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Student Reflection: Go Encounter Italy

Go Encounter photo from Italy

A week after spring classes ended, nine Grace College students, along with Professor of Pastoral Studies Dr. Rock LaGioia, and his wife, Kathy, departed for Italy. The six-day trip highlighted the living history of Italy and the connections between modern Christianity’s heritage and the history of Western society, according to student Ethan Horst. “Ancient history came alive in a pretty magical way,” Horst said. “It was overwhelming to realize we were passing Vespas and cars along streets that Paul or Peter could have walked on.”

A monument in a public square in Herculaneum.

A monument in a public square in Herculaneum.

The group first landed in Naples and immediately started exploring the history of the region. They visited Herculaneum, the ancient city at the foot of modern-day Naples that was covered by mud and lava when Pompeii erupted. They also toured catacombs under Naples that held ancient frescos of saints and bishops, along with a chapel and baptistery from Roman times. “It was powerful to think about early Christians worshiping and gathering together in the underground sanctuary because that was the only place that they could meet,” Horst said.

The group toured the Basilica of San Pietro ad Aram and visited the catacombs and chapel underneath the church. “Our tour guide made the experience even more incredible. She attended services at the church, but it was her first time to experience the history underneath it – the same as us,” Horst said. “Her joy was contagious.”

The ruins of a temple on the hill at the top of Pompeii.

The ruins of a temple on the hill at the top of Pompeii.

The students finished their time in Naples with a visit to Pompeii and a meal where locals call “the best pizza restaurant in the world.” L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele has been in business since the 19th Century and gained recent exposure after being featured in the book and movie Eat Pray Love. “The pizza is as good as its reputation. It might even be better,” said Horst.

Students spent a night at the Foro Appio Mansio Hotel, which is built on one of the locations where believers met Paul in Acts 28:15, and drove past the other, Tres Tabernae, on the way to Rome. “That morning set the tone for much of the rest of the day,” Horst said. “We first toured the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, where many people believe Paul is buried, and then traced his steps back to the Mamertine Prison, where he wrote 2 Timothy while awaiting execution. I was humbled and in awe of the history and personal impact of those locations.”

The view from the seats inside the Colosseum. Students also experienced the Roman Forum and the Colosseum while in Rome. “That night, we split up for dinner,” Horst said. “After the weighty history and large crowds of tours, it was great to blend in with a small group of friends and experience a normal night in Rome. The food and coffee were excellent, but it was a challenge to order in Italian.”

The next day, the group visited the Trevi Fountain and the shops around it, before driving to Spoleto, a small hill town, and overnighting before heading to Florence. In their final day of the trip, they embarked on a tour of art landmarks, including the baptistry of San Giovanni, whose east doors were sculpted by Pisano and whose south doors were sculpted by Michelangelo. They also viewed the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that houses the gold market in Florence and the only bridge to survive World War II, the Medici Chapels, and the Cathedral Museum, which holds the originals of many priceless masterpieces of Italy. “The artistry and talent displayed were breathtaking,” Horst said. “I’m in awe that our God inspired so many masterpieces.”

The Trevi fountain at noon, when many tourists crowd around the landmark.

The Trevi fountain at noon, when many tourists crowd around the landmark.

Horst is a senior at Grace studying journalism. “Go Encounter Italy focused my plans for the future,” Horst said. “As a writer, I have an even greater passion to connect people from around the globe with other cultures, experience, and wisdom. As a Christian, I’m humbled and inspired to have walked in the literal footsteps of the apostles.”

In addition to study abroad opportunities, all undergraduate programs at Grace include a mandatory cross-cultural field experience.  Many students choose to fulfill this requirement through a Go Encounter trip to a variety of destinations, which include Italy, Ecuador, Egypt, England, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Bahamas. Grace’s staff and faculty lead these seven-to-10 day trips on which students explore native cultures and serve diverse communities.

For more information about Go Encounter Trips and other global opportunities at Grace, visit call 574-372-5100, ext. 6133.  For questions, email

Tagged With: 2018 Archives, Career Preparation, Christian College, School of Arts and Humanities, Service, Study Abroad