When deciding which learning objectives to focus on throughout the Psychology in Europe program, I decided to concentrate on the more humanistic side of psychology and how different aspects of culture affect people’s perspective on life and others. My first objective was to analyze the role of art and artisans in influencing cultural views on everyday life. Ever since I was young, I have always been interested in art and I still try to get in touch with my creative side by being a member of the Humanities Scholars program. Combining my passion for art with my love of psychology seemed like a unique way for me to analyze the Italian and British cultures. My second objective was to study how religion impacted society’s views of minorities and their treatment towards those who were different. Rome is strongly influenced by religion since Vatican City is located in the heart of the city. Therefore, I knew that I would be able to observe a lot of the religious influences during our visit. Also, since Rome and Venice are predominantly Catholic cities and London has greater religious diversity I was interested in observing the differences in “treatment” between these cities due to the religious variations.
Going into the program I knew that the tour guides in each city were going to be knowledgeable about a lot of the topics we were studying. I used the notes application on my phone to record information useful to my project while touring and the addition of their first hand experiences, observations, and opinions gave another dimension to my research and made it more personal. The museum docents, brochures, and signs provided more structured, concrete data that I was able to translate into how it affected my learning objectives. Observing the artwork and artifacts allowed me to draw my own conclusions about how they affect the culture of each city in the past and present day society. Lastly, being surrounded by other students in the program to discuss everything we saw helped because they might have observed something I had missed and vice versa. The google doc activity during our final meeting is a great example of how we all collaborated to compile our information. After gathering all of my data from the trip I completed some additional research online to incorporate extra details I was missing.
Art plays a large role in the cultures of Italy and England and these works are able to convey their views on everyday life in the past and present. Art has also shaped both cultures in terms of religion, work, and design. Firstly, in Rome, art is present everywhere from the architecture and monuments to the frescos and fashion. Rome is a predominantly Catholic city and the presence of art in the churches and cathedrals reflects the importance of religion in their society. During our tour of the Vatican with our guide, Giuseppe, we saw countless ornate frescos and other artifacts of great value to the Catholic church. For example, Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel is an extremely well known work of art and the fact that he was commissioned by the Vatican to create something that grand led to more exposure for the Catholic church and a greater appreciation of the Vatican by Romans. Furthermore, our visit to the Pantheon served as more evidence for how highly regarded artists were in everyday life for Romans. The Pantheon is home to the tomb of Raphael and according to information provided at the site, it has connections to Pope Gregory XVI who gifted an ancient marble sarcophagus to the late artist. This is a perfect example of how an artist like Raphael was able to not only connect with everyday Romans through his art but with the church as well. Lastly, fashion is another mode of art that connects art and everyday Romans. As our tour of Rome led to the Spanish Steps and Via dei Condotti, lined with designer stores, Giuseppe told us how in the past fashion was seen as fine art to the wealthy because of the intricate clothing they would wear. This idea still holds true today with celebrities and the wealthy wearing designer clothes. Italian brands such as Bulgari and Fendi have been so successful that they have been able to donate millions of dollars to restore the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Art in Rome has influenced its citizens in terms of faith and fashion and this high value of art in their culture will be maintained for centuries to come.
An ornate carriage in the Vatican Museum
A fresco in the Vatican Museum
View from the top of the Spanish Steps looking out to Via dei Condotti
After traveling north via the high speed train to Venice, it seemed like art was more of a lifestyle rather than a craft that only a few talented individuals could execute. Our day of island hopping with our guide, Stefania, provided some insight into the lives of artisans on the islands of Burano and Murano. Burano is an island where intricate lace has been created for centuries. After touring the museum and reading the information sheets in each room I learned that lace making industry on the island has struggled at times (e.g. it saw a decline after the French and American revolutions and in the mid 1900’s due to American trends,) but it has gained renewed popularity and continues to influence women’s fashion and home decor. The lace industry also provides jobs for woman on and around the island. There is a similar dynamic on the island of Murano which is known for glassmaking. According to Stefania, glass blowers dedicate their lives to their craft and in the past glass blowing was a job which was passed down through families. Today, glass blowers still take their work very seriously but anybody can become a glass blower whether you’re male or female and regardless of if anybody in your family has worked with glass. Glass is also more accessible to Venetians today with many small shops on the island selling glass goods and a large glass sculpture on display in a square which was a part of the Biennale Arts Festival which we got to experience during our visit. In the past, glass goods were only seen in wealthier homes because of all the labor and intricate detailing. The lace and glass from Burano and Murano influence not only the trends and preferences of Venetians but it also gives them an option to explore their creative side and become artisans if they so choose.
