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LBC students study abroad in Italy

LBC studentsForrest Lewallen and Tyler Miksanek are first-year students in Lyman Briggs College. They studied abroad in Italy this summer through MSU’s Freshman Seminar Abroad Program.

We spent two weeks of our summer in Italy as part of Michigan State’s Freshman Seminar Abroad program. The experience was absolutely incredible, and it was a wonderful way of traveling abroad while also earning credits and making friends.

The program started on MSU’s campus, where we stayed for several nights while meeting the other participants, learning the basics of the Italian language, speaking with Italian exchange students about Italian culture and starting our classes. This was extremely useful for relieving our nerves and getting us excited about our trip.

After a long series of flights, we arrived in Milan. During our five-night stay in Milan, we toured several famous sites, including the Duomo di Milano, the Santa Maria delle Grazie (home of the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo DaVinci) and the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II (Milan’s elite covered shopping center). We also had time to explore the quieter side of Milan, taking a tour of the canal system, browsing the shops, and eating copious amounts of pasta and gelato. One of the main focuses of the trip was to truly immerse ourselves in the local culture, so we spent lots of time trying local foods, attempting to speak Italian, and sampling the local nightlife. While in Milan, we had several classes at the beautiful Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, an ancient college that is the largest private university in Europe and the largest Catholic university in the world.

On our bus trip from Milan to Florence, we stopped at a local Italian agricultural site for a five-course meal that was solely prepared from ingredients grown onsite. One of the main focuses of our class was nutrition in Italy, and the farm, or Agriturismo as the locals would call it, was a great insight into the diet and eating habits of Italians.

We then arrived in Florence, where we stayed for two nights, touring an open-air market of fresh Italian produce and visiting the Galleria dell’Accadamia, home of Michelangelo’s statue, David. Florence was an interesting mixture of cultures; it’s a popular tourist destination, and we were able to see how Italian culture has changed and adapted to the arrival of many other cultures from around the world.


After Florence, we headed for Rome via a scenic drive through Tuscan wine country. In Rome, we visited the Coliseum, the Roman Piazza Navona, and the Vatican, among many other spots. We explored an ancient jail fortress at night, with St. Peter’s Basilica lit up in the distance. Milan and Florence were amazing, but the sheer amount of history and art present in Rome was overwhelming and awe-inspiring. We took classes just down the street from the Pantheon and the Piazza, and were only one block away from the largest thoroughfare of ancient Rome.

During our class time in Rome, we visited another market, and on our final day a hospital, where one of the most famous Italian surgeons of all time gave us a tour through the hospital he had worked in for many, many years. Given that it was our last day in Rome, we had one last thing to cross off our Italian bucket list—a climb to the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica. We didn’t know it at the time, but this last activity ended up being the most memorable. After our large-group tour of the Roman hospital, the two of us left the group and headed toward the Vatican. A two mile walk in sweltering weather brought us to St. Peter’s Square. Sweaty and fatigued but still determined, we entered the Basilica and confidently strode up to the ticket counter for admittance to the dome.

Our excitement was soon checked, however, when we saw that even though admittance to St. Peter’s itself was free, going up to the dome cost five euro. Since it was our last day in Rome, we had tried to spend all of our foreign currency on gelato, and didn’t even have five euro between the two of us. As we pulled out our credit cards, our attention was drawn to a large sign declaring “CASH ONLY” in an assortment of different languages. Momentary defeat set in. We could exit St. Peter’s and go to a currency exchange or ATM, but it was already late in theview afternoon and the dome would close before we could possibly return. Luckily, a very generous American couple was willing to trade for the twenty American dollars we still had, and we used their euro currency to buy our tickets.

However, this turned out to be only the first obstacle, as the next sign we saw informed us that it would be 551 steps up to the dome. Up we went, originally counting the steps but quickly losing track. After five minutes, the steps ended, opening up to a view of the interior of St. Peter’s. Thinking we were at the top, we stared, awestruck, at the beauty of St. Peter’s from a whole new angle.

As we were preparing to head back down, we noticed a different staircase, going still higher. We quickly learned that we had only completed a small percentage of the climb. Resuming our upward progress, we began to notice that instead of a normal, level floor, we were now walking on an inclined surface, the interior of the dome wall.

The incline increased, until it seemed like we almost walking on the walls. But after a final climb up a tiny spiral staircase, we were finished. Rome spread before us like a map as we peered out miles into the surrounding cityscape. By Roman law, St. Peter’s is the tallest building in the city, so we had unobstructed views of every famous city landmark. A combination of adrenaline, awe and wonder took hold as we slowly made our way around the dome, witnessing a 360 degree living picture of the Eternal City. After a long period of silent admiration, we agreed we had to head back to the group and share our story. But first, we had 551 steps back down.