By David Soren
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 21, 2002
Editor's note: David Soren, a regents professor of classics, is also the driving force behind a new UA institute for Classical Studies in Orvieto, Italy. Since today is the annual Spring Study Abroad Fair, Soren has submitted the following commentary in hopes of turning students on to study opportunities in other countries.
Though I am 55 now, I remember being an undergraduate junior in 1967. Outwardly, I tried to be "cool," but inside I was a wreck. I didn't know what to do with my life.
Things seemed black when I enlisted to go to Vietnam. I went to my draft board physical. To my surprise, while I was standing naked next to a poster that said "Uncle Sam Wants You," I learned that the army didn't want me! They said I was a physical wreck from multiple injuries sustained while trying to be a 119 pound linebacker on our junior high school football team.
Suddenly, I had a life again. But what would I do? English, history, law or ... something else? I took Latin in high school and Greek in college. I had been a professional dancer for a while on CBS and was interested in media arts. But what was the right field? A friend of mine said to go study abroad for a semester. One of my professors recommended Italy.
He said, "There, you will become sophisticated: You will learn about wine, art and ancient civilization. It will help you find yourself." It sounded good to me because I was not sophisticated - I was a confused dweeb.
I applied to the Stanford overseas program and suddenly I was on my own, learning about the world, overcoming my own mistakes, avoiding bad table manners, learning how to hold my hands while standing and talking to people, feeling almost comfortable around young ladies instead of painfully shy.
It didn't take long to fall in love with Italy and archaeology - and the food! That junior year abroad changed my whole life and I dedicated myself to a career in classics. I decided I would be a professor, an archaeologist, a classicist studying Greek and Latin, a documentary movie maker, and an art historian. I would get a bachlor's degree in Greek and Latin, a master's degree in Fine Arts and a doctorate in archaeology and keep up my interests in dance and film somehow.
You see, while I was in Italy, my professors convinced me that everything was possible if I had three things going for me: Rudimentary intelligence, the desire to work hard, and intense focus on my life's goal.
I filled my mind with useful disciplines while I was young enough to absorb them. I freed myself from time-wasting diversions - rock and roll, solitaire, Frisbee, drinking. In Italy, everything seemed possible. And at last I had a plan.
That was 35 years ago. Now as a professor at UA, I live my life plan. I make documentary films for national TV, teach classics, archaeology, movies and even dance, all because I went to Italy. In the summers, I dig up Roman ruins in Tuscany.
But now, the three steps that governed my pathway to the future have been replaced by two new steps that I have discovered, which apply to one's later years. First, once you make a measure of success and get to where you want to be in life, it is important to suppress your ego. This means stop talking about yourself. The mature person is the person who can be in a room with others and talk about anything but himself. The immature, insecure person talks about little else but himself. The second step I have found important is to devote the rest of your life to doing good works. Toward that end a new goal consumed me.
If the chance to study in Italy had helped me, wouldn't it be wonderful to design an institute where UA undergraduates could go for a semester or a summer and excavate at a real archaeological site, study Latin, learn about ancient art and archaeology, work with professors of ancient art history and go on field trips to Rome? I wanted the institute to be located in my favorite Italian town - Orvieto. So for years I planned, and finally this year I realized my dream, having received permission from the Italian government to open our own UA institute for Classical Studies in Orvieto.
In youth, I learned to do three things for success and enlightenment: Have a good mind, study hard and keep my focus on my future. In later middle age I have learned two more things: Cast aside ego and do good works.
Five tenets for life. Try them. They work.