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Postcards from Rome - Pt1

When Gaetano first told me he was a civil engineer, my only response was a very skeptical snort. The thousands of cautionary tales of amorous, wily Italian men had made me suspicious of even the most innocent words. But as we walked past the Pantheon that warm Roman evening, his technical knowledge (and his inherent Italian charm) persuaded me that he was the real deal.

When I first set out for Rome my goals were to observe the ways of its citizens, and learn as much as I could from its years of civilization, architecture and engineering. I also wanted a working knowledge of the Italian language, so I made a point of talking to locals whenever I could. I felt like the ancient gods had given me a boon that evening when I bumped into Gaetano the civil engineer.

He refused to speak anything but English; he wanted to practice, he said. We made a deal; I would speak in my halting Italian and he would reply in his perfect, accented English. From this interesting and fairly slow conversation I gathered that Gaetano was 26, and had worked with a civil engineering firm in Rome for three years. He had been a project engineer for a few minor ventures but the next one was to be his biggest yet. His firm is “exporting” him to Morocco to act as project supervisor for a highway extending from Rabat in the north to the edges of the Sahara in the south.

As we chatted I was astounded by Gaetano’s linguistic ability. Besides being fluent in his native Italian, he knows English, French and Spanish, and is learning Moroccan Arabic.

My encounter with the multilingual Italian had left quite an impression on me. The world is constantly globalizing; it seemed to me Italians are very aware of the fact that economic success hinges on a healthy respect for the international market. Gaetano’s multilingualism made him a prized asset of his firm; I believe fluency in several languages is also a desirable trait to have in corporate America.

Thankful as I am to have witnessed Rome’s architectural marvels in person, I am even more grateful for that brief encounter. It reminded me that engineering needs more than just technical prowess; it also needs a dose, if not more, of basic human communication.

Idah Mansor,
Senior, Civil Engineering


This past weekend a few of my classmates and I took a day trip to the small town of Pisa.  From the moment I arrived at Pisa’s main train station, I was excited to explore the many attractions Pisa had to offer. Our voyage began with an excursion through the main street of Pisa were an abundance of gelato shops, pizzerias, and clothing stores catered to the public. 
L-R: Guillermo Garcia, Tricia Gibo, Jeff Keiser and May Chan in front of the leaning tower of Pisa.

As we reached the end of the long and narrow road, I was welcomed by the overwhelming sight of Pisa’s famous leaning tower.  This marble giant soars high into the skyline and captivates everyone’s attention.  At first glance, I was astonished with its aesthetic beauty.  As I began to get closer to the tower, I couldn’t help but enjoy the engineering behind this building.  The original plans for the tower never intended it to lean.  During the first five years of construction, engineers realized that the ground beneath the tower could not support its weight.  For the past 832 years, engineers have been developing different methods to prevent the tower from toppling over.

As I stood at the base of the tower, I could not wait to “hold” the tower in place.  As my friend fumbled with the camera to get the perfect angle, I was hypnotised by the beauty of the basilica to the right.  Its marble walls and immense stature displayed a sense of power that is magnified in person.  After struggling to coordinate between the passing crowds, we were victorious in “holding” up the tower. 
 As an engineering student, it is such a great opportunity to actually view the designs created by the engineers of the past.  Seeing their accomplishments in person really captivates the perfection of their work.  Whether it be the leaning tower of Pisa or the Colosseum of Rome, Italy is home to some of the most breathtaking wonders in engineering history. Until next time!!!

Guillermo Garcia

I cannot even begin to express how much I love the city of Rome.  Every aspect of this city is full of intrigue and excitement.  Rome is such an expansive city, and there is still so much I have yet to explore.  I’ve stood at the base of the immense Coliseum, beneath the towering dome of the Pantheon as the light spills through the oculus, and amid the ancient ruins of the vast Roman Forum.  But there are still many monuments, churches, museums, and (of course) the Sistine Chapel that await my visit.  Rome is so much larger than I had ever imagined, and I only hope I have enough time to fully explore the city.

