Psychology and Culture (and Classics!) in Europe

For my STEP experience, I studied for about three weeks in Europe with several Psychology majors. I spent five days in Rome, five days in Venice, and ten days in London for the official study abroad experience, along with two days in Paris and three days in Stockholm for personal enrichment. Throughout all of my travel, I visited several psychologically significant sites, including Museo della Mente in Rome, Museum of the Insane Asylum in Venice, and Bethlem Royal Hospital, Charles Darwin’s house, and Sigmund Freud’s house in London. I also visited several culturally or classically significant locations, such as the Colosseum, the Globe Theater, and Rialto Bridge. While in Paris and Stockholm, I visited many significant sites such as the Eiffel Tower and Stockholm University.

The impact that this experience had on me is unlike any other person on the study abroad trip. As a Classics major and a Psychology major, I took advantage of both of those fields of study during my experience in the three cities. At the height of the Roman Empire, all three cities were controlled by the empire and all culture from these cities, even to this day, can trace its roots to Rome. Even in Bath, England, a historical English site, the Empire controlled the area and built so many buildings and temples dedicated to a combination of Roman and local gods. Although everyone can find this fascinating, as someone who studies classics, my personal connection with the experience was outstanding and helped me understand much more about the Roman Empire and what happened with these civilizations afterward, even perhaps how these cultures were influenced by the Roman Empire to this day.

Another important change in world view during my study abroad was my understanding of psychiatric hospitals in other countries, along with how that affects mental health nowadays and the culture of those countries in general. In Rome and Venice, the two museums presented the mental hospitals from a historical perspective. The Italian mental hospitals, they did not shy away from many of the atrocities that took place in Italy through mental asylums, especially during fascism. This is also, however, a common practice for many Italians that I came across with, as many of the tour guides mentioned the more turbulent, problematic, and sometimes cruel parts of Italian history, such as the reign of Mussolini. However, in London, Bethlem Royal Hospital took more of the stance that they are doing positive work now and do shy away from talking about their past. This is also evident in British culture in general, as, for example, I saw a plaque in Westminster Abbey thanking the brave soldiers who fought in India, even though it is generally accepted by many that colonialism was devastating to the British. I personally see this not being different from other countries, such as how many in the United States shy away from talking about slavery.

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Some of the events in Rome that helped me reach many of the conclusions include visiting ancient sites, learning about Roman history, and experiencing modern Roman culture. On my first day in Rome, I visited the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, and other classical sites. Other than my obsession with classical culture and language (since I am a classics major), I focused much on the atrocities that took place during the Roman Empire, such as the gladiatorial fights. One of the days in Rome, I visited the catacombs in Rome where many of the Christians buried their dead and practiced Christianity in secrecy due to risk of persecution. As I mentioned before, mentioning Museo della Mente gave me insights about rather modern atrocities that Italians have committed on their own people. All of this helped contribute to my thoughts on why all of this was permissible.

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In Venice, I noticed that many of the cultural and historical events were similar to that of Rome. One of the most significant events in Venice was visiting the Jewish Ghetto and Jewish Museum in Venice. Although I visited a Jewish Ghetto in Rome, Venice’s Jewish Ghetto goes back even further in history, as Venice was one of the first regions in Europe to allow Judaism. However, the area took a sharp turn during the Holocaust under Axis powers. Along with the mental asylum, this is a strong example of how atrocities can transcend time periods, as the intolerance from the Roman Empire is still possible in any time period in history. Along with that, immigrants in Italy, especially immigrants of color, still do not get fair treatment to the point where many have to resort to working unfavorable street vendor positions, which showcases how in many categories, such as race and class, the nation is still not distanced completely from inequality and inhumane treatment of people that gets justified.

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While spending the majority of my trip in London, studied much about the history of the city, country, and empire in which I stayed. Many people in the United Kingdom would be quick to distance themselves from the tyranny and inhumanity that came from the ruling powers of the nation when absolute monarchy and totalitarianism were the only forms of government. The United Kingdom is now ruled by a parliament and, while having a ruling family, the idea of monarchy is more of a show and display of affection than a control mechanism. While many are proud of their royal family, few British people would support giving them absolute power over their citizens. However, this does not mean that London is completely distanced from its past. Up until the mid- to late-20th century, the British Empire reigned over much of the developing world in many African and Asian countries, such as India and Nigeria. Along with that, Britain is responsible for much of the anger in the Middle East due to the partition that they created, but more recently played a role in the infamous wars in the Middle East, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While there are many people in both the United States and the United Kingdom who resent their countries’ involvement in imperialism and conflict in the Middle East, like the example of the plaque in Westminster Abbey supporting those who fought for imperialism in India, much of the government if the United Kingdom and their citizens and supporters take a similar stance, where they either ignore the past atrocities or justify them. Similarly, staying in the richer neighborhood of London, many of the affluent citizens oppose helping the homeless and have spikes in front of their stores to prevent the homeless from congregating around affluent neighborhoods. All of this, tied into their views on mental health mentioned before, gave me insight on the mind of someone accustomed to inhumane treatment and how to overcome this.

This experience did give me more insight into what to expect out of psychology, which will help me overall, since I want to practice psychology in a clinical setting, most likely. The different types of people that I came across will help me in understanding why some people are the way that they are, what I should try to learn from people, and psychological practices that have historically failed. In each place that I visited, I went to at least one area that was a historical place of psychological study and practice, the main three in each city, which were former mental asylums used to treat and “cure” patients in inhumane ways, taught me much about the ethics behind psychology and why this is such a crucial aspect of the field. From this, I developed even more empathy for the life of a patient. Also, I learned about the importance and impact of the process of trial and error, empirical research, treating patients in ways that match individual needs, and critically thinking (and thinking outside of the box), especially in Psychology.

One thought on “Psychology and Culture (and Classics!) in Europe

  1. This sounds like such a unique and awesome trip! I loved all the insight you gained about perspectives about how to address atrocities in the past! Glad you were able to find a trip that so closely aligned with your academic interests/majors

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