Part I: “They are Spartans”

Dr. Jeffrey Collins, assistant professor of art history, is the director of OU Study Abroad. He and Professor Alan Loehle led the short term study abroad to Greece during June 2013. This is the first in a four-part series about the trip.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We have returned from an extraordinary odyssey across hundreds of miles of Aegean sea, islands, Santorini volcanoes, mountains, and endless olive and oleander. Our OU students stood before the sunlit ruins of the Parthenon, walked where Socrates and Plato taught, examined the sculptures in the new Acropolis Museum, and spent hours discussing, reporting, and engaging in lively talks about ancient architecture, politics, and myth.

At Delos, they stood in burdock growing where lush buildings and mosaics once gleamed in the Attic air; in Crete, they worked through the maze of Knossos, speaking of Theseus and the minotaur; in Chania, they marveled at a reconstructed Minoan boat that carried painted pottery and jewelry once to Egyptian ports 1200 years before the Parthenon was even built.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Santorini, they were dumbfounded at the stark and sublime power of the cliffs and the myth of Atlantis. Several read Plato’s Timaeus. There, they hiked the volcano, rode donkeys on Thirissa, and spent evenings in tavernas dancing the crane dances. Days of feta, bread, olives, baked cheeses, rich Assyritiko wine, sun, deep wind, pure light.

They gave reports and asked brilliant questions, sketched ruins at Delphi, and sang in the perfectly acoustical, ancient theatre at Epidauros. At Mycenae, they stood in the tholos tomb, and spoke of Agamemnon and the gold death mask. Some read the Odyssey; others, the Iliad. As we passed Thermoplyae, they laughed about the movie 300, and bought T-shirts, with the heroic and defiant words the Spartans retorted to the Persians when they told the Greeks to lay down their arms: “come and get them!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistory was not for them mere words in a thick tome—it was alive, it was before them, it was under their sandalled feet, it was in their blood.

They felt it and knew it.

On boats, buses, on foot for many hours, our students voyages across vast expanses of water, through mountains and apricot groves, down twisting white alleys of Mykonos, upon slick marble floors in hotels and lobbies; our students journeyed with notebooks full of ideas and history and dates and poems and drawings, with digital cameras filled with thousands of photos of old widows in black dresses against blue doors, or of tanned fishers in the shoals, or of nameless dogs asleep near Byzantine churches, or of themselves, laughing and singing, and dancing—as they all did—like Zorbas in tavernas smelling of jasmine and kalimara. Oopah!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWho said learning should be all so serious? A Greek philosopher once said, we learn best when we laugh. Our students laughed at misspelled signs, worry beads, the wild chaos and charm that is Greece, the odd times of shop closings, but mostly at themselves, falling over stones, suitcases, and falling in love with every beautiful man—or woman—they saw. Apollos and Aphrodites on vespas—they are everywhere in Greece. Oopah!

We have not heard such excellent reports given with such passion and insight. Our students will never forget the flame of skies, the early morning belled sheep, the climb up Palamidi. They will not lose sight of what they accomplished and what they witnessed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn one of our final days, after long hours of talking and analyzing myths of Zeus and Demeter, history, ancient ruins, and wars, we took a silent sacred run, our ritual at Delphi, and saw, laid out before us, the outline of Gaia, the Mother Earth goddess, honored before Apollo and Dionysos were worshiped at the Delphi.

We watched in striking silence the sun curve across her flanks. We drank from the sacred Castelian springs, the source of poetic inspiration, as did everyone from Plato to Yeats.