On the other hand, after looking at Rome on a smaller scale, I found a few particular aspects of the city to be quite small (at least compared to American standards).  Starting from the living quarters, many aspects of the apartments here are a lot smaller than what we Americans are accustomed to.  It takes both culinary and acrobatic skills in order for three people to cook in the kitchen at once.  And forget about taking a bath – the showering facilities here are standing room only.  But this experience of living in a European-size apartment is all part of the fun of studying abroad in Italy, and I’ve actually gotten quite used to it.

Once you step foot outside the apartments, you are hit with the beauty and excitement of the busy and bustling atmosphere of this historic city.  Other than Rome’s major streets, many of its roads are actually narrow side streets, bedecked with old cobblestone and lined with the rising buildings.  The narrow streets are in turn complimented with the tiny Smart cars (whose size reminds me of the Playskool car I had as a kid) and the vast numbers of mopeds.  And crossing the streets amid all of the traffic during the busy hours of the day can be considered an art itself. 

In the midst of all of these various culture differences, the first thing that took me by surprise was the large percentage of the Italian population that uses mopeds as their primary means of transportation.  It’s actually quite amusing to see business men and women riding their mopeds to work, and young children sporting their oversized helmets while seated in front of their parents.  In the United States, I am so used to seeing humongous SUVs and mid-size cars (which would be considered large here in Italy) barreling down the roads, with the occasional motorcycle.  But with the way the city and its streets are constructed, it is often more convenient to drive a moped in Rome.  It seems much easier to maneuver such a small vehicle in the narrow streets and alleys.  In addition, the streets are often so congested, and it is the moped-riders who are able to take advantage of any available open space, weaving in and out of traffic.  And seeing how Rome can get so hot during the summer, those riding mopeds use this to their advantage to get to their destinations as quickly as possible.

Mopeds also consume less gas and emit less pollutants, which can help to save the riders money, while being more environmentally friendly.  While mopeds may not be able to reach as high speeds as those of cars found in America, the streets and traffic often do not seem to allow for such speeds anyway.

Although mopeds may not be the most practical mode of transportation in the United States, and I’m sure few Americans would be willing to part with their beloved automobiles, it is interesting to see how mopeds conveniently fit the Italian way of life.  But who knows, I may just have to trade in my car for a little moped and have some fun zooming around the streets of California.

That’s it for now…Arrivederci!

Tricia Gibo

This past weekend we travelled to Sorrento/ Capri/ Pompeii. I was taken away by beauty of Sorrento. As I looked over to the Mediterranean Sea as we wound up the road on our huge bus, I realized I had embarked on a place of absolute beauty. I was eager to go exploring when I looked out of our room and saw the gorgeous view of the city. After a cappuccino and pastry, we set out to observe the magnificence in this beach town.  While walking we noticed the numerous lemon products, from lemon pasta to the famed limoncella. Well, what is the deal with these lemons? I thought to myself. After discovering that these lemons are of such high quality, that they are protected by the European Union, my interest was piqued.
After finding a lemon garden, we went to the back to find a very friendly woman who was selling homemade limoncella products. Because I had heard so much about these products, especially limoncella, I figured it was a good time to buy some souvenirs. After buying some bottles, the vendor gave us some home grown lemons used to make the limoncella. Eager to try, I immediately cut one open and tasted. The verdict…happiness inside my mouth, these truly were the best lemons I had ever had. So I began wondering, what makes them so delicious? After some research and discovery I found there is a true process behind the cultivation of these lemons.    
The lemon tree used to grow these egg shaped lemons originated in India and are cultivated by a unique process to the area. They are ripened under a pagliarelle, a straw mat attached to wooden poles. This structure helps to protect the foliage from the atmospheric substances, such as the salty air and drops in temperature, and allows the lemons to ripen over a longer period of time.  Because they are protected by the pagliarelle, they do not over-ripen and because of the slow ripening time become much sweeter. The fruit is then hand picked so they do not hit the ground and bruise. Although the process is simple for the cultivation of these lemons it is quite interesting and I definitely enjoyed their wonderful taste.
Alla prossima!
Kirstin Harper-Smith
Senior, Civil Engineering

