A Passion for the Classics: Alumna Elena Catalina Sirbu
Originally from Romania but raised in Italy, Elena Catalina Sirbu graduated from JCU in 2021 with a double B.A. in International Affairs and Classical Studies. Elena is currently pursuing an M.Phil. in Classics at Trinity College Dublin.
What made you decide to pursue a B.A. in Classical Studies?
I’ve been in love with the ancient world ever since I read a children’s version of Homer’s Iliad in elementary school, and I knew that it was something I wanted to keep in my life, and if possible, make a career out of. I attended an Italian Liceo Classico, so I was already familiar with the subject. I actually started out at JCU as an International Affairs major and a Classical Studies minor. But as the semesters progressed, I rediscovered my love for classics in a new context. Eventually, in my senior year, I decided I wanted to pursue graduate studies in classics, as the culmination of a journey that had started with simply craving more space for classical studies in my academic life.
You’re currently pursuing an M.Phil. in Classics at Trinity College Dublin. How has your experience at JCU helped you in your graduate studies?
Coming from JCU has helped me a lot since the American system and the Anglo-Saxon one are not that different. Had I walked into this graduate program after attending an Italian university, I would have found the shift to an education in English more challenging. As it was, I was used to learning and writing in English, and I knew I was prepared for what the professors would ask of me.
An inherent part of my (and I think everyone’s) journey at JCU was its international atmosphere and making friends from all over the world, and that was something I enjoyed and wanted to keep going forward. No matter how nice it can be to have a small group of people coming from the same background as me, sitting at a table with people from different parts of the world is something I would never want to give up, and JCU taught me that.
Which JCU professors impacted you the most and why?
If there is one thing I have told everyone about at JCU, no matter what their major is, it’s Professor Inge Hansen’s Ancient Rome and Its Monuments class. Her class completely changed the way I think about art history and architecture in Ancient Rome, as well as Roman history, politics, and power dynamics, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in these topics. My academic journey, as well as my senior thesis at JCU and now my master’s dissertation at Trinity would not be the same had I not taken that class. I have relied on my old notes for my research and for classes I took at Trinity, and I never get tired of rereading them. If you’re into Humanities and have the opportunity to do so, take it!
While Ancient Rome and Its Monuments was undoubtedly the class that impacted me the most, my academic and personal journey would not have been the same without other professors as well. Professor Tom Govero, first and foremost, has supported and encouraged me throughout my time at JCU, and continues to do so. He has consistently been a rock I could always rely on, and I don’t think I would be where I am today, both academically and not, without him.
Professor Fabrizio Conti and our chats during his time as my thesis reader have probably been the defining factor for me in deciding to pursue a higher education and career in classics. The first person I contacted when I was considering a master’s in classics was Professor Annette Bryson. She helped me figure it out, she was there for me throughout the application process, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
Finally, a very special mention goes to Professor Isabella Clough Marinaro and her Globalization and Crime class for changing my perspective on so many issues and being the only shining light in a semester of economics and statistics classes that nearly drove me insane.
What advice would you give to a student who is considering pursuing a B.A. in Classical Studies?
The best advice I could give someone (besides the art history class I mentioned) is don’t let it intimidate you. I know classics has a reputation for being off-putting or intimidating, but don’t let that deter you. It’s not the impossible task some people make it out to be and it’s a massively rewarding experience. If you’ve ever been a Percy Jackson fan and you’re thinking of making a degree out of it, my advice is just to do it! You won’t regret it.
What are your plans for the future?
Definitely get through this master’s first, and then start looking out for Ph.D. opportunities. Ideally, I would like to finish my graduate studies and then start my formal journey in academia and research, which is ultimately what I’m most interested in.