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A summer study-abroad course in Italy brought history to life for several USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology students as part of GERO 493, “Longevity and Death among Ancient and Modern European Populations.”

The course, led by USC Leonard Davis School Associate Professor Susan Enguídanos, provided a look at ancient and modern cultures in terms of longevity, health behaviors and practices surrounding death, especially the role of religion and culture in determining and defining death practices, ceremonies, and other customs.

Class discussions and field trips to cemeteries and other sites explored the connections between religious and afterlife beliefs and historical body disposal practices, Enguídanos said. The class also discussed how the discoveries of ancient humans and bodies that have been preserved illuminate the connection between diet, health, and disease and how ancient customs have influenced modern day lifestyles, aging patterns, and end-of-life practices.

Students praised the course as “life-changing”:

IMG_3841I encountered so many wonderful people in this study-abroad class (Dr. Enguídanos, classmates, Italians, and other people who visited Italy) that I shall never forget how blessed I am for this opportunity… Dr. Enguídanos embraced every student’s learning curve and taught this class in a way where questions could be asked freely, and she answered those questions with the utmost professionalism and love. Her ability to connect with her students was amazing, and with that my experiences while studying abroad were amazing.

The most surprising thing that I learned was my ability to embrace death and death practices in a manner that I had never considered, such as touring cemeteries to learn important information concerning how people were buried and/or preserved after their death. Prior to taking this course, I would have never visited a cemetery because my level of comfort was extremely low.

I traveled to Italy a bit nervous because of the “unknown”, but I left Italy feeling excited about making changes in the world (research, clinical practices, and direct services). I have always believed that I was placed on this earth to do something that would help others, but studying abroad caused me to know without a shadow of doubt that my God-given calling is to continue to research and advocate for others, even when the work gets harder and barriers are in my way, and to never give up, to remember my passion and fight for others who are unable to fight for themselves. In essence, taking GERO 493 re-lit/recharged my passion and fire to help others. I initially took the class to go to Italy, but I gained way more than the thought process of “just going to Italy;” I learned immensely every day for 3 weeks for 24 hours a day, and I loved every moment of it. 

— PreciousToni Jackson MSG/MSW ’17


IMG_3493I planned on learning much about ancient burial practices, but I never imagined I would learn so much about people, especially the USC family that I was so fortunate to travel with… We will always have the memories to share together and the experiences that will always connect us. I would have to say the connections made with fellow Trojans was the most important part of my travels. 

Visiting the Vatican was definitely a top experience for me. It was incredible to be able to be there during the Jubilee as well—when the Holy Doors are open. This only happens once every 25 years, and it just so happened I was there! 

If you are looking for a class that is full of reading textbooks or articles, and raising your hand to answer questions—I’m sorry, but this class is not for you. If you are looking to open your mind, push yourself to the limit, bond with fellow Trojans, and make incredible friendships alongside an amazing and dedicated professor—this class is just for you! I always wanted to study abroad but never was able to during my undergraduate studies. This three-week course will change your outlook on life and enhance your self-confidence while giving you an education that you cannot receive in the classroom or online. I would take this course again in a heartbeat! Totally worth it!

Roberta Peterson MSG ’17

Check out more images from the class’ travels:


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