What it's like for an NSA Student to study abroad in Florence, Italy

Posted on November 1, 2018

New Saint Andrews College has a new study abroad agreement with the Master’s University in California. NSA students spend six weeks in the center of the Renaissance: Florence, Italy. Guided by professors Grant Horner and Esther Chua, for twelve credits they circle the central question of that time: “What is man?”

Traveling back to the heart of the Renaissance is something the polymaths of the time would respect—geographical ad fontes. Esther Edwards, the first New Saint Andrew’s student to attend the program, met her abroad group in LAX. They would soon experience Rome’s ruins, the quiet and car-less streets of Venice, 500-year-old vineyards, and a lot more. The students also explored Italy with their taste buds: “Professor Horner believes in good food, lots of good food,” says Esther. “He knew the best local restaurants.” Gelato is Esther’s fondest culinary memory.

The study abroad program enhances education. The Renaissance finds expression in the arts, architecture, and science, all of which should be studied in person. They are not simply ideas or data to collect, but things meant for holistic experience—they should touch the life of the student. This was important for Esther: “I have a visual imagination and the subjects came alive. They felt relevant and I took part in them.”

Engaging subjects with our whole person is “the way we are going to live most of our lives,” says Esther, “unlike the book-heavy times of college. In class we mostly encounter the world in books, studying abroad we experience the world of the books.” Going abroad is not just an adventure, it also serves academics.

The GPAs of study abroad students see a universal boost. The great majority also return with greater motivation, a sense of maturity, self-confidence, and patience for ambiguity.

The students stayed just north of Florence in the Villa Montazzi nestled in Mugello valley. From the Villa, it’s a thirty-minute train ride through gold and green Tuscany to Florence. One major point of interest was the Piazza Del Duomo, home of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and more. “Brunelleschi's work is a mind-boggling feat. He devised an entirely new way of building a dome. He had to invent machines to make it happen. Standing in its shadow impressed on me what it actually meant for people [of the day].”

The trip, says Esther, made one constantly mindful of Christian stories, Christian history. Much of the art functions as “visual exegesis.” Donatello’s Penitent Magdalene “looks so broken. The wood sculpture is yellowing. But her eyes convey incredible hope.” Whether correct or dubious, the storytelling of Renaissance art colors one’s faith in unique ways, encouraging and clarifying one's Christian wisdom.

Esther’s Latin came in very handy by providing some stepping stones for understanding the Italian language, but more importantly for fuller interpretation of the art and culture. “Latin inscriptions were everywhere.”

Toward the end of the trip, the students take a weekend break, visiting the seaside villages of Cinque Terre. The towns and vineyards are steeply terraced on coastal mountainsides, which the abroad group hiked and explored. And from a couple cliffs along the coast, they jumped into the warm Mediterranean.


The study abroad program is adventure and education, pleasure and business rolled into one trip. If you’re interested in studying abroad with New Saint Andrews through The Master’s University, visit https://www.masters.edu/italy.html.

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