The Sorrento Peninsula of Italy is said to have once been home to the Sirens, the Greek mythological creatures whose enchanting singing lured sailors to the rocky coastline. Centuries later, Sorrento would attract some of the greatest minds in history, from Lord Bryon and Leo Tolstoy to Goethe and Verdi. With stunning cliff views of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and the Isle of Capri, Sorrento is a perfect gateway to the world of classical antiquity with its close proximity to Pompeii. Well-known for its citrus fruit, nuts, and olives, the region offers visitors the unique sensation of tasting the ancient world as they walk through it, providing the perfect setting for transformative learning experiences.
This summer, a group of Wellington upper school students immersed themselves in the culture, history, and culinary delights of southern Italy as they improved their Italian language skills at the Sant’ Anna Institute. With their classroom windows open to the beautiful Marina Grande, the sounds of harbor bells and waves crashing in the near distance provided the perfect soundtrack to their taste of la dolce vita. While students first began learning Italian from O.S.U. Professor Dr. Janice Aski P ‘20 in the early spring at Wellington in preparation for the trip, it was perhaps staying with host families in Sorrento who spoke very little English that provided the most enduring understanding of the language. From their first introduction to Italy by Dr. Aski, students learned the differences between being a tourist and a traveler. For Associate Head of School and Head of Upper School Dr. Jeff Terwin, the distinction involves mindset. “Travelers bring an open mind, a respect for the culture being visited, a willingness to fully immerse themselves, and an eagerness for new challenges.”
Upon arriving in Sorrento, students enthusiastically joined the small community as more than just guests. Rather than merely admiring the the allure of the landscape, they were active participants in its beautification. Each hike through the mountains or stroll along the coastline brought about new opportunities to collect litter and further ensure the integrity of the natural world they felt so connected to. Students also had lessons in marine biology from Dr. Terwin specific to the Mediterranean and learned firsthand the impacts of human activities on the ecosystem, spending time discussing sustainable fishing practices.
Unsurprisingly, food was an important theme through the trip as students discovered a truly memorable meal did not have to be complicated or overdone. Homemade linguine with creamy tomato sauce and as well as large plates of fresh calamari, sardines, white fish were life-changing moments not just for their otherworldly taste but also because they were enjoyed with friends by the ocean on a perfect day.
Students learned to make gelato as well as pizza from local experts. “The experience gave all of us a small glimpse into the care that pizza chefs put into their work,” Sophie Haskett ’19 remarked, “and how important they are to Sorrento and Italy.”
While exploring the Almafi Coast, the group visited Positano, Ravello and Amalfi Cathedral, a 9th-century Roman Catholic cathedral. Another excursion included ferrying to the island of Capri and touring the towns of Anacapri and Capri as well as the white and green grottoes around the coast of the island. Perhaps nothing will be more memorable than the sweltering temperatures of Pompeii, as they were afforded a rare look into the lives of its ill-fated citizens shortly before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
“Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from The Eternal,” wrote Dante, poet and father of the Italian language. For this group of young people, after immersing themselves in the beauty of The Eternal, mindfulness cannot be separated from traveling, or respect from culture. They are travelers for life.