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The Fall Session in Greece and Italy

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Social Life

    10

  • Health and Safety

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    9

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Academics

    9

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Italy: Indulgence in Art, Food, Architecture and Self

I could never have imagined the experience offered by The Aegean Center's Italy program, and nothing I say here could prepare anyone for how truly perfect it is - but I'll try anyway!

The title I chose explains the first half of why this program is so incredible: it is indulgence, yes, but in the best sense of the word. Italy itself is a treat, filled to the brim with richness, beauty, and light. What if one could experience the best of it all? The director and his staff, a family of artists, have purposely sifted through Italy's many luxuries and selected the ideal a program composed of their experience made for students. With an intimate staff of five to six teachers and approximately 20-25 students each semester, the group remains small enough to receive real one-on-one instruction and keeps touring simple. For example, for the majority of the Italy Session, students and staff live together in a 16th century villa in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, just outside of Pistoia. The villa alone offers an experience out of time, and includes the best Tuscan dinners, made by local women, each night! Staying at this villa, one can truly let go of the outside world to indulge in history and in the now.

Everyone involved gets to be an artist, even if for the first time in life. The teachers are all practicing artists themselves, teaching out of true understanding and respect for the past in the classical method "reborn" in Italy's Renaissance. A time where artists came from a working tradition (originally simple tradesman) means that anyone can draw, paint, become an artist with dedication, practice, and passion. The Aegean Center continues that tradition: anyone and everyone can be an artist. Their courses, which begin during the Italy portion of the semester, focus mainly on photography, oil and watercolor painting, basic and figure drawing, writing workshop, art history, vocal performance, and literature. To continue in pure indulgence, after each villa feast, students are invited to read together Dante's "La Vita Nuova," a great work that preceded his "Divine Comedy" and introduces his Beatrice. All of this takes place without ever needing to leave the villa, but The Aegean Center does not stop there.

What they offer goes beyond touring: it is living, eating, breathing the Italy that developed out of the Renaissance, and in that method they teach a full understanding one simply cannot grasp in a typical classroom. Students travel to Pistoia and Florence often, as the closest cities to the villa; take day trips to Sienna and Pisa; and also get to experience longer overnight trips to both Venice and Rome. In each location, students view many artworks "in situ" (in their original locations) and others in Italy's rich museum collections, accompanied by lectures brought to life by their surroundings. Students may take notes or sketch or simply listen - whatever each student chooses to best ingest the experience. While touring together takes up most of each day, there is always time for students to wander either together or individually for lunch or sketching or photographing as they please. And in typical Italy fashion, coffee and gelato breaks are common occurrences. My first semester with The Aegean Center, I arrived with virtually no background in art history, and while I found the amount of information overwhelming at times, I discovered in the years following that much of what I learned in that first month stayed with me, especially through the stories I can still picture: in Florence's Duomo, or rather Brulleschi's; in Pope Julius II and Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling; in Venice's Accademia Museum alongside Giovanni Bellini's masterpieces; walking through Rome's Campo di Fiori; and more. The stories and the memories stay, no matter what experience follows.
The Italy portion of the semester fills up most of September, finishing in Rome and finally Athens, allowing the complete experience of the Renaissance through a look at its roots and that of all Western culture. The few days in Athens is only the first taste of Greek art history, which continues on Paros, but its enough to see the most important sites and adjust to an even earlier time.

The trip to Paros begins the second portion of the semester - a very different pace, and yet equally as wonderful experience as that in Italy. The most striking part, perhaps, is suddenly everyone has their own apartment, and schedule, and freedom. Students now select more specifically which courses and art forms they want to focus on, keeping in mind that each one sets his or her own limits. Students may take as many courses as they choose, with very few scheduling conflicts, allowing the continuation of a well-rounded education. The weeks are bookended with the whole group coming together again: Monday morning brings the weekly meeting and news of what the week will bring, and every Friday offers a hike into the landscape of Paros (or Antiparos!).
The hikes may not sound appealing, especially to those unaccustomed to outdoor activity, but they are, in fact, one of the best aspects of the whole program. If only I could explain... well, imagine following in the footsteps of an ancient tradition down into the earth through the ancient marble quarry of Paros. Imagine walking through groves of olive trees that have existed exactly as they stand for hundreds to literally thousands of years. Imagine rediscovering the cave believed to be where the ancient poet Arkilokos (Archilochus) wrote some of his poems in the same era as Sappho. Imagine walking the ancient Byzantine roads, still snaking through the Parian landscape, visited only by the occasional tourist, farmer, or donkey. Even without the incredible history that accompanies these hikes or the breathtaking beauty of the terraced hills and Aegean Sea, the hikes bring peace that only conferring with nature can bring. They can be artistic inspiration through the colors, sounds, and light; they can be developing poems with a cadence that follows each step; or they can simply help each person live in their own thoughts, presently. Hikes mean many things to each individual who chooses to take them - yes, they are optional. But I rarely saw anyone miss them. I certainly never did.

Regardless of their students' previous backgrounds (artists, art historians, gap-year teens, those already in or retired from major careers, etc.), The Aegean Center's Italy Session opens a new chapter in life and understanding. Courses address every level of expertise (including complete beginners), and with small student groups, professors give lots of individual attention to students and their work. Only the best in facilities and materials are tolerated and offered at The Aegean Center - from printers to paper to paints and more. The main building and full campus integrates beautifully into Paros' port town, Parikia, and is walking distance from all student apartments (as are all the stores and conveniences students may need). The town welcomes The Aegean Center students as a part of the well-respected tradition they represent. Students receive discounts at many cafes and restaurants around town too.

The Paros experience becomes entirely what each student wants to make it for his or herself. Whether one arrives as a very serious artist, intending to create a portfolio for later use; a gap-year student, trying to discover what to do next in life, or simply just get everything possible out of the experience; or perhaps something between the two, The Aegean Center offers an unlimited experience, full of opportunity to learn and grow. The exploration of "Self," as another piece to my title, is a part of the experience that comes without attempt, it simply develops throughout each student's semester individually. This is not to say some sort of mystical thing is happening without one's knowledge, it is to emphasize that studying at The Aegean Center is not just a vacation, it is meant for those looking to grow, looking for something to shift in their lives. John Pack, the director of The Aegean Center for the past thirty years, hand picks his students by application and through one-on-one communication, as he is very careful in creating the right environment for his students and his school. I mention this not to discourage anyone from applying, but rather to emphasize the special quality this program offers. I have yet to discover anything quite like it.
Even now, years later, I am happy to give my personal account and word that this is the best experience I have ever had and could ever imagine.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health and Safety

    10

  • Social Life

    10

View detailed rating

One of the defining moments of my life

Ask anyone who has been to the Aegean Center and they'll tell you it's never far from their mind. The teachers and staff who run the Aegean Center are some of the most knowledgable, passionate, caring, and all around wonderful people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life. This program allows you to grow, explore, and create, all with top notch guidance and instruction in your chosen field (mine was painting & drawing). My time spent in Italy and Greece with the Aegean Center cannot be easily described here, it's an experience that will likely remain unparalleled for much, if not all, of my life. Living in the villa with all the other students from all walks of life for the first month brought us closer together than just our shared interests would have. The meals spent together, the travel & learning in such an intimate setting, the exchange of ideas, there is no better way to learn about the arts and who you are as a person & an artist.
While in Italy it's almost like a whirlwind. You're traveling everyday to different cites, museums, cultural sites - it doesn't stop, every minute is thrilling & amazing, even those quiet moments simply waiting for the train. Once you make your way to Greece an entire other world of possibilities opens up. You take all you've absorbed from the arts & culture of Italy and pour it onto canvases, paper, words, song, or into polished photos in the digital photo lab or dark room. What the Aegean Center has managed to build, to share with it's students, it is beyond an honor and a privilege to have been able to be a part of their history. This place is so much more than sum of it's parts, the Aegean Center experience settles in your bones and grows with you long after you're gone. There aren't enough words of praise I can give to this program, I absolutely wouldn't be the artist I am today without them.