A Student's Perspective: TMU Italy

By Keith Brooks, Class of 2018

The name of the Lord is…

I’m in a tower. The tower is about 60 feet tall and overlooks the Mugello valley, an hour northeast of Florence, Italy. The tower is 1,000 years old. The tower was originally a military outpost, but by the time of the Renaissance it was only one part of a villa built around the tower. Today it is my favorite thing in the whole world. I’m sitting here at the top as the sun is setting, writing, drinking aqua frizzante, and now the smell of Mrs. Horner’s cooking reaches my nose and fills the whole villa. When dinner is ready, someone will ring the bell that sits on the patio of the second floor just outside my room. The food will be delicious, the evening long. Candles will be lit, and everyone will retreat back to the tower. By ten o’clock, the moon will be up. This is Italy, and the best part is that it counts as college credit.

I remember sitting in chapel one morning. The Indiana Jones theme began to play. Dr. Grant Horner ran up the right aisle to the stage and announced The Master’s University in Italy study abroad program, a six-week program where students tour the country and take Socratic style classroom discussions. Eleven of us signed up to be the guinea pigs of Dr. Horner and Professor Chua’s Italy experiment. If you have been at The Master’s University for a while, you probably have seen Dr. Horner. If you have never taken one of his classes you have probably seen him walking, at a moderately fast pace, up and down Quigley Canyon in his Indiana Jones hat, and wondered who this mysterious man was. Even if you have taken one of his classes, you are probably still wondering who he is.

I’m in Art History. The class is held in the dining room. The dining room is cold, there is a fireplace but it is not lit. The floor is stone and the walls are yellow. On the left wall is a door that leads to a servant’s hallway that goes to the kitchen. Dr. Horner has closed the windows and turned the lights off, making the dining room completely dark. He then shows us slides of art and we discuss them. For an hour and a half, six of us watch his face, half lit from the TV screen, like a less murderous Hannibal Lecter, as he tells us about the story of Orpheus, the fascination artists had with images, the Allegory of Seeing and Rene Magritte. Other days are not like this. Some days we are outside, discussing Calvin and his Institutes; some days we just drive around the countryside littered with biker taverns where one can get a panini, guided by Europe’s board game road signs. Every two or three days, all 15 of us—11 students, Dr. Horner, his wife and daughter, and Professor Chua—take a train into Florence. Led by Dr. Horner, we march into the city that itself is art met with history. “Follow the hat” is the phrase, so we “follow the hat,” whether it is Horner’s iconic fedora, Chua’s sun hat, or classmate Evan Roger’s ball cap, as he towers above most Europeans at 6’4”. “Follow the hat” we obey.

Our days in the city consist of art museums, more than our heads can handle and our stomachs can stomach. As we walk through Florence, Dr. Horner orients us to the layout of the city. This is the Baptistery. Here is the Ponte Vecchio. Right where you are standing is where they burned Savonarola alive. The humble Duomo—humble in the way that Moses was humble, not because of its poorness, but because of its unspokenness: did I even know what the Duomo was before this trip, did I ever see a picture?—is enough to make your mind go numb; so is eating gelato while sitting on the banks of the Arno River. After a few days, the city begins to make sense to me. I mention to Dr. Horner how fast I figured this out. “Yeah, I’ve purposely been leading you through different paths every day,” he says. “It helps you figure out how to get around the city better.”

At night, some of us retreat back to the tower. We light candles to keep the bugs away and we do homework. The tower has a three-foot-tall wall all around. We recite Latin back and forth; some of my classmates write their travel essays. Some nights, Dr. Horner joins us. He sits and works on his computer, or reads with his book light. He listens to our bad jokes and sometimes participates. One night, the full moon was out. Dr. Horner and I looked at it through my binoculars. He told me what the names of the craters were and we reminisced about the telescopes we owned as kids. Small thin clouds pass in front of the moon and move on. The image stuck in my mind until the next day when I read in the book of Job, “He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud.” I was reminded why all of this matters. The name of the Lord is…

Today Dr. Horner kicked Evan and me out of the tower. He had some calls to make, he said. Evan and I retreated outside. From the top he called out to us: “That was the easiest tower takeover ever.” And a few minutes later, “For strength and honor!”—a quote from Gladiator. “For those about to die, we salute you,” I yelled back. It was a cool Italian day. The humidity was low, and there was a strong breeze. “This tower makes a great office!” we heard him say with glee in his voice, his computer on the edge of the wall, his head peeking up to look at us. We could only agree. He didn’t say much more. I sank into my reading and after a while Evan went inside. “You know,” I heard above me, “I think I’ll get this same villa next year.” He was standing on the edge, leaning on the column, looking down at me. I watched until he jumped back into the tower. I was confused at first because I’ve heard him talk about wanting to get a bigger villa next year so more people can come. But it was the tower. How can one pass up the tower?

…A strong tower.

For more information about TMU Italy or other study abroad opportunities at The Master’s University, click here.

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