Q&A with Economics and Classics and Archaeology Student Luis Kay

We recently caught up with rising senior, Luis Kay ’19, an economics major and classics and archaeology minor from Los Angeles. He filled us in on his recent travels to Romania; where he spent much of June digging at an ancient Roman villa site. Global and experiential learning are an important part of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts experience. Whether it’s conducting field research in a foreign country, enrolling in a global immersion course, or participating in a semester study abroad program, there are many ways for BCLA students to cultivate cross-cultural awareness. Thanks to generous support from archaeology department donors and valuable insight from William Fulco, S.J., Kay was able to take this transformative trip with all expenses covered. Learn more about Luis Kay’s experience in the Q&A below.

 Q. How did you decide to study economics and classics and archaeology?

I decided to pursue an economics degree after taking a great “Intro to Econ” class in high school. The instructor was very passionate about his field of study and ultimately convinced me to pursue it in college.

As for the archaeology minor, I enrolled in the course “Ancient Near East” taught by Caroline Sauvage, associate professor of classics and archaeology, during my sophomore year simply because it seemed interesting and it fulfilled a couple of requirements. Within a few weeks, I knew that I’d made the right choice. The class was very engaging and made me reconsider my entire understanding of the Middle East.

The following semester, I joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and met Father Fulco who is our faculty moderator/unofficial chaplain. I began spending time in the archaeology lab doing homework and spending time with my fraternity brothers. Through conversations with them, I became interested in one of the courses he teaches: “Archaeology & the Bible.” I took this class last semester and it was undoubtedly one of the best courses I have taken at LMU. I learned so much not only about the field of archaeology, but also about myself and my place in this world. It was this course that solidified my interest in archaeology and the ancient world. I declared the minor about six weeks into the semester.

Q. Are there any BCLA courses that have been particularly impactful?

Like I said previously, “Archaeology & the Bible” was eye-opening in multiple ways. I not only learned about the connections between archaeology and the sacred texts of Christianity, but I also learned quite a bit about myself and gained a greater understanding of life. Father Fulco is an incredibly talented educator who knows how to connect with students and help them begin to understand their own lives and the things that have shaped them into who they are. From the lectures and discussions to the assigned papers, I learned more than I anticipated and I cannot recommend the class enough. I know the waitlist is long, but I encourage all of my good friends to take the class.

In regards to my economics major, the best course I have taken so far has been “International Trade” with Nyema Guannu, clinical assistant professor of economics. He is also a very talented educator who knows how to simplify concepts for students of all levels to understand. I learned a great deal about the very inter-connected world we live in and how important it is to have free trade between countries. It was particularly interesting to discuss the ramifications of the Trump administration’s policies and how their decisions would affect trade agreements around the globe. Great class taught by a professor who really cares about his students and the subjects he teaches.

 Q. This summer you participated in a global immersion experience, which included an archaeological dig in Romania. Can you provide an overview of the trip and how it came to be? How did BCLA help make the trip possible?

This past June, I spent three weeks at an archaeology field school in Transylvania, Romania. The site we were working on was located just outside of a very small town named Rapoltu-Mare. Located in the middle of a cornfield, the site contained an ancient Roman villa that was most probably owned by a high-ranking Roman military official. At some point, the villa was attacked, set on fire, and destroyed leaving only collapsed walls and a lot of rubble that could very well contain a wide variety of artifacts. I was the only LMU student on this dig, but I was surrounded by other college students from across the U.S., mainly classics/archaeology/anthropology majors. Some of the students were finishing up their bachelor’s degrees while others were pursuing master’s degrees and PhDs. We worked long hours, taking breaks for meals and water. The meals were prepared by the host families that we lived with. It was truly an authentic Romanian experience and I learned a lot about life in a small, remote town. The digging and sifting of dirt was very tedious work that was definitely made more difficult by the unpredictable weather. Some days were extremely hot and sunny while others were filled with rain. All in all, I learned a considerable amount not only from the hands-on technical work and occasional lectures but also from the people I was surrounded by. Everyone had a genuine interest in what we were doing and the vast majority of the students intended on pursuing archaeology as a career. I had a number of great conversations with fellow students and the field directors who dedicate their entire summers to this site. Lots of physical work but it was all very rewarding.

This trip came to be after I spoke with Father Fulco after class one day and we discussed the different field school opportunities that he had mentioned during his lecture. The field schools were all three-week archaeological digs that, if completed, counted as course credit towards the major/minor. He encouraged me to apply to a few different programs and I ended up choosing the Romania program because it involved the excavation of an ancient Roman villa and that really appealed to me. Apart from that, I had never visited Eastern Europe before so I decided that this would be a great opportunity to experience an unfamiliar culture. I enjoy traveling and meeting people of different backgrounds and cultures and this seemed like an opportunity I simply could not ignore. Once I was accepted into the program and met with Father Fulco regarding the logistics, he informed me that it would be fully funded through the archaeology program. This was a huge help because the field schools tend to be expensive between tuition, travel, and living expenses. I cannot thank Father Fulco, LMU’s Archaeology Department, and BCLA enough for making this possible. It truly was a memorable educational experience.

Q. Do you have a faculty mentor and how did he/she help prepare you for the trip?

Father Fulco is the man who made it all possible. Aside from his class, we met multiple times to iron out the details and plan out the travel. Other than that, the field directors taught me all the technical skills needed to participate in the dig. Archaeology is a very meticulous process that involves quite a bit of careful handwork.

 Q. What was your favorite part of the whole trip?

I think my favorite part of the trip was when we found an ancient Roman key in our trench. I was digging with one of the other students when we came across something that was definitely not a rock. Considering it was a pretty special find, everything had to be carefully measured and recorded. The key was in relatively good condition and could very well belong to a nearby door. We didn’t find anything related to it during my time there, but the excavation is still ongoing and I get updates from the director on a pretty regular basis.

The other interesting thing is that the area where we were working could possibly contain a hypocaust, which was a Roman heating system that would produce and circulate hot air below the floor of a room. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Q. How will this trip influence you as an economics and classics student moving forward?  And how has the experience impacted you as a person in general?

 As a student, this trip really opened my eyes to a world that was otherwise unknown to me. I’ve studied the Roman empire since grade school but I never had a solid understanding of just how vast and influential it was until this trip. I also learned quite a bit about the technical side of archaeology and the issues that people in the field face. I also learned a fair amount about the economics of archaeology and the many financial difficulties that these programs face. Some governments care very little about archaeology and the sites that exist within their countries so it is up to private field schools to take the initiative. Although I do not plan on pursuing archaeology as a career path, I now have a much greater appreciation for the work that is done and the many things we can learn from digs and the artifacts that are found. I would definitely like to participate in another dig even after college.

This trip was an incredible experience that I hope to never forget. I not only learned about the technical side of archaeology but also about Romanian society and culture. My host family spoke very, very little English but they were very happy to host us. They spoke to me in Romanian and I responded in Spanish because it’s much more similar to their language than English. Romanian sounds like a combination of Italian and Latin so there were some words and phrases that I could actually understand. Despite the language barrier, we got along well and I always had what I needed. The food was all homemade and delicious and I couldn’t ask for much more. Hot water was hard to come by in this small town, but I adapted.

Overall, I think I walked away with a much greater appreciation for archaeology and Romanian history and culture. I sincerely hope that these trips continue to be offered to LMU students for many years to come.