Religious studies classes move to Rome for semester

Sophomore Nicole Lavina visits the Tower of Pisa with the URome program, on which she studied abroad for a semester. She said her travels influenced her to take a minor in religious studies. Photo Courtesy Nicole Lavina

The University of Miami recently extended its boundaries to Rome.

This spring, the Department of Religious Studies sponsored UM’s latest Semester-on-Location program, with help from the American University of Rome (AUR) to structure the program’s curriculum.

Twenty-one students and six faculty members of UM’s Department of Religious Studies traveled to Rome earlier this year for the program’s inaugural semester.

According to the program’s website, “URome provides students with a superb opportunity to study abroad in one of Europe’s oldest and most exciting cities.”

The URome program combines the academic opportunities of both University of Miami’s faculty-led courses, and those offered by the American University of Rome. The program consists of two three-credit courses taught by members of UM’s faculty. URome participants were required to take at least one of the UM-faculty led courses including All Roads Lead to Rome: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Religion and Rome” (REL 405) and “The Sanctity of Life: Selected Themes from the Ancient World to the Present” (REL 406), but could take both if they wished to do so. Also, students can take as many as four other courses of from AUR’s course offerings. All classes are taught in English, except the Italian language courses.

“I chose to take the All Roads Lead to Rome course, which gave me a lot of insight on world religions, led me to become interested in theology and get to know the different professors and their specialties,” said sophomore Nicole Lavina. “Additionally, the program influenced me to declare a minor in religious studies.”

URome participants took advantage of the holistic approach to learning through the AUR courses such as business psychology, business writing, Italian language and culture, archaeology and art history.

“Because of the wonderful teachers that I was exposed to and the intriguing topics we discussed, I now have a new major: Religion and Health,” said sophomore Kyle Brantley.

In addition to UM and AUR courses, URome tuition and program fees included pre-arranged housing and two UM-sponsored trips to Bologna and the Vatican.

“We all lived in apartments throughout Rome, mainly Trastevere and Monteverde, among actual Italians,” junior Daniella Escalona said.  “We were randomly assigned roommates and they ranged from UM students to other students studying abroad from across the United States.”

Students traveled around Italy and Europe through UM and AUR-sponsored excursions and through independent travel.

“I went on the weekends to places like Munich, Vienna, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast,” Escalona said. “The fact that we didn’t have classes on Fridays helped make most of these trips possible.”

Many students experienced the diversity of Italy visiting Venice for Carnivale, the Tuscany hill towns, Florence, Siena, Motalcino, Naples, Pompeii, Milan, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Assisi, and Tivoli.

Weekend destinations beyond the Italian borders included Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Bruges.

“Some of my best experiences were traveling,” Lavina said. “I visited Munich, Amsterdam, Monaco, Prague, some small towns in Tuscany, Pisa, Paris, the Amalfi coast and Madrid and participated on an international studies trip with the University to Serbia and Montenegro. I was able to meet several dignitaries and political party heads in those countries. The memories and encounters we had when traveling were priceless.”

While the program handles the difficulties of finding housing in a foreign country, no trip abroad is complete without a few trying scenarios.

“During the middle of the semester, our neighbors upstairs had a pipe that broke and our whole roof in the kitchen leaked…it was definitely a different experience but we made the best of it,” Lavina said.  “It was a great experience getting to live together and we became great friends.”

Not only did the UM students of URome adjust to life in a foreign country, but some students also lived through the less glamorous side of international travel. Kyle Brantley and Nicole Lavina discovered their connecting flight to Rome had been cancelled and were temporarily stuck in Madrid.

“I got off the plane in Madrid to discover that my connecting flight to Rome no longer existed. There were strikes going on (the first of many) and I would have to find a new flight to get me to Rome,” Brantley said.

Still, participants of the program agreed that the experience was well worth any challenges they faced along the way.

“Although it was daunting at first, this experience helped me meet amazing friends and explore other cultures,” Escalona said.

“It was incredible to live among world famous monuments, relics and archeological sites,” Lavina said. “Rome was our classroom. The Italian people were so friendly and the university’s student life center really helped me get involved with other students and better know the city that really made a difference in my time abroad.”

For more information about the URome program and other study abroad opportunities, visit