Arrivederci, Italy!

  • In a new Global Seminar, “Two Millennia of Structural Architecture in Italy,” students explore Ostia Antica, a large archaeological site southwest of Rome.

    PHOTO: Luigi Fraboni

  • Global Seminar students rest in the ruins of Ostia Antica’s amphitheater.

  • “Because of all of the great classwork we did, I discovered a love of civil engineering.”

By Sally Jane Ruybalid ’21

Each summer, dozens of Princeton University students receive a firsthand education about an array of international issues in six-week courses taught by University faculty in locations at the heart of each seminar’s subject matter. These PIIRS Global Seminars, offered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, give students the opportunity to learn in the classroom, visit local sites and hear from people in the community.

PIIRS Global Seminars are held over six weeks in June, July and August. Since the program was launched in 2007 by PIIRS in collaboration with the Office of International Programs (OIP), more than 800 students have taken part in 56 Global Seminars across five continents. Participating students earn credits for one university course.

In 2019, PIIRS launched a new Global Seminar, “Two Millennia of Structural Architecture in Italy” with Maria Garlock, professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Program in Architecture and Engineering; Branko Glisic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Sigrid Adriaenssens, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The seminar, based in Rome, examined the structural and architectural leadership of Italy in the context of social, political and economic circumstances. 

Princeton International asked Sally Ruybàlid ’21, an art and archaeology major from Trinidad, Colorado, to reflect on her experience as a participant in the newest PIIRS Global Seminar and her time in Italy.

“It’s fascinating what you experience all at once when you say goodbye to a place. I felt just that as Lucy Delogou, our Italian teacher, waved to everyone in the room in her typical fashion of ending class, saying, “Arrivederci!” to tell us goodbye. This, however, was her final farewell to us — 12 Princeton students from various walks of life and majors, who convened here in Rome to learn from three civil engineering professors about structural architecture in Italy.

Lucy was surrounded by models of the Roman Colosseum with different renderings of tensile structures attached to them, ones we had presented in the hours prior as a final problem-solving project for Professor Adriaenssens. The models were a result of two weeks’ work: touring and documenting the Colosseum, studying in class, researching tensile structures, and finally venturing into the depths of Roman craft stores and lumber yards and stammering in Italian to try to procure the materials necessary for building. Some late nights later, here we were.

It was in that goodbye, looking at Lucy’s beaming face, it was as if my life — or at least the time I spent in Italy — flashed before my eyes.

I saw our class exploring the ancient city of Ostia Antica, standing on the cupola of Brunelleschi’s Duomo in Florence after mounting 463 stairs, perusing an old Nervi-designed factory in Bologna, and marveling at the Vatican, just ten blocks away from St. John’s University, our host institution for the course.

We had been in lectures twice a day and Italian language lessons on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Many of us cooked for ourselves and each other during this time, forging familial bonds and a curiosity for the Italian markets and tiny grocery stores. For six weeks, we became local regulars at a gelato shop a few doors down from St. John’s. Because of all of the great classwork we did, I discovered a love of civil engineering. It is because of this Global Seminar that I am now applying for the architecture and engineering certificate.

It wasn’t until Lucy said goodbye that I realized — and became overwhelmed by —everything we accomplished in just six weeks. I truly had the adventure of a lifetime. For some reason in that moment, I started to cry.

You see, I’m from a small town in Colorado: really, there’s probably more livestock in my home county than humans. I’m four hours away from the nearest airport. A few years ago, I relied solely on Google to see the world, wondering if I would ever “make it” to the destinations I dreamed of one day seeing.

This summer, all I had to do was walk down the street.”