Casten Trip to Italy 2023


Credit: Katherine Chen

Students on the Grand Canal in Venice.

During spring break, a group of Hackley students went on a Casten trip to Italy. Students traveled to Rome, Florence, and the Vatican.

For those interested in upcoming Casten trips, it is important to know that the application process is relatively simple. There exists a well-established process for the Casten trip in the fall which consists in filling out a form and video where you speak about your interest in the trip. The trip differs from regular learning because it is done as a community and done together. The trip requires learning and teaching each other and that is taken into consideration when selections are being made. When selecting students, they keep many questions in mind: Who would benefit from it, and what would the students contribute? Casten trips are held annually at different locations and there is a new topic of the trip each year. This year’s topic of the trip was “Citizenship; Ancient and Modern”.

One of the chaperones, Classics Chair Chris Sheppard spoke about the experience of facilitating a trip like the 2023 Casten Trip and why these opportunities are so important and valuable. Mr. Sheppard believes that these opportunities go right to the heart of their mission, learning from various perspectives, through the Casten trip.

Credit: Katherine Chen
The group visited the Museo Fortuny while in Venice

Mr. Sheppard’s personal highlight of the trip was being able to see students come together and support each other in everything they did during their time abroad. Mr. Sheppard shared that there weren’t many bumps in the road as the group planned meticulously for this trip. He shared that one of the things they made as a requirement was no checked luggage, only carry-on because they did not want to go all the way in a foreign country and sit in a car while they were stuck with luggage. Mr. Sheppard commends the group for embracing that spirit, as they averaged 8 ½ miles of walking per day. The only real challenge was one day when the schedule was a bit crowded, and the group was a bit exhausted. The group learned from that experience and moved forward and enjoyed the rest of their trip. “For me, the trip was one of the most memorable experiences of my career, ” Mr. Sheppard said.

Mr,  Sheppard was joined by co-chaperones Erica Jablon of the history department and English Department Chair Richard Robinson as they flew with the group out of JFK airport and headed for Italy. Their first destination was Rome, where they did a lot of sightseeing and visits to historical gems.

The first stop after checking into the hotel was the renowned Colosseum. After the Colosseum, the students visited a few more famous landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Largo Di Torre Argentina. In addition to actually being able to visit these wonderful artifacts, students spent a significant amount of time learning about the rich history and importance behind these landmarks.

On the second day of the trip, the group visited the Capitoline Museum, Forum Romanum and Palatine Hill, and the Church of San Clemente. For lunch, the group decided on pizza, which is an obligation when visiting Italy. After enjoying a delicious lunch with classmates and teachers, the group was able to get a walking tour of the historic Jewish Quarter & Piazza Navona. 

During the ultimate day of Rome, which was deemed a favorite by some of the students, the group visited Ostia Antica. Ostia Antica was once the principal port of Rome and became a place of great strategic and commercial importance in the Mediterranean area. During this trip, the students visited a number of remarkable ruins.  Many of the students appreciated how fortunate they were to see many significant artifacts of history firsthand. For them, it was a lot different from learning about it online or seeing photos in a textbook. Next, the students visited the Vatican and its museums in addition to the famous Basilica San Pietro.

“On our last day of Rome, after visiting Ostia, we headed to the Vatican,” said Senior Esther Choi, “We were an hour late but Mr. Sheppard (with his amazing Italian) was able to get us through the gates. My favorite part was the gallery of maps, an extremely long hallway of maps and thousands of paintings on the ceiling.”

Credit: Katherine Chen
The group standing in front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

The next day, the group took a train to Florence and checked in to their hotel. Their first stop in Florence was the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to some of the world’s most famous sculptures, paintings, and artifacts. After that, the students visited the world-class museum Galleria dell’Accademia where students were able to visit Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David.

Esther felt that this day was another favorite. “In the Uffizi Gallery, I turned slightly to my right and there it was. The Birth of Venus. It was stunning to see in person,” she said,  “Next we went to the Academia Gallery. I was surprised once again to see The David standing right there. We were all startled by its sudden appearance and we took a long look at it from different angles.”

After Florence, the students took a train to Venice and had a scenic lunch on the train. After that, the students took a Vaporetto along the Grand Canal. The students took a walking tour of the central Venice Piazza San Marco. Afterward, the group stopped at Florian’s for tea and coffee. The students spent the rest of the day shopping and strolling around Venice. Later in the day, the students visited Galleria dell’Accademia of Venice.

They spent the Friday in Venice, visiting museums and taking classes. The students took a glass-blowing class where they were taught skills on how to glass blow. Prior to the demo, the students visited the Glass Museum. The students had lunch and then visited Museum Fortuny and the Ruskin House, which many students enjoyed. They were able to see the previous home of the infamous Medici family. Finally, they visited the Conversazione Calabrone Rialto Bridge which stretchers over the Grand Canal & Frari Church which is the largest church in all of Venice.

Junior Katherine Chen said this Friday was one of her favorite days. In particular, Katherine enjoyed traveling to Venice and doing a glass-blowing class. Another visit that piqued her interest was the Museo Fortuny, where the students visited a museum in Venice that was staged as a walk-through of a man’s house. Additionally, many students enjoyed the many nighttime gelato runs after convincing the chaperones. The students visited many shops during their time in Italy and bought many souvenirs to remember the incredible Casten trip. Katherine went to a store in Venice that she instantly fell in love with and bought a handmade gilded journal as it encapsulated the beautiful aesthetic of Italy in a small souvenir.

On their penultimate day in Europe, the group took a Vaporetto to the Ghetto and got a walking tour of the area. Once the group was finished there, they took the train to Milan where they got a walking tour of the city. The group made a stop at Duomo & Galleria Vittoria Emanuele which is an old shopping center and landmark. After they visited Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, a historic library. After their stop, they continued their walking tour.

On their final day, the group packed their bags and headed to the airport to conclude their trip. When the Casten trip returned the students shared their experience with the greater community. Students gave a presentation in the lower school and answered questions about the trips. The students spoke about how fortunate we are to be able to learn from various perspectives. The Casten Trips at Hackley stress the importance of our values: “United we help one another.”  After the trip, the students made sense of these things with one another and spoke about their experiences and ideas. Through discussion, the students attempt to push ideas and perspectives further. During the trip, the students shared updates about their experiences.