Brayden and Jenny Johnson’s arrival at AUR was a long time coming: they set their sights on AUR when they fell in love with Rome – and our campus – on a visit in 2019, but had to put their plans to make the jump to Rome on hold. Brayden and Jenny finally arrived in the Eternal City in January 2021, having transferred from the Anthropology program at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They shared their experiences of studying Archaeology and Classics at AUR in these extraordinary times in an interview in a sun-soaked Villa Sciarra.
Q.This might be a first, that we have a married couple studying at AUR together, let alone on the same program! Did you meet through your studies?
B. We actually worked together at our last college; we were activity program coordinators. That’s where we met and fell in love.
Q.What prompted the move from Wyoming to Rome and from Anthropology to Archaeology and Classics?
B. The school itself was a big plus for me: I’ve always been interested in Roman history and it’s just so rich in this area, whereas in Wyoming there’s a lot of desert, sand, and sagebrush so it’s definitely a more interesting location. AUR had everything we were looking for in a school, it met all of our criteria.
Q.Had you spent time in Italy before coming to AUR to study?
J. For our first anniversary, we came to Rome to explore the college and it confirmed for us that we wanted to come here.
I would say that my experience at AUR so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
Q.How did you feel before arriving? Were you hesitant because of the pandemic?
B. There was definitely some doubt and nervousness. We didn’t know which protocols we would have to follow, plus not speaking the language makes it kind of intimidating going to a foreign country.
J. Overall exciting though! I was a little nervous, but overall excited.
B. From Wyoming, we were looking at how Italy was handling Covid and it’s a lot more efficient than what was being done where we lived, so it was definitely reassuring to see the steps being taken to keep us safe.
Q.Is there anything about AUR or Rome, in general, that has surprised you?
B. There was a kind of a culture shock in the sense that I didn’t realize how different the apartments would be – they’re smaller than we’re used to and in the winter it got colder than we were expecting, so that was something to adjust to, but nothing that is a dealbreaker at all! There haven’t been any setbacks, really. Even not knowing Italian doesn’t hold us back, it’s very easy to get around.
J. One aspect that I like is the slow pace of life. You just go with the flow, and I like that. It’s so much more relaxing than back home.
Q.You mentioned before your arrival that you intended to continue your wine and game nights in Rome; now that spring is here, perhaps that could happen outside?
J. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that yet. What I didn’t realize is that in Italy you can have alcohol in public: back home, the rules against drinking outdoors are very strict. But here you could have a picnic with a bottle of wine, which I think is fantastic! So we could have the wine and game nights out in a park.
Q.How does your experience of studying in Rome compare to that of studying in the US?
J. I love it! On-site classes are my favorite, because I learn the best that way. Being able to see everything in person rather than in a textbook is wonderful.
B. It feels a lot more hands-on, and I learn better that way. You’re just in the middle of it, and you don’t even have to be in class, you can just go out and see something new and learn about it.
J. Or you can learn something in class and then take a walk and actually see what you learned. I like that too.
Q.What on-site classes do you have coming up?
B. We are taking some summer courses with Professor Wueste, so that will be a great opportunity to socialize with other archaeology majors and be in the field.
J. The site is by the Circus Maximus.
B. It’s very rare for an American to be in charge of that location. I don’t know how Professor Wueste pulled it off!
Q.Before arriving in Rome, what were you most looking forward to seeing?
J. I was more excited to eat! Since I had never been to Rome, I wanted to just walk around and experience all the things that I never would have done if I was just doing touristy things. I really like that.
B. I definitely enjoy all the touristy things, so I like doing silly things, like taking pictures in front of monuments. I was looking forward to seeing all the museums, too. It’s been super awesome so far.
Q.What has been the highlight so far?
J. The Markets of Trajan for me.
B. Definitely the highlight for me, too. It’s great seeing these sites with the professor who explains everything in-depth rather than going to see it by yourself. It’s a lot more immersive.
Q.Are you tempted to stay in Rome after graduating?
B. A big reason why we enjoy our major is that we love to travel. I would definitely work here, but I don’t know if we’re quite ready to settle down and stay in Rome indefinitely. We are already looking at where to go after AUR, and it could be to the Netherlands, to London… Rome is awesome, but we like traveling too.
J. I would definitely work here after AUR. I love the weather! But I want to travel before I settle in one place.
Q.To what extent do you feel your studies have been impacted by the pandemic?
J. They have been impacted in some respects, but in others not so much. For example, going on-site visits without crowds of people makes it more one-on-one. But at the same time, we’ve had to cancel a few study visits because the restrictions have changed, and we’ve not been able to go. But when we do go, it’s more personal, I would say.
B. In balancing all the classes, the school has managed it well. The faculty has been working as hard as they can to get us to the sites, so we definitely see their efforts and it makes it feel more meaningful in a way. I feel like they’ve found a good balance dealing with everything during Covid. We were out of our previous college before Covid hit, but I know that they moved all classes online very quickly and there was a fair amount of resistance from people who didn’t agree with the restrictions.
Q.You’re married, you live together, you’re on the same course… How does that work with your coursework? Are you competitive with each other?
B. We’re supportive of each other, we lift each other up. We struggle in different areas so we are able to help each other.
J. I’m more into conservation and Brayden is more into field-based archaeology. My overall goal is to work in a museum, his is to work in the field.
B. My dream job would be working for Discovery Channel. I’m looking for a way to blend my love of photography and my love of archaeology, that’s my goal. So, our interests are different, but they complement each other.
J. Professor Wueste recently sent me information on an internship at the Vatican Museums and I think I’m going to go for it.
Q.After the first three months, how would you summarize your AUR experience so far?
B. I would say that my experience at AUR so far has been overwhelmingly positive. With Covid, there have been smaller class sizes, so more one-on-one time with the professor, and it’s nice to be able to pick their brain and learn more about their field, and that impacts how I’m looking at the future and what I might want to get into. It’s been awesome so far.