Georgia College Front Page

Students tour three European cities for art and history

Study abroad students in 2018 at Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.

The Auerbachs have taken almost 100 students to Europe in six years to study art and history in three European cities steeped in ancient culture. But they always add something new, keeping the study abroad program current and innovative.

Two years ago, they added Rome, Italy, to an itinerary that included Paris, France, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. New this year, 16 students will use 360-degree digital cameras, tripods, selfie sticks and Google Carboard to capture various architectural sites in virtual reality. 

Dr. Stephen Auerbach with students
in 2018 at Grote Kerk, Haarlem, the

“We hope that by training our students to research with digital tools, they’ll be more observant and engaged as on-site scholars,” said Dr. Stephen Auerbach, professor of history. “The cutting edge, 21st-century technologies we’re using this summer will be a special way for us to study the past and make it relevant to the lives of our students.” 

The group left for Rome at the end of May for the three-week trip. Students will spend a week in each city, taking courses in history and art. Auerbach met his wife, Dr. Elissa Auerbach, while teaching on a similar study abroad trip to Paris and Florence, Italy, with the University of Kansas. Stephen specializes in 18th-century French history. Elissa, an associate professor of art at Georgia College, focuses on 17th-century Dutch art history.

The couple teaches team-style with lots of improvisation. One often chimes in when the other is speaking, providing students with a lively cross-section of ideas.

“Amsterdam and Paris are like second homes to us,” Elissa said. “It’s important for faculty to teach in their areas of expertise and in places they know very well. Those are critical ingredients for a successful program.”

Senior Heath Hoeffner, a dual major in history and political science, is studying abroad for the first time this summer. He can’t wait to see the Colosseum in Rome and everything related to Roman antiquity. 

Heath Hoeffner

“It’s a dream come true,” Hoeffner said. “I’m most excited about visiting and interacting with cultures that are enormously different to the only one I’ve ever known. To stand where emperors of the most powerful empire on the planet stood is an unbelievable opportunity I didn’t think I’d be able to do so soon.”

While abroad, the daily schedule is ever changing to fit student interest. The group’s day can shift dramatically to include impromptu detours, where the Auerbachs point out fun facts. These often include secluded places and favorite spots that tourists rarely see.

One day is entirely devoted to the French Revolution in Paris. Students stand in Palace Royale, where revolutionaries met before storming Bastille prison, and they trace Marie Antoinette’s final moments from prison to the guillotine.

Students also go on food tours and into restaurant kitchens, where they get cooking lessons from local chefs. This summer, they’ll learn to make pasta in Rome and croissants in Paris.

“What makes our program unique is we have no classrooms,” Elissa said. “We provide all content instruction as we set out each day on foot, tram, train or bike to historical sites, churches and museums. Learning on-site makes all the difference.” 

Original research is an important aspect of the program. A month prior to leaving, students take a pre-trip course, reading scholarly articles and books. They write research papers on a particular work of art or architecture. This knowledge is enhanced with on-site learning. Then, students finish projects with final presentations at historical sites.

Students in 2018 renting bikes to tour

“Students often give presentations with strangers gathered around for what they most likely think is a free guided tour,” Stephen said. “Study abroad is a transformative experience by nature. We try to push that experience to its limit in the short time we have our students overseas.”

Using 360 cameras—purchased with funding from Georgia College’s Department of Art and Department of History and Geography—students will “knit together” four approaches to the same historical site. They’ll use still images and video to represent a cohesive view of the Pantheon in Rome; Sainte Chapelle and Pantheon in Paris; and Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

Current events are woven into coursework too. This year, students will see the outside of Notre Dame Cathedral, which was partially destroyed by fire in April, and discuss controversial renovation plans. 

Students will also tour Amsterdam by bicycle, learning the city’s history off beaten paths. They’ll meander through quaint neighborhoods and explore hidden gems, Elissa said, from quiet courtyards to early-modern churches. Government officials plan to ban cars entirely in the city in 10 years to eliminate pollution. Biking helps students connect to the Netherland’s environmental history, while learning about 17th-century land reclamation and dyke construction.

This is the promise of study abroad—its ability to make historical concepts come alive.

Chelsea Romero

Lives are forever altered. Some students, like senior psychology major Chelsea Romero, have never traveled beyond the Southeast. Romero looks forward to visiting the Vincent van Gogh  Museum but expects it’ll be hard being away from family. This will help her “grow as an individual,” she said. 

Students do become independent abroad, the Auerbachs said. They talk to Europeans in their native language, read maps to maneuver subway systems and confidently make decisions.

