After studying Latin since 9th grade, Classics concentrator Brian Patrick ’13 finally had the opportunity to apply his language skills in a real world setting when he studied abroad in Rome, 44 BCE. Patrick was surrounded by not only fellow Classics majors but also by students from a variety of disciplines, including Public Policy and Economics, who had only taken Latin because they heard it was so practical.
Before studying abroad in Rome, Patrick’s spoken Latin was limited mostly to the Ratty “Latin Table,” where Brown students can practice their conversational Latin skills with international time-traveling students from ancient Rome. But once Patrick arrived in Rome, Latin became his primary language.
“I tried to start a Tumblr to keep in touch with my friends at home,” he said, “but my laptop died after three hours. And there were no outlets to charge it. Anywhere. In the world.”
Patrick did try to take advantage of his location to travel through Europe. “My friends told me about all the discount airlines, but all we could find was this guy headed to Gaul on his wagon. We only meant to spend the weekend but ended up missing a week of classes because the wagon ride took so long.”
To add insult to injury, the Romans had already sacked Gaul in 52 BCE. “There weren’t any cool clubs to go to or anything,” said Patrick of the slaughter of thousands of Gauls.
Patrick tried not to use his Latin-to-English traveler’s phrasebook when mingling with the locals on the street, in the marketplace or while watching gladiators fight to the death in the arena. However, when he began his internship with the Roman Senate, he found his Ancient Greek more useful than his Latin.
Professors often recommend that Classics undergraduates study Ancient Greek for its sheer applicability. Because members of the Roman Senate speak Greek fluently, knowledge of the language can open many professional opportunities abroad — if you travel two millennia back in time.
The Roman Senate immersed Patrick fully in the ancient culture. “Before the internship, I’d been mostly surrounded by fellow Brown students. But now, when I brought up something like the V-Dub or electricity, they would look at me like I was crazy. It really hit me that I was 3,000 miles from home and 2,000 years in the past.”
Patrick remembers the feelings of alienation that come from being from both another country and the future. “There were little things like the togas that everybody wore. All the senators had these super-nice, white togas with a purple border that was colored with a dye from North Africa. In comparison, the bed sheet I’d bought beforehand at Bed Bath & Beyond seemed so shabby.”
But there were also certain Roman customs foreign to Patrick, such as unbridled violence and stabbings.
“I guess they didn’t tell me because I was the intern, but when I was at the Senate there was a plot to murder this one guy, Julius Caesar. A bunch of senators just rushed up and stabbed him, and nobody even got in trouble.”
Although studying abroad was a life-changing experience, Patrick admits that he’s happy to return to the comforts of home, where he’s pretty sure no one will stab him.