Julia Nee ’15- Reshaping Roman History

Steel toed boots? Check.  Indiana Jones hat? Check.  Sunblock? Check. Trowel? Check.

Maybe an unusual packing list for a trip to Europe, but perfect for a Tuscan excavation, which is exactly why I had the opportunity to spend about a month and a half in Europe, immersed in a new culture, meeting new people, and learning new skills.10347424_10152256693933123_5358629114564021071_n

For a month this summer I was on a multi-national excavation team digging in Cinigiano, Italy.  The dig was called the Roman Peasant Project, which looked into the material culture of peasants in the Roman and late-antique periods.  This was the sixth and final season of the project, which has excavated eleven sites since 2009.  This project was groundbreaking in both the questions being asked and methodologies being used. In a lot of textbooks, the peasantry is painted as a fairly stagnant, subservient, and subsistence-living entity, but also as a massive percentage of the population. The Roman Peasant Project is trying to challenge and complicate perceptions of the peasantry, by digging a variety of sites to prove the variety of ways of life of these rural, non-elites.  This season we dug at Tombarelle, one hill which has its own complicated story.  We excavated what we suspect is the base of a medieval tower (built from a Roman cistern), a tannery, a kiln, and some dumps of rubbish.  We found massive collections of ceramics, including the largest collection of second century AD black gloss-ware, definitely the largest collection ever found outside a city, and potentially the largest collection found ever.  For a history nerd like me, no matter how basic the find, simply discovering and holding things more than two millennia old was surreal.

Having the opportunity to be a part of this project means so much to me, because I plan on continuing to grad school next year, and eventually to a Ph.D. program.  As a small school, Swarthmore doesn’t offer archaeology, so this dig has offered me an opportunity to explore a different aspect of classical and medieval studies.  The Roman Peasant Project was a joint effort between the University of Pennsylvania and some Italian scholars, with American, Italian, British, Belgian, Australian, and Czech workers, giving a really diverse global experience.  I moved quite a bit of dirt, but it was not all been manual labor. I also learned about the paperwork and documentation side of archaeology, worked with ceramics and ceramics experts, learned new technologies like 3D imaging and surveying with the Total Station, and worked with other specified experts in archaeology, including a bone specialist, archaeo-botanists, and a geo-archaeologist.

10487461_10204073604150714_2646698467679322310_nI don’t think I’m going to be an archaeologist, but the project has introduced me to international students of all levels of education (undergrad, Masters, Ph.D. candidates, post-doc, tenured professors) who are all interested in similar subjects.  They offered insight to my further pursuits in academia, and I also made some amazing friends.  My roommates on the dig all go to UPenn so we already have plans to meet up and see each other this fall!

I didn’t just dig while I was in Europe.  I had the chance to do some travelling before, during, and after my work on the project.  Before I reached Italy, my two biological sisters and I got to visit Dublin and Prague.  It was really amazing travelling with them – we’ve always been close, but we’re all in college or living on our own now so besides seeing some amazing museums and historical sites, the trip was a real bonding experience.  Once in Italy some of the younger members of the dig team and I got to do some traveling with our limited weekends, hitting some of the small Tuscan towns near us like Paganico, as well as Siena and Florence.  In Italy I also saw Pisa, Rome, and Naples.  It’s really hard to pick one favorite place that I saw, since I loved everywhere for different reasons.  The classicist in me couldn’t help but fall in love with Rome, but Siena was such a clean and friendly city, Prague was just breathtaking, and Dublin was so much fun!

IMG_4532This summer was definitely an amazing experience, one I wouldn’t exchange for anything, though it is nice to be home finally.  Nothing’s quite the same as your own cozy bed.  Now that I’m home I have a few weeks before I head back to Swat for my final year there (a terrifying thought).  As I get ready for my GREs, grad school applications, my history thesis, and cross country season this fall, I can’t help but look further ahead to when I can go back to Italy and Europe.  I got to see so much, but there’s infinitely more to see and I can’t wait!