From sun bathing on the beach in Capri, to rushing to class on the bus in downtown Rome through pouring rain and thunderstorms, being in Italy has been a life-changing trip for me.  This trip is a great opportunity for me and the other engineering students to not only study, but to do so in a different environment, while exploring a new country and learning about its culture and history.  It has been difficult juggling sight-seeing and studying, but having this chance to take classes in a different country is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  Being able to immerse myself in Italian culture, whether it’s eating pizza or pasta for lunch to having gelato whenever the time is right, or trying to communicate with the locals at the open air market, is the best way to learn about and relate to it.
Adam, Donavan and Chris assume Olympian poses in the ruins of Pompeii.

Another way to learn about the Italian culture is to visit the historic sites in Italy.  For example, this past weekend, we visited the ancient city of Pompeii.  When Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 A.D., Pompeii was engulfed in cinders and volcanic ash.  Thousands of people who did not flee the city when Vesuvius started to erupt died and were entombed in volcanic ash.  The city remained in this preserved state until 1750, when remains of the city were discovered. 
Archeologists have discovered many homes, temples, and household objects.  Even human bodies were found in the ruins, keeping the person frozen in time, moments before their untimely death.  While the story of Pompeii may be a tragic event, the preservation of the city due to the volcanic eruption has allowed us to learn of how the ancients lived and constructed their homes.  We may not know as much about ancient Italian life without having uncovered these ruins.

Walking through the ruins of the city, it was interesting to see the construction of the people homes and learning of how they lived their lives.  We walked through various parts of the city, walking through homes and theaters which showed little damage despite their age.  The end of our tour led us to the forum, which included a great view of Mount Vesuvius, and temples which retained their structural integrity through many centuries.  Even though these ruins were discovered about 250 years ago, and we were able to explore a lot of the city, I am still amazed that a large amount of Pompeii has yet to be uncovered by archeologists. 
Being in a different country allows me to learn about a new culture first-hand and to learn of the different opinions Italians have from Americans.  As an engineer, we may not only be making decisions in the interest of the United States, our choices may affect those across the world.  Programs like the Viterbi Overseas Program allows us to become aware of different feelings other countries have on ethic problems that do not only affect the United States.  We also can learn about the different engineering techniques that other countries practice, from the Roman architecture to the way cars are made to adapt to traffic in Italy.  This trip allows us as undergraduate engineers a unique way to experience different cultures while remaining in an educational setting.
Shawn Matsumoto
Electrical Engineering


