From day-tripper to local: Spending a summer in Venice

By Sujal Manohar

During her sophomore fall at Duke, Sujal Manohar took a Venetian Renaissance art history class to satisfy a requirement for the Visual Arts major. She said the class was fascinating and it inspired her to apply for the Duke in Venice summer program, where she could personally experience Venice's rich culture and art scene.

  • Sujal Manohar at Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco is one of Venice’s most popular tourist spots.

On her favorite part of the program...

One of my favorite aspects of the program was the opportunity to travel to other Italian cities. We visited Bologna and Rome as a class, and I spent a few days in Florence with a group of other students. Comparing Venice to the bustling student population of Bologna and the old ruins of Rome helped me appreciate the special aspects of each place. Our class also had dinner with students in the Duke in Bologna program, and it was great to see some familiar faces and hear about their experiences.

Duke in Venice students join Duke in Bologna students for dinner
Duke in Venice students join Duke in Bologna students for dinner

On the benefits of taking this course in Venice...

During my sophomore fall at Duke, I took a Venetian Renaissance art history class to satisfy a requirement for my Visual Arts major. Though I am an art major and have experience with drawing, painting, and photography, I had never previously studied art history. The class was fascinating, and inspired me to apply for a summer program in Venice itself, where I could immerse myself in its culture and art scene. I had visited Venice once, as a day-tripper from a cruise ship, but that limited exposure didn’t allow me to explore and understand the city. 

The Duke in Venice summer program intertwined classroom material with trips to view the art and cultural phenomena we were studying. While we spent time in the classroom discussing readings and analyzing artwork, the real learning took place in the city of Venice. We explored museums, famous basilicas, the Rialto Market, the Architecture Biennale, and more. This was something I could have never done at Duke, or even in the United States. Learning about Venice in Venice was so different from studying PowerPoint slides in Durham. I found it especially meaningful to visit Venice after learning so much about it in a classroom setting at Duke. 

Private night tour of St. Mark's Basilica
A private night tour of the famous St. Mark’s Basilica.

On the more challenging parts...

It was initially challenging to learn how to navigate around Venice, a city built on water without any roads or cars. At the end of a long day, we couldn’t just call an Uber or walk back to the dorm; we were entirely dependent on the vaporettos (public transport system of water buses).

On the first day, I was hesitant to walk through Venice alone and use the vaporettos. I worried about pickpockets, unsafe areas, and getting lost. While I remained cautious, throughout the experience I felt myself gaining confidence. I navigated through narrow Venetian streets to find restaurants. I figured out the peak tourist times in the main areas and began to visit at less crowded periods to take better photos for my class project. At the end of the trip, I felt more like a local than a tourist. Before this experience, I had never navigated by myself in a foreign place or had the confidence to do so. 

A class visit to the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
A class visit to the Doge’s Palace in Venice.

 

Colorful islands of Murano and Burano
A trip to the colorful islands of Murano and Burano included a tour and demonstration in a glassblowing workshop.

On the things that came as a surprise...

One thing I wasn’t expecting was how immersed I would be in Venetian culture. Our class was fortunate to have Silvia (an Italian TA) who was a student at Venice International University. She explained Italian cultural norms and helped us both inside and outside of the classroom. I can definitively say the experience would not have been the same without her.

At the end of the trip, I felt like a real Venetian, knowing my way around and feeling frustrated by the tourist crowds. We had ample time to explore the city on our own and try new things. For example, I spent an afternoon sketching in one of the scuolas, tried authentic food, and walked through the alleys of the city.

An afternoon spent sketching in one of Venice’s beautiful scuolas.
An afternoon spent sketching in one of Venice’s beautiful scuolas.

On the greatest takeaways...

The experience has been valuable for me in several areas: my academic interest in art, photography portfolio, and personal growth. I studied Venetian art in depth and built upon my knowledge from the class I took at Duke. As part of a class assignment, I completed a photography project comparing Venice today with images of the past. However, I also developed many skills I didn’t expect to. I’ve learned how to navigate new places, communicate despite language barriers, and coordinate logistics with large groups.
 

Sujal Manohar
Neuroscience and Visual Arts, Class of 2020
Duke in Venice (summer)
Summer 2018

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