Study abroad roommates Olivia Kierstead ’24 and Katie Catulle ’24 back on campus and working on their senior theses.

By Katie Catulle ’24

It feels paradoxical to call any part of a summer in Venice, Italy, “mundane.” I was gifted an opportunity to spend six weeks studying abroad, an experience supported by Harvard donors. Yet throughout the whirlwind of life-changing experiences, I learned the importance of grounding myself in the mundane beauty that was everywhere around me—the small, private moments I could miss if I wasn’t paying attention.

As part of the Harvard Summer School program, I took two classes: “Shakespeare’s Venice” and “Venetian Art and the Bible.” Both were astonishing. It was such a gift to be able to learn from such accomplished faculty alongside both Harvard students and students from Ca’ Foscari University on subjects grounded in Venice.

Each week, as part of my “Venetian Art and the Bible” course, the class journeyed to the finest museums and churches throughout Venice, including the Palazzo Ducale, Basilica di San Marco, and La Galleria Academia, to name just a few. These field trips were also a great opportunity to bond with students from the program, and I feel so grateful to have made such wonderful friends with the Ca’ Foscari students.

One of the highlights of the Venice abroad program was the interpersonal connections I formed. I am so grateful to have become so close with my roommate in the program, who I now see almost every day now that we’re back on Harvard’s campus. We also made such wonderful friends with the students at Ca’ Foscari, even traveling to friend’s homes in Milan and Lake Como.

Our friends from Italy were also endlessly kind. One of my friends found a hair salon for me and came with me at 9:00 a.m. to translate. Another friend helped us find a safe neighborhood in Naples to stay in while I was conducting thesis research. When I wanted to find a book of poetry to improve my Italian, my friend came with me to the bookstore and helped me pick one out.

Harvard Students posing as statues in Venice

I started reading Italian poet Montale’s collection Ossi Di Seppia or Bones of Cuttlefish. My friend explained that Montale was famous for celebrating the things that most people would ignore. For finding beauty in the mundane. This was exactly what I felt my experience in Venice was about: appreciating the small things (friends, flowers, wavy light on the canals) as the big things (an incredible summer of travel, thesising, senior year) whirled around.

As a final project for one of my classes, I produced a small poetry collection titled “Memento Mori.” The project connected my experience living in Venice with the material of the class. I explored how art creates meaning from the mundane, and simultaneously, how the meaninglessness is intrinsically meaningful if we pay attention to it. The mundane is what breathes life into our existence.

My roommate and I collaborated to produce a video for the creative experience contest using the titular poem from the collection, “Memento Mori” as the background sound to a series of videos capturing the still beauty of Venice, and we received the top prize. Beyond winning, I was happy to have that video as a memento from our experience in the program, in that city, and of the deep friendship we had formed.

Venice was such a gift. Inspiration blossomed out of every corner, over every bridge, behind each shift of light. Friendships blossomed out of every aperitivo, on late night vaporetto, with each shot of espresso.

Katie Catulle ’24 is an English concentrator in Adams House. 

Photo 1: Study abroad roommates Olivia Kierstead ’24 and Katie Catulle ’24 back on campus and working on their senior theses.
Photo 2: Harvard summer school students on a scavenger hunt in Ca Foscari.

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