“We’re always amazed by the amount of intellectual and emotional growth we see in them,” Elissa said. “The independence we see in our students reminds us how important study abroad can be in university education.”

Junior Shelby Smith has never studied abroad before. A studio art major with a focus in 2D design, she wants to experience art history in-person—not just on a projector screen in a darkened  classroom.

“I’m most excited to see France, because I love the culture,” Smith said. “But, in terms of art, I’m most excited to see Michelangelo’s Pieta. Being able to see masterpieces in person will give me a larger understanding of the transition to modern art. I hope to emerge a better artist.”

Shelby Smith

Alexa Baker is double majoring in mass communication and liberal studies with a minor in international studies. She traveled abroad last year to Montepulciano, Italy, and is eager to gain greater appreciation for art and history this summer. This will help in her future career as an art museum event planner.

“I’m most excited to see the Trevi Fountain in Rome,” Baker said, “because it’s so beautiful and very big. Trevi is one of the largest Baroque fountains in  Italy and one of the oldest water sources in Rome.”

The Auerbachs know firsthand how study abroad broadens horizons and changes lives. Upon return, they said students become the most engaged and enthusiastic students on campus. They often participate in Georgia College’s annual International Dinner or intern at the Office of International Education.

“We hope our students get bitten by the travel bug,” Elissa said, “making this one of many trips they’ll take to places around the world in their lifetimes. By participating in our study abroad program, they’re taking a giant step toward becoming global citizens.”

Please revisit Front Page to see updates of the group’s study abroad adventures. We’ll post pictures here, and you can see their 360 photos and videos at


We are nicely settled here in Paris! Well, several of us have lost our luggage en route thanks to our airline, but we are all safe and happy to be here. The weather couldn't be any better and our Citadines Marais-Bastille hotel has a 24-hour luxurious coffee maker, so we are also full of energy. We spent our first day having a orientation with the friendly staff at ACCENT who is overseeing our visit. We gave our students a walking tour of the neighborhood with stops at some favorite places to eat. Day two got off to an early start with some highlights of the French Revolution starting at the Bastille to our falafel restaurant in the Marais. We wound our way to Sainte Chapelle where our students said that even their extensive research on the site conducted in May didn't prepare them for the grandeur and magnificence of the actual building. From there we walked around two sides of Notre Dame cathedral where we had a rich discussion about cultural patrimony and the preservation of our monuments. We weren't prepared to see some walls precariously held up with wooden braces, scaffolding, and netting. Most or all of the glass windows have been removed and the entire cavity is covered in plastic. As difficult as it was to see the cathedral in that state, it's encouraging that so much work to restore it has already been done. From the cathedral, we continued on our way to Pont Neuf and filled in our discussion with the contributions to city planning by Henry IV. Many of our students capped off the evening at the Eiffel Tower.The last two days have been a blur. We joined thousands of other tourists for a morning at the Vatican Museum. Most of us got separated from one another but a few found their wait through the maze of galleries twice (why not?) and wound up inside St Peter's Basilica. Seeing the Sistine Chapel was the highlight. In the afternoon, our first research group responsible for the Pantheon left to do on-site research and 360 photography. The rest of the students competed in an architectural scavenger hunt in the city center that focused on elements of temple and church architecture. The night was topped off with a surprise cooking class. A professional chef with experience working at a local Michelin star restaurant guided them in making ravioli, chicken with peppers, and a strawberry with frozen cream dessert.

The second of these whirlwind days began at the Borghese Gallery. Students saw some of the best sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, and many more. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne was the show stopper. The afternoon was spent on our second church tour where we compared Jesuit and Dominican churches, saw an incorrupt saint's body, the relics of the holy crib, a 1,000 year-old icon, the 4th century Santa Maria Maggiore, and Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa. We made a tiny dent in our visits to the churches of Rome with so many more to time.

After our introductory lecture on the Sistine Chapel (because we can’t teach in the chapel), we had a whirlwind church tour. We hit four churches, one fountain, and one ancient Roman temple (the Ara Pacis) along the way. We called it quits with four Caravaggio’s and even more Bernini’s under our belts.

We had the great fortune of being led through the ancient Forum and Colosseum by an expert archeologist. He knows every block of stone, where it came from, and how it functioned. Since we aren't permitted to teach in the Forum, we welcomed him as our special guide. And it was hot. But we survived! The students then were left to the test of finding their own way out of the Colosseum and into the city to find lunch before we met again as a group at the Piazza del Campodoglio. We studied the ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art and architecture starting with Michelangelo's piazza and the colossal statue of Constantine (in pieces above). The students are getting into the swing of group pictures and our shared love of seeing things from "behind."

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