The Island of Capri 
Home of Short Pants and Long Memories
USC Viterbi students found time to visit the Isle of Capri.
This past weekend, a few dozen students awoke, excited and eager for a weekend.  However, this was no ordinary weekend, and these were no ordinary students.  These were 33 undergraduate engineering students on the USC Viterbi overseas program. The weekend was going to be filled with the vibrant color and culture, sights and sounds, history and hot weather.  Pack your sun block boys and girls, because we are going to the beach city of Sorrento, the Isle of Capri and the historical city of Pompeii
The weekend began early Friday morning with a three-plus hour bus ride from Rome to Sorrento.  The bus was filled with the sounds of MP3 player music, card games, laughter and the occasional thermodynamic homework question.  The city of Sorrento, is city on a cliff, overlooking a beautiful turquoise Mediterranean sea.  The streets are paved with cobblestones, winding through the town, dotted with quaint little shops where you can sip a cappuccino and smell the ocean air.  The following morning, we boarded a boat for Capri.  A very wealthy and fashionable island, Capri has been visited by many influential world leaders, including Grokey, and Lenin.  Many plans for the Bolshevik revolution were hammered out here.
 Adam Anderson and Chris Roth returning from Sorrento.
Despite the all encompassing and almost intoxicating beauty of this isle, my academic character still persisted.  I began to wonder how this island obtained its resources, such as lumber, oil, and most importantly, water.  The demand for water has always been a problem for the residents of Capri for there are no natural water reserves.  As a result, conservation is an essential part of daily living. 
One example of their methods to conserve was through their water heating. The method that is used to heat residential water is more efficient, and more environmental friendly than the way many of us do in the states.  Each house has at least one heating device that heats the water the instant it’s needed.  Cold water is pumped from the city to the home directly to a heating device.  This device is usually a box .5m x .5m x 1m.  Inside the box are a series of copper pipes that are heated with a natural gas flame.  Because water is heated almost instantly, very little water is wasted while the sink or faucet runs, waiting for warm water.  In the U.S., many homes, including mine, have hot water heaters.  Any time I wanted to use warm water, I would have to turn on the faucet and wait minutes for the cold water to become hot. 
I feel that absorbing and learning from other cultures, and collaborating ideas is the best and most effective way to bring about a positive change.  Similar to the reason we work in groups for engineering projects, many different people can bring many different ideas to the table.  I would agree that it is important to have a sense of independence, and not be forced to rely on others 100 percent of the time.  Yet being modest enough, humble enough, and open enough to accept other ideas, as well as give your own input and assistance, is vitally important in engineering.
On the boat from Capri, back to Sorrento, I overheard many conversations.  Lots of people were regaling their friends and families of all the things they did that afternoon.  Dialogues between overzealous students, trying to one-up each other over who did the most with their ephemeral time on the island.  Moms claiming that they got the best deal on the “My mom went to Capri and all I got was this stupid t-shirt” t-shirt.  Dads boasting that they have the best picture on their digital camera.  I recall just watching, watching the island shrink farther and farther into the distance, thinking back to my day on the peaceful island.  The small narrow streets with their brightly colored houses, the lush vegetation growing from the nestling hill side, and the clear and refreshing Mediterranian.  The isle of Capri and the etire Italina experience has been filled with rich culture, and unfailing beauty.  This entiere experience will not soon be forgotten.
Adam Anderson


Dan Marsh, Joanne Zhang, May Chang and Donavan
Schaefer pose in front of the Viterbo sign. 
Our adventures in Italy continued last weekend as all the students, faculty, and friends with the engineering study abroad program loaded their tired bodies onto a bus for our first excursion.  Destination: “The City of Popes,” recognized better as the origin of the School of Engineering’s namesake, Viterbo.  Located only an hour-and-a-half northeast of Rome, Viterbo is the largest city in the province and is only second in size to Rome within the region of Lazio.
As we circled the outer walls of town, our expectations were already disproven. Despite a population of 62,000, Viterbo exuded small town charm; far from a scaled down version of its sister city Rome. We trekked through the dizzying maze or narrow cobblestone streets and reticent alleys while our tour guide, Donatella, gave us a uniquely tailored tour of this one time papal refuge. As we passed beautiful piazzas, walked under medieval archways, gazed upon ancient churches, Donatella carefully explained not only the historical significance, but the design, purpose, and even the reasoning behind using specific materials to build each.       
Always the engineer, I couldn’t help notice the universal thread in all of the city’s architecture; its purpose to protect. From the great walls surrounding the borders, the moats and trenches surrounding each palace, and the towers hovering over each manor, the entire city was built to protect its inhabitants. While several exceptions could be seen such as the intricately designed piazza fountains and the high arching ceilings of the cathedral, the majority of the city seemed engineered to promote a defensive stand. Our contemporary world and the early world of Viterbo seemed so distant, yet in many ways so similar.
In my field of Aerospace Engineering especially, the majority of development is geared towards some kind of militaristic purpose. I began to contemplate the importance of adequate defense and how far along our society has come in terms of ability to protect its people. The Viterbian’s architectural innovation was monumental when it was first developed, but as time went on, their defenses became outdated and the city fell with the rest of the Roman Empire. I realized that as engineers we must continue to develop and update our technologies and ability to protect ourselves so that we do not share the same fate.
As I watched Viterbo disappear through the back window of the bus as we headed home, I couldn’t help feeling an unfamiliar nostalgia for the quaint city. I shot one last glace at the Papal Palace, a stately monument hovering above the Italian countryside. With its fortified walls, religious significance, and unquestionable beauty, what better place to symbolize the strength of character, ethical morality, and confident grace of our student body. What a wonderful city. 
Calvin D’Silva, AEAN

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