Senior Spencer Scott's campus in Rome where he took a three-week Latin class over the summer. (Photo courtesy of Scott)

Cavs around the world: Senior takes three-week Latin course in Rome

In the “Cavs around the World” series, students discuss their summer internships, jobs, volunteer work and classes.

Senior Spencer Scott took a three-week course called “Latin in Rome.”

Q: How did you find out about this opportunity?

A: My mom and I were looking for a Latin summer program because I was just finishing up Latin III. She found this one through the University of Dallas, and we thought it would be interesting. So we asked (former Latin teacher Jane Batarseh about it) last year. She had to write a recommendation letter and say that my Latin abilities were up to the (task).

Q: Other than the letter of recommendation, were there any steps required for you to qualify?

A: I had to write an essay. Once we actually got to the program, they sent us diagnostics: an English diagnostic and Latin diagnostic. We had to basically translate the Latin as best we could and decipher a Robert Frost poem as best we could, and they graded us on both of those.

Q: What were your day-to-day activities?

A: Since the class was in Rome, we spent quite a bit of time bussing around Rome. It was basically a three-day structure. The first two days, (we) spent the first half of the day in Rome, looking at stuff like the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica — the really cool stuff. Then we’d have a tutorial later in the day. But on the third day, we would have a tutorial in the morning and a tutorial later.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of the course?

A: The hardest part was to prepare for the tutorials. We’d be translating a certain section, and we had to prepare for it by learning all the vocabulary in that section. My friend and I would always look up the words and write down (things) about the word so we’d have some idea of what it means.

It was hard. The final could be six passages, from any one of the texts we read, and we read quite a few. I had to gamble on which passages I actually could remember and do correctly versus the passages (that) didn’t make sense to me. It was stressful, but we all kind of banded together.

Q: How was this Latin course different from one at Country Day?

A: (Here), we haven’t really gotten to the level that we were at (in) the Rome class. At Country Day, it’s mostly been Latin grammar. But (in Rome), we were reading Latin authors like Tacitus and Suetonius, and it was much more focused on translation because it was kind of assumed already that you (knew grammar) going in.

We did have little classes on the off-days to go (over things) like what a gerundive is, what a participle is — little refreshers. 

Q: What cultural differences did you notice?

A: On one hand, there was the Italian culture, which was (that) you woke up very early, and you went to bed kind of late. But there was also that downtime in the middle where you slept. I never slept. That’s why I was tired constantly. 

Also, coffee: It’s a huge part of their culture. When people make jokes about Italian pasta, they’re not kidding. We went to a supermarket, and the entire wall was pasta.

Q: Was it difficult communicating in a foreign country?

A: Communicating was a little bit interesting because some of the kids knew Spanish. A couple of girls in the Shakespeare program (that was connected with ours) were fluent, and they just spoke Spanish because Italian and Spanish are very similar. It was really interesting. One of my friends would converse with the waiters in Spanish, and it would work — barely.

Q: Did you get to know the other participants in the class well?

A: There’s one kid I met from Brooklyn; his name is Jack. We spent one night in Dallas and then all flew together to Rome. He was my roommate in Dallas and also in the room across from me in Rome. We became pretty good friends because (we were) in the same translation group, and we have very similar tastes in music. So on the long bus rides, we’d just be blaring metal music, and everyone kind of hated us by the end.

(I had two) roommates named Patrick and Alec. They’re both really nice guys, and we’re all friends.

Also, a majority of the kids at this camp were Catholic. Patrick knew all the theology — it was his thing. I went for a run, and I sat down with this group of kids. They started doing this Catholic morning prayer, and I didn’t know any of that stuff. They were all doing that, and I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Q: Did your experience increase your understanding of and interest in Latin?

A: Yes. Latin was always an interesting (subject) for me. I never really had all the material fully memorized. I would just use my book whenever I needed it.

(In Rome) we had a whole quiz on all the different pronouns in Latin and all the different verb conjugations — we had to memorize everything. It was hard. But learning that and then being able to apply it in the translation well felt great.

The translations were really pretty. We translated Virgil, who was a poet. His “Aeneid” is only really readable in the original Latin. You can’t read it in English.

A specific point on how Latin is different: One of the things we read by Suetonius was “Death of Caesar,” and it’s two paragraphs. The first paragraph doesn’t reference Caesar’s name until halfway through, yet he is the main subject. It’s only ever referenced like “the Sitting One.” Whenever I found an English translation, it always just had “Caesar” there, and it’s not the same. There’s a lot of different (nuances) in Latin.

By Ethan Monasa

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