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Reflections on a gap year course with AHA

"As a biology graduate and a solicitor, you may be forgiven for thinking that all I took from a trip to Italy in my gap year was a Coliseum fridge magnet and a headache. Perhaps that was all I expected too; but a few years down the line, I have realised how wrong that assessment was, and just how much Art History Abroad has shaped me.

Looking down on The Piazza and Palazzo Publico, SienaI signed up for the six week course following an assembly at school. At the time, revision and university applications dominated every waking moment. Six months of my gap year had already been set aside to developing and demonstrating my interest in biology, so I was on the look out for something a little different to add to my year off.

I had spent my childhood doodling and sketching, and Art History Abroad ("AHA") seemed the perfect chance to indulge that hobby whilst adding a little culture to my life. I left the assembly enchanted by the history, innovation and romance of the Italian renaissance, and was keen to learn more. I had never studied art history before, but my parents gratefully saw huge merit in helping me fund the experience. Their enthusiasm surprised me at first, but I am now so grateful that they understood how enriching an understanding of art can be.

AHA is not like any other course. Combining thorough scholarship, honed local knowledge and infectious enthusiasm, the AHA tutors took us on our own 'Grand Tour' of Italy. We were led on a spell-binding journey through Italian history and culture illuminated by some of the greatest art ever created. Papal indulgence, Medici politics and ancient Roman society were all covered as we travelled through Venice, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome and Naples.

The course was so expertly pitched that you never felt that you were learning. There was no need to take notes, no final exam, and yet you could not fail to absorb everything you heard. Of course, the art was not the only memorable part of the experience. The food, wine and unique nights out were all as good as it ever gets.

The legacy of an AHA course is more than the strong friendships and The Baptistry Ceiling, Florence taken by Lucy Legh, AHA alumni 2002love of art that you obviously develop. The benefits for those who go on to study History of Art are obvious, but for those like me who go on to other things, AHA is equally, if not more, rewarding. UK universities do not operate like they do in the States, and students here do not get the chance to "minor" in another subject. AHA gives you that chance.

On a personal level, AHA certainly helped build my confidence; and professionally, the graduate recruitment department at my law firm have told me that having "Italian art" and "entomology" listed as interests on my application form gave me a foot in the door that those with the more mundane "reading" and "travelling" never got.

The art of the renaissance continues to this day to hold me under its spell, and I am hugely grateful to AHA for that pleasure."

Richard Sherrington was on The AHA Gap Year Course in 2002, his brother and sister also enjoyed on Gap Year Courses with AHA in 2005.