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Stetson Law student examines legal structure and history in Rome

Story by Valeria Obi

Every spring semester, the International Programs Office at Stetson University College of Law hosts a study abroad course that provides students with the opportunity to learn about the legal structure of a different country and then actually visit it in person.

This spring, the course was Rome-Select Topics/International Law, the country of interest was Italy, and I had a personal opportunity to participate. The topics covered in this course were the development of Republicanism, law and advocacy, the legal profession in ancient Rome, and its effect on modern civil law systems.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

Stetson Law student Valeria Obi during a spring visit to Rome.

This course was spearheaded by Stetson Law professors Marco Jimenez and Candace Zierdt. Both professors are extremely knowledgeable about the ancient legal structure of Rome and served as great resources for learning about the area.

The first half of the course was spent in the classroom at Stetson Law in Gulfport, Fla., where I learned about the development of law and advocacy from ancient Rome through modern society.

The class was heavily focused on classroom discussion. This provided an opportunity for everyone to share their opinions on course topics. Students facilitated the majority of classroom discussions.

Through these discussions, I learned all about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the evolution of religion in Rome, the first legal code (The Twelve Tables), Roman architecture and influential leaders of Rome.

During spring break, March 17-24, I actually had the chance to visit Rome in person and visit the places I studied about in class.

One of the sites I visited while in Rome was the ancient Roman Forum, which is surrounded by the ruins of other ancient government buildings. These buildings were used for centuries and were the center of Roman life. The Forum served as the venue for elections, public speeches, criminal trials and other major events that took place. My visit to the Forum was enhanced by insights from the class discussions.

Along with the Forum, I also toured the Supreme Palace of Justice, which houses the Roman Supreme Court. This building is enormous and beautifully decorated with ancient paintings. While there, I also had an opportunity to attend a hearing to see how Roman legal proceedings differ from those in the U.S.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Stetson students spent Spring Break in Rome learning about the Roman legal system.

Another interesting site that I visited was the Catacombs, which served as the underground burial place for Christians in ancient Rome. The Catacombs extend for nearly 12 miles and are currently still being excavated. I got the opportunity to walk through the chilled tunnels and even saw remains in some of the plots.

I also visited Vatican City, which is the smallest independent state in the world. The Vatican is actually located in Rome where its territory consists of a walled enclave. Inside the Vatican are several museums that improved my understanding of ancient Roman art as well as the different Popes of Rome.

The Vatican is also where the Sistine Chapel is located. The Sistine Chapel served as the official residence of the Pope. I was absolutely amazed by the Renaissance architecture and paintings by very famous artists including Michelangelo.

My favorite places among those we visited were Pompeii and Herculaneum, both partially buried cities that are also still being excavated. These cities are the result of a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius. What’s really fascinating about these cities is the fact that part of them is still buried under the ash and debris from the volcanic eruption. We were able to walk through these ancient cities and visualize what life used to be like for the inhabitants.

Overall, my experience in Rome was absolutely captivating and breathtaking. While I did see much of Rome, there is still so much more to see. I appreciate everything I’ve learned from the course because this once unfamiliar culture has inspired me to learn even more about it. Although next year the country selected for Stetson’s spring break abroad will be different, I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel internationally.

For more information about this course or any other study abroad programs, students should contact the Office of International Programs at


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