were a number of modern conveniences and interesting sites in EUR, it was a 20-minute metro ride into the historic center. I determined after the first year that the program had to be more centrally located.
But perhaps the most difficult aspect of the entire summer was the teaching load—two lecture classes and a combined undergraduate-graduate Latin course—plus administrative duties such as scheduling and arranging all the activities and managing all the business details. I also had not fully understood the degree to which I would have to be counselor in resident and perform the role of in loco parentis.
The first summer did establish, however, the structure for the program and the general paradigm for the following years: lectures on Mondays, Wednesday, and Friday and site visits on Tuesday and Thursday. The students themselves had to deliver two site reports. I also established the pattern for the out-of-town trips. During the second week of class, we took a one-day trip to Cerveteri and Tarquinia, visiting the Etruscan tombs and museums. After the fourth week there was an overnight, two-day trip south to Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two cities destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and to Naples, principally to visit the marvelous National Museum. The night was spent in the delightful town of Agropoli, where we usually had a morning beach swim and then a visit to the beautiful Greek temples at Paestum.
This trip to southern Italy was always one of the highlights of the summer, but the big adventure of the program was the two-week trip to Greece, a feature of the program during all my years but which had to be terminated in 1990, primarily because of the increased cost. We usually went to Greece at the end of the sixth week, staying two weeks to see Athens, Delphi, Epidaurus, Corinth, Argos, Mycenae and, for several years, the island of Crete. We were often there during the Greek wine festival which, as you might imagine, proved to be one of the favorite activities of many of the students (although most of the incidents were harmless enough).
After the return to Rome, the students had to settle down and prepare for final exams, their final reports, and the completion of their notebooks. From the very conception I wanted the emphasis to be on the study part of the program. There were tests, final exams, and notebook grades. I did hear some complaints that the work was too hard but many of the same students were later proud of what they had learned. In any case, I never wanted students to think of the program as a travel adventure alone, but rather as a genuine endeavor to learn about the classical past and to be a part of Italian life.
That first year my assistant was Ellen Jackson, then a graduate student in Latin, later Mrs. Bob Harris and a Latin teacher. She certainly set a fine example for all the succeeding assistants. Always eager to be helpful, she was a big asset.
I am certainly pleased that the UGA Classics Study Abroad has been around for so long and that thousands of students have thrilled over the wonders of classical Rome and Greece.
Edward E. Best, Jr.
Founder and Director of the UGA Classics Study Abroad Program
Professor Emeritus, Department of Classics, UGA