A Spring Break Odyssey: Students Travel to Italy and Greece

Students of classics and the ancient world dream of treading in the footsteps of Caesar, visiting the Colosseum and the Acropolis, and walking the streets of Pompeii.
Not to mention eating gelato on a daily basis.

Those dreams and more were realized over spring break by a group of 19 Rivers students who traveled to Italy and Greece, accompanied by Latin teachers John McVey and Michael Girard and Spanish teacher Mary Brown. Most but not all of the students, who ranged from grades 9 to 11, are studying Latin at Rivers. Others simply have an interest in seeing and experiencing the places they’ve read about in English and history classes—the sites where so much of Western culture was formed.

This wasn’t the first time Rivers has organized the trip (it runs every other year), but, explain Girard and McVey, this version was different. “One of the things we’d lamented in the past,” says Girard, “was that the trips weren’t organized by professional classicists.” For this iteration of the journey, they worked with the Paideia Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of the classical humanities. Paideia, says McVey, provided tour guides who “came from our teaching perspective” and allowed more opportunities to break into small groups for discussion and exploration.

McVey described some of the trip highlights: Students went to Pompeii, where they saw what it was like to live in an ancient Roman city. They visited the site where the Olympics were launched, and they raced at the original track. They traveled to the site of ancient Mycenae, so prominent in the Iliad and the Odyssey. At Epidaurus, they performed a short play in the ancient theater, a venue still in use today and considered acoustically perfect. “It was a whirlwind,” says Girard of the eight-day trip. “But well worth it,” adds McVey.

For the students, the ancient sites were thrilling, but the more quotidian moments also had a powerful impact. Tayja Sallie ’21 was happy to enjoy daily gelato (her favorite flavor is stracciatella, a.k.a. chocolate chip). Romy Arie ’21 (whose name, Sallie points out, is a near homophone of “Roman army”) says she simply appreciated walking around, exploring the sights, and enjoying delicious food. Both are serious students of Latin, taking the AP class as sophomores; Sallie says the Latin program was one factor in her decision to attend Rivers.

Sallie and Arie were struck by Pompeii, where the tongue they’ve worked hard to master was in daily use, so many centuries ago. “You can really imagine the bustling streets,” says Arie.

Less enjoyable was the wind-tossed 18-hour ferry ride across the Adriatic. Arie felt a bit seasick, and Sallie says the experience of sleeping on a boat was “weird.” But that, too, comes as part of the adventure, and more than two weeks post-trip, both students were still brimming with excitement about all they’d seen and learned. Asked to say a few words in Latin, Sallie came up with the phrase mirabile dictu, or “wonderful to relate.” It usually describes something surprising and thus does not apply to Sallie’s summation of the journey: “I’d like to go again. I’d go on the exact same trip.”

Visit the students’ blog to learn more about the trip.