A lot of Luther students end up studying off-campus at some point, like, a lot a lot. I might venture to say that most of them do. J-term is the classic time for this, and there is a wide selection of off-campus programs available both in the United States and across the world.
During my sophomore year, I was accepted as a participant on the program “In Frankenstein’s Footsteps”, created by Dr. Amy Weldon, Professor of English. The course takes students from London to Geneva to Venice to Florence to Rome as they follow not only Mary Shelley’s path as she wrote Frankenstein, but the worldly travels of other Romantic poets and authors, including John Keats and Lord Byron.
I recall that, having arrived in London, things got underway with a visit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. This was in order to bring us into the laboratory of Victor Frankenstein, or as near as could be got. The Hunterian houses a vast collection of anatomical specimens and dissections, and it is an effective setting to put one in a macabre mood for the consideration of a novel about the reanimation of corpses.
The Keats House, with its beautiful, yet unassuming garden, was easily my favorite stop. John Keats wrote some of his most famous poetry, including “Ode to a Nightingale” while living here. It is also the spot where he began to suffer from the tuberculosis that would ultimately take his life (but not until he had traveled to Rome to convalesce).
There was simply too much during our stay in London to go into at length, but we managed to see everything from Harrow School (which Lord Byron attended, and where his daughter Allegra is buried in an unmarked grave), to the British Museum.
Our next stop was Geneva, the true birthplace of Frankenstein, begun, as it was, by Mary Shelley during a ghost story competition at Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati. We also had the opportunity of passing over the border to visit the French Alps for a view of Mont Blanc, setting of an eerie scene in the novel.
The final chapter of the journey brought us to Italy. First Venice, where Lord Byron lived for a time, and spent his days swimming across the bay (apparently, he did that) and learning Armenian from local monks.
Next was Florence, to which I am destined to return after rubbing the snout of a brass boor known as Il Porcellino. And to finish things off came Rome, final resting spot of both John Keats and Percy Shelley (husband of Mary Shelly and poet in his own right).
Although the purported effort of the course was to teach us about Romantic literature, our travels offered us the opportunity to learn about so much more. I was able to visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel, spend time admiring paintings by Salvador Dalí, and see hundreds of other famous works of art and architecture.
It wasn’t only an opportunity to observe items of academic interest, though, but a time for all manner of new experiences. I got to order fish and chips in an English pub, and learn how to survive in finicky London laundromats (populated by grouchy old Brits). One morning, while attempting to see the Venetian sunrise, I instead watched a cyclone of pigeons descend while jolly workingmen tossed out buckets of food scraps— Which was somehow more awe-inspiring than any rosy sky could ever be.