Elle Larsen ’15 – World Cup Adventures

This summer has easily been the most exciting and fulfilling summer of my life thus far. I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. On June 19th, my boyfriend and I set out for São Paulo, Brazil on a red-eye flight, and arrived in the city the morning of the 20th. We were picked up by our hosts, who we had never met before the trip, and they instantly made us feel welcome. São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, so there was plenty to see and do in between games. IMG_0282

We spent time exploring some museums while we were in São Paulo. The MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), had an impressive collection of work by artists that I was familiar with, such as my favorite artist Claude Monet, as well as some work by local artists who were incredibly talented. Even the building itself was a work of art. We also ventured to the Museu do Futebol in the Estádio do Pacaembu. The museum covered the rich history of Brazilian football, and went beyond just cases filled with old jerseys and memorabilia by discussing the cultural and political implications that the game has had on the nation. There were also lots of interactive portions that kept the museum engaging.      

We also greatly enjoyed visiting Parque Ibirapuera. Its importance to São Paulo is equivalent to that of the Central Park to New York City. The park was gorgeous and was the perfect way to enjoy the “mild” weather of Brazilian winter. We also loved the Mercado Municipal do São Paulo where we got to sample some of the local cuisine. Everything was incredibly fresh, like the ceviche we had for lunch, and we loved trying all sorts of exotic fruits from the Amazon. We also got to try some other amazing Brazilian staples, like pao de quiejo, which is like a warm-cheesy pastry, and caipirinhas, which are like the official cocktail of Brazil. They are made with muddled limes, sugar and cachaça, which is a Brazilian alcohol. However, our best culinary experience had to be at the Churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse. I have never had a better steak in my life, and the food seemed to flow endlessly!


While we were in São Paulo, we saw two games at Arena de Corinthians. We took local trains to get to the stadium, and they were always packed with singing fans all decked out for their respective teams. When we would arrive at the station, it would be completely packed with people all heading to the stadium for the match. We walked for about a half hour to the stadium through the streets of a small neighborhood. Brazilians stood along the sides cheering and asking to take pictures with fans. It felt like we were marching in a parade! I have never been more excited than when we finally entered the stadium for the first time to watch the Netherlands versus Chile match. The energy in the stadium was electrifying, and we had amazing seats. I couldn’t stop smiling! The Belgium versus South Korea game was equally unbelievable. It was particularly special because my boyfriend is from Belgium, and cheering on his home team at a World Cup match was thrilling.


After we had seen the two games in São Paulo, we hopped on a plane to Rio de Janeiro! This was the portion of the trip that I had been most excited for. I have always been struck by the beauty of the city, so I was especially moved when we finally arrived. It was just as stunning as every picture I had ever seen. We stayed in a hotel that had views of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado Mountain, which is home to Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer. We were fortunate enough to be able to take the train up Corcovado to see the statue. The statue was just as awe-inspiring as I thought it would be. There were also panoramic views from the viewing deck from which we could see downtown Rio, the Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and Estádio do Maracanã.

IMG_0637That same day, we traveled to Estádio do Maracanã to see a round of 16 game between Colombia and Uruguay. Earlier in that day, Brazil was playing their round of 16 game against Chile, and we were traveling to the stadium during that time. There were maybe two other cars that we saw on the road during that time. In Brazil, when the national team is playing, everything stops and the country holds its breath. Never before had I experienced such passion for a sport, and I was really moved by it. When we reached the stadium, the game was going into penalty kicks. There were TVs set up in the stadium for people to watch the game. Concession workers left their stands to sit on the floor with the fans and watch the drama unfold. It was incredibly tense, but when Chile missed their final penalty kick, the entire stadium erupted into cheers. I was so swept up in the moment that I was moved to tears. Strangers were hugging us and jumping up and down. It was a moment that I will never forget.

After all of that excitement, it was time to watch the match that we had come for! The Maracanã was a massive stadium. It was overwhelming to be in a place with such a rich football history. It was the perfect place to view our final game of the trip. The Colombia versus Uruguay match did not disappoint! Both sets of fans were so lively and passionate. The teams were equally incredible, with one standout in particular: James Rodriguez, the Golden Boot Winner of the World Cup.  He was so fun to watch, and we were lucky enough to witness James’ goal that many consider to be the goal of the World Cup. It was a delightful match all around.IMG_0277

After the match, we went to Copacabana beach to celebrate with the natives. Along the beach, there are little stands that sell food and drinks and play music. It was impossible to tell where one ended and another began due to the sheer volume of people rejoicing. Brazilians and Colombians chanted, sang and danced the night away after the big victories of the day.  It was like one giant party! It was so special to be a part of such an incredible moment.

When the time finally came for us to return to the United States, I was not ready to leave at all. We had become fast friends with our hosts, and it was hard to say goodbye, not knowing when we would see them again. Brazil had easily been the most amazing trip of my life, and I wanted to stay and witness the passion and energy of World Cup forever. Though I am glad to be back now, I often find myself daydreaming about warm sunny beaches, friendly Brazilians, and a passion for football unlike anything else in the world. I am already planning my return to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. So for now, I say to Brazil “até mais tarde e obrigada” or “Until later and thank you”. IMG_0659


Erin Jenson ’17- Theta Emerging Leaders Institute

On Thursday, July 10th, I flew out to Indianapolis for Kappa Alpha Theta’s Emerging Leaders Institute. The flight was short and sweet. When I got off the plane, I was hit by some glorious rays of sun along with the Indiana humidity. I knew this was going to be a fun and educational experience that I would never forget. As soon as I met these women, I felt like I had known them my entire life. Theta’s values stretch across a lot of borders!  We all felt such an instant connection.

Theta ELI 1 77 Thetas from across the country piled into the dorms at Butler University to begin our workshop. On the first day, we took a comprehensive, individualized strengths test that determined our individual top five attributes. The test was shockingly accurate, describing me as strategic, an achiever, a communicator, restorative, and strong in individualization. Our leadership director said it was important, in any case of leadership, to develop and use our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses. This is a piece of advice that I hadn’t really grasped before this moment, as I tend to be very self-critical. She supported her advice with several studies that showed that successful people focus on their strengths. It is much more efficient to go from being good at a skill to excellent than it is from being below average to mediocre!

We learned that it is also important for good learners to delegate, which means that, in a group, people all have different talents. A good team will be successful when everyone is at full strength. People can be strategic, influencing, relational, or executing, or a mix of these types. A successful team will have people in each category. As a leader, it is your responsibility to empower others and seek input. Command leadership is much less effective compared to empowering leadership.


The next day we learned about ethical leadership. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that ethics are not black and white. She opened with a quote from the great Professor Dumbledore, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” We were given an example of an ethical dilemma and asked how we would have handled it. I liked how the instructors at ELI never spoon-fed us answers. Instead, they asked thought-provoking questions that led us to think about ourselves further than ever before. I learned that everyone has different values and every choice we make is rooted in the various ideals we believe in. Some people value truth over loyalty. Some people value friendship over love. This is absolutely fascinating to me because I thought over some of the conflicts in my own life and realized that people’s choices were never “morally wrong.” For example, if a friend tells a secret they were trusted with, they value truth over loyalty. Theta ELI 4

 Over the course of the weekend, I made great friendships and had a blast! We had dance parties, took tons of photos, and even had a T-shirt swap. I heard so many stories about chapters from other campuses. I think the main takeaway was that Alpha Beta NEEDS a house! Each girl described their houses and I couldn’t believe how nice they were.

Headquarters was incredible. The building had so much history and art there. They had many sacred paintings and badges from as old as 1877. There was a shelf that had all the books ever written by any Theta, including Laura Bush. Down in the basement, there is this HUGE, secret, fire-proofed room with every single sisters’ pledge card filed by chapter. It was amazing! I pulled out the drawer of Alpha Beta and had the chance to look at everyone’s card from Swarthmore. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, otherwise I would have photographed all of them.   The last night, we all sat down for our final discussion and felt so emotional and empowered. We learned the potential of our impact on the world as well as the power of vision-setting. Thetas are strong, smart, and ambitious women who have the unlimited zest for positive change. I developed a greater sense about what being a Theta means. People will sometimes ask, “Why are you in Theta” and the answer I always gave was “because of the friends.”  It’s much more than that though. Thetas are united on positive values and we encourage professional and moral development. It’s also about comradery, commitment, as well as personal growth. I’ve changed because of the people around me. I’ve become a better person because of the commonality of excellence. That’s why we say, “Surround yourself with those who lift you higher.”

We all teared up and hugged each other. It was so special!

As I boarded my plane home on Sunday, I felt honored that I was part of such an amazing group of ladies.  We each wrote down our goals for our chapters this year, signed them, and gave them to headquarters. I said that my goal was to spread information about Theta’s movement for positive change as well as turning the wheels for our chapter’s house! I’m so excited for another great year as a Theta and I would encourage anyone from my chapter to attend ELI next year. It was absolutely incredible!  Theta ELI 5

If you want to take a look at the whole experience, we documented all the photos, tweets, and lessons on a blog so feel free to take a look: