Culture & Psychology Summer 2017 Student Blog Series 3: Day 5, 6 and 8


Day 5: Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica

Student Blogger: Madison Schenkewitz

The Vatican is one of the sites I was most excited about. The Vatican is one of the most religious sites we have encountered and I was very excited to have this location as my blog topic. The art was all beautifully crafted and had some incredible detail.  I tried to understand how these artists were able to capture all of this beauty and portray it within the walls of the museums and it is truly remarkable. There was one specific piece of art that stood out the most to me.  It was a fabric that had been weaved to portray a scene at the dinner table with Jesus Christ.  This tapestry consumed an entire wall and had such detail that as able to capture every part of each individual portrayed from their hair to the indents in their fingers.


The Vatican is a clear, prominent symbol of the Italian culture.  Prior to attending the program we viewed a documentary that described the “corruption” of the Catholic Church in Italy.  This documentary definitely altered the way I viewed The Vatican in a negative way.  But, after walking through the museums and seeing all of the beautiful art I was reminded of why the Roman Catholic is so important to the Italian culture.  Silvia D’Ambrosi, press officer to the Italian Senate, spoke to us about how the Catholic religion is not forced upon anyone but it is the prominent religion in Italy.  There were many individuals visiting the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, admiring the art portraying very important religious figures such as The Saints, Madonna, and Jesus.  It was clear that all of the spectators/visitors were there out of respect to admire the religious works of art.

I was given the opportunity to climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, and while the journey was difficult the finish line was breathtaking.  I was able to see a beautiful aerial view of Rome that showed the buildings with their unique architecture, rivers, plants, gardens, etc.  It was a scene unlike anything I have seen before and I will never be able to see again.  Upon entering the Basilica, you are overwhelmed by this view of mesmerizing mosaics that gave me a new perspective of “what a Basilica is.” I was very ignorant of what I would actually see inside The Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica and I will now forever hold this memory.


Day 5 (Part 2): Rome by Night

Student Blogger: Emily Windwer

Today we had another tour led by the outstanding Salome, but this was a night tour of Rome. Some of the places we went we had been in the past few days, but there was something different about seeing them in the night with the street lights shining and less people (except for the Trevi Fountain). When we went to these sites in the past few days we knew the gist of what they were and why they were there, but as Salome led us on the tour, she explained in great detail the true history.


We began our tour at the Piazza Navona, which used to be a sports stadium but like many things in Rome, it was recycled. We then made our way to the Spanish Steps and learned how they received their name. She shared with us that the Spanish Steps, a beautiful stairway, were actually built by a French diplomat because at that time it was complicated to get to the church that is above the steps. This area of Rome was the historic entrance to the city. It was a must for artists of all kinds to come live there for some time. The steps are called “Spanish” because they link the Spanish Embassy to the church.

Next on our tour was the Trevi Fountain, another piece of art that came to be due to recycled history. The fountain was beautiful at night and of course we all got a chance to throw our coins in and make a wish. We also stopped by the Pantheon, which we had the opportunity to go into the day before. This was my favorite part of the tour because Salome shared so much information with us about this building that you wouldn’t know just by looking at it. It was built and dedicated to the seven gods; seven is a magical number in many cultures and it is the sum of four and three. We learned that we continue to honor these gods by using their names in the seven days of the week. On April 21st, Rome’s Birthday at 12, the sun lights the entrance of the door. We ended our tour back at the Piazza Navona and thanked Salome. It was a great experience to see these parts of Rome at night and to learn so much of the history.

Day 6: Museo Laboratorio delle Mente

Student Blogger: Eric Wesner

Today we had the opportunity to visit the Museo Laboratoria della Mente, a former asylum turned mental health museum, to learn about the history of mental illness in Italy. Our tour guide, Francesca, took us on an interactive tour of the museum. First, we viewed an optical illusion in order to demonstrate how one’s preconceptions can alter one’s perception. Next, we explored rooms where other elements of perception were altered. In one room, voices were repeated akin to hallucinations. In another room, images on a screen were delayed, challenging one’s sense of time.


Other exhibits included a glass replication of stone wall which a past client had methodically etched writings and drawings into. One wall held paintings of a former client, while another held artifacts of the past asylum, such as a metal bedframe and electric shock equipment. The museum also had a room you could view that was the same as the patients had to use.


My favorite exhibit however was a bench on which you could lean forward and it would show you a photograph of a past client. This was then accompanied by a voice reading their account of the mental illness. Intermixed in the patients’ collage of photos were photos of our group as well, signifying that mental illness can affect everyone. I found this exhibit to be particularly moving as I listened to their accounts, and imagined how frightened and isolated they must have felt.


Day 6: Casa Internazionale delle Donne

Student Blogger: Melissa White

Casa Internazionale delle Donna is the International House of Women, established in 2007 in Rome, Italy. The organization is funded by the UN Voluntary Fund, grants from the Open Society Institute, support from local and national Italian governments, as well as donations from the public. Casa Internazionale delle Donna provides resources and support to victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and discrimination against women. Only women work for this organization. The building Towson University students visited was previously an area of confinement for women who did not conform with the standards of society in the 17th century. For instance, students entered cells that were used primarily for lesbian women. It is inspiring that this organization was able to find solace in a place that used to discriminate strongly against women.

We learned that human trafficking became more prevalent in Europe after the enlargement of the EU. Trafficked women came from places like the Ukraine and Nigeria and were used mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation and in some cases labor exploitation. Casa Internazionale della Donna found innovative ways to protect women who were trafficked in other countries and monitored the development of further trafficking. In 2016, there was a huge success for traumatized human trafficking victims. A landmark case won compensation for the women’s suffering, as the court ruled 17 Nigerian victims’ need for compensation was far greater than the need for compensation of the court. For the first time, the court focused on the well-being of the victim rather than solely prosecution of the perpetrator.


We also learned that in Italy, a woman is killed by a partner or former partner every 2 days. Domestic violence is especially hurtful and traumatic because trust is broken by someone very close, usually within the family. This organization approaches women in a non-judgmental way and offers a series of services to help. These services include a health center, shelter and a special help desk at the main hospital in Rome. It took years to bring understanding of the importance of a woman’s private help desk because hospital workers usually don’t deal with long term trauma such as ongoing psychological conditions. Currently, if the hospital workers suspect domestic violence, they immediately contact Casa Internazionale Della Donna to work as a buffer between medical assistance and the violent situation. In the event the perpetrator accompanies their victim to the hospital, the private help desk gives the victim a chance to separate from their abuser.

This organization is extremely important because it covers a large variety of services for women in Rome. Housing, food, and education are offered to those who seek safety and help during a difficult and oftentimes violent situation. Currently in the United States, there are few organizations that encompass all of these services for women. The success of Casa Internazionale della Donna could potentially lead to similar services being available in the US.



Day 8: Santa Maria del Fiore/Duomo

Student Blogger: Taylor Mogavero

The Santa Maria del Fiore is a huge highlight and one of the most famous landmarks in Florence. During our time visiting the cathedral and the Duomo, I noticed and learned many new things in a short among of time, mainly relating to topics discussed during class time.  A reoccurring theme in Italy seems to be the importance of religion.  Religion is emphasized greatly, as it’s a huge part of Italian tradition and culture. In the cathedral, I saw many people from different backgrounds and races.  I found this to be extremely powerful, that even with all the issues in the world regarding racism, sexism, discrimination, etc., people found a common place in the cathedral and it truly felt as if everyone was one.

I noticed that everyone seemed extremely happy, as well. I relate this back to the psychology of the Italian culture, mainly religion, and how practicing religion can help people feel satisfied, content with life, and give people a sense of belonging. Living in a less individualistic society like Italy, tradition is essential and is fully passed down from generation to generation. The extravagance of the cathedral really put into perspective the importance of religion in people’s lives. It was incredibly beautiful and for some reason stood out more than any other church we’ve seen on our visit thus far. I feel that being inside the cathedral for a short amount of time, my perspective on the world and other people has been altered completely. It felt serene and like nothing could come between anybody, regardless of their physical differences and origins.


The Duomo, which is the dome section of the cathedral, was particularly impressive. Climbing to the top was quite a challenge, however extremely worth it. I love overhearing people cheering one another on and encouraging others to complete the challenging task, regardless of the various fears (there were some tight spaces). Seeing the view from the top was incredible and really captured all of Florence.  There was a rewarding feeling once reaching the top. While looking down from the dome and seeing everything function on ground-level, I couldn’t help but to think how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.  Unnecessary issues going on nowadays are not worth our energy; we should just enjoy time together on this planet while we are still here. Perhaps seeing everyone in the cathedral coexist peacefully provoked this abstract thought; and if climbing up 400 steps led me to this eye-opening realization, then so be it!