Photographs of women making lace in Museo del Merletto
Intricate lace ships in Museo del Merletto
A large glass sculpture which is a part of the Biennale
An extensive glass dining set in Museo del Vetro
After experiencing the elaborate frescos and hand made goods of Italy, London provided a new realm of art to study, theater. Touring the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and seeing the performance of Twelfth Night showed how much Londoners still value the performing arts. During Shakespeare’s time when plays were performed in the original Globe Theater both upper and lower classes could enjoy the productions whether it was on the ground with the “groundlings” or in the elevated seats. This trend has continued today with ticket prices at the Globe being relatively low so that anyone can see a play. The popularity of theater is a perfect example of how this art form has influenced citizens’ everyday life by providing a source of entertainment for the masses. The Bethlem Mental Hospital provided another example of how art is incorporated into everyday life through art therapy for mentally ill patients. On display in the museum was a series of paintings by Stanley Lench, a patient who was battling depression and alcoholism. His artwork shows how art can not only be a source of entertainment but also therapy to help people cope with mental illness.
View from the top seating section in the Globe Theater
A painting by Stanley Lench
Another painting from the Bethlem Museum of the Mind
After travelling through Rome, Venice and London I was able to observe how art can influence every aspect of a person’s life from their job, faith, and even mental health. The presence of art in each city is essential to their cultural identity. Society has also been able to learn more about its history by analyzing art from the past and how it was created. Art is a crucial aspect to society that can be traced back to centuries in the past and these traditions are still carried out into today’s society.
In addition to art having an impact on perspective, religion also can influence people’s perspectives and treatment of minorities. In Rome, the Vatican has a strong presence in the lives of minorities with Pope Francis being very accepting of differences and making changes in the city so that minorities can feel more accepted. According to an article from Fast Company magazine, Pope Francis opened laundromats free of charge for the homeless to wash their clothes. It also mentioned that later this year other services like free showers and a clinic will be available for the homeless. Along with the facilities offered by the Vatican, Giuseppe mentioned that many churches in Rome offer free weekly meals which provide food to many of the homeless. With the Roman Catholic Church taking the lead to help those struggling in Rome it has shown Romans that even though people may be different everybody has the same basic needs in life. History has shown that the Vatican hasn’t always been accepting of minorities. For centuries the Jewish population was forced by the Vatican to live exclusively in the Jewish Ghetto and many parts of their lives were controlled by the system. After experiencing many hardships under the Vatican and the Germans during World War II the Jewish Ghetto has become a vibrant part of Rome with beautiful synagogues, the Jewish Museum and restaurants.
The Vatican at sunset
A collection of signs in the Jewish Ghetto
Inside of a synagogue which is a part of the Jewish museum in Rome
Venice also has its share of religious influence on the treatment of minorities in a fairly positive light. The island of San Servolo is home to an old monastery that was converted into a mental hospital in 1809. For over 100 years the Fathers of Saint Giovanni di Dio cared for patients and even lived on the hospital grounds. Religious therapy was just one of the options available for patients and the inclusion of the mentally ill into religion proved how dedicated the Christian faith was in reaching out to minorities. In present day Venice, Catholics are just as involved in helping minorities, more specifically, the homeless. The organization Caritas Veneziana provides many services for the homeless including meals, dormitories, and counseling to help residents get back on their feet. The religious influence on the organization shows the support for the community in Venice.
Inside the chapel at San Servolo
Photographs of the living quarters in San Servolo
The annual Christmas meal at Caritas Veneziana (Photo from Venezia Today)
London is a religiously diverse city compared to Rome and Venice which are mainly Catholic. Similar to Rome and Venice, religious groups are very involved with helping the homeless through hardships caused but unemployment, tragedy, or disability. The most recent example of this can be seen after the Grenfell Tower fire located in North Kensington which left many people without shelter. Religious diversity was brought to the forefront in light of this disaster when churches, mosques, and synagogues opened their doors and provided a place for the victims to stay. This religious diversity has also led to psychiatrists in London and other parts of England using religion to help treat patients. An article from BBC.com tells how Dr. Ghazala Mir is using a new form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help reintroduce religion, Islam in this study, into a patient’s life. Dr. Simon Dein from the Royal College of Psychiatrists stated in an essay that he has also used CBT for Christian patients by having them introduce prayer or reading the Bible into their therapy. The incorporation of faith into the treatment of mental health shows how powerful religion is and the diversity of its followers.
Westminster Abbey has importance in the Church of England and the monarchy
Sikh Gurudwaras, a mosque in London, collected supplies for the Grenfell Tower victims (Photo from the Huffington Post)
For a short period of time St. Paul’s Cathedral allowed the homeless to use their facilities free of charge
Religion has played a large role in making each city a better place to live in. The help they provide for those struggling in the community serves as an example for everyone as to how they should treat others who are different from them. Religion has also influenced the treatment of mental illness and how those who are mentally ill should be treated. As I look to the future I believe that religion will continue to be a large force in helping minorities and I think cities like Rome and Venice will become more religiously diverse.
Throughout the program I relied on the tour guides Giuseppe, Stefania, and Victoria to provide detailed information about each monument, museum, or religious site we visited. They usually had additional information and first hand experiences that added another perspective to the tours. The museum docents, informational signs, and brochures also provided more detailed information about what we were studying. After collecting all of my data during the program and reviewing at home I completed some extra research online from websites such as Wikipedia, BBC.com, FastCompany.com, and The Guardian. I also relied on the websites from the museums we visited for additional data. I was also fortunate to have a large support group for funding and emotional support. My parents and grandparents were able to help with funding and I was able to text and call them throughout the trip and share all of my experiences. While on the trip, the other participants were a great support group to hang out with and talk about any problems or concerns we had while abroad. I was also able to coordinate flights with some of the girls so it made me more comfortable when traveling abroad. Lastly, the RD’s provided emotional support as well and the mid trip meetings were a great way to make sure everyone was on track with their projects and feeling their best during our non-stop touring!
When reflecting on the Academic Goals I feel like I have improved on every point and this has increased my self confidence and my independence. After exploring the cities and museums with the tour guides knowing that I had a project to complete I improved on gathering data from multiple sources at once. It also led to me being fully engaged in every program activity so that I wouldn’t miss any important information or once in a lifetime experience! I have worked with groups in the past and this program allowed me to improve upon my teamwork skills and develop more efficient techniques that lead to successful group projects and presentations. I didn’t know much Italian going into the program so I was slightly unsure of interacting with native Italians. Luckily during each interaction I would try to speak some Italian from a guidebook or online or the other person would try to speak some English. I think this was an important lesson that shows both sides have to make an effort to have a successful intercultural encounter. Lastly, after completing this project I have become more confident in exploring different psychological concepts and being able to apply them to different cultural ideas.
Overall, I believe I achieved many successes during the program but I did experience a few challenges along the way. I made many new friends from the program whom I probably would not have met in classes given that they are a few years older than I. I’m happy that I’ll see more familiar faces in the Psychology department this year and around campus! I was also able to broaden my horizons by getting study concepts I would not have the chance to learn in the classroom and I was able to explore new cities. During the program we had an action packed itinerary and after the scheduled activities I wanted to spend time with the other participants so it was challenging at times to know when to slow down and rest because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. At the end of the experience I was surprised at how close our group had become and I think that traveling together allowed all of us to get to know each other very well. I was also surprised to learn how mentally ill patients used to be treated in all of the psychology museums because I haven’t learned about the history of any of those treatments in the classes I’ve taken so far.
Before leaving for the program I was excited to travel to a new country but also a little apprehensive since I didn’t know Italian and I was looking forward to the adventures that were ahead of me. After returning to the United States. I found that I felt more confident and independent after successfully traveling and navigating new cities. This experience has also motivated me and I am excited to learn more about psychology. I’ve been researching and reading psychology books from my community’s library since returning home at the end of May. If I could choose one thing to include in my next trip I would want to visit the Tate Modern in London because it would be interesting to see London’s perspective of modern art. I also think it would be interesting to see what unique pieces of art they have curated and compare their collection with the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. My participation in The Psychology and Culture in Europe education abroad program was a life changing experience for me both academically and personally. The opportunities and experiences I’ve had during this program have left a positive impact on me and I look forward to learning more about psychology this fall!
Advice for Next Year
- Bring comfortable walking shoes. My Teva “Sanborn” sandals worked out great!
- Take a lot of pictures with the monuments and sites not just pictures of them
- Spend a lot of time with the other participants but know your limits and when you need a break
- Take advantage of your free days! Some of my best memories of the trip were made on these days.
- Don’t be afraid to take the public transportation and navigate the city with the other participants.
- Ask the guides lots of questions! They’re extremely knowledgeable about the cities and you’ll learn things you couldn’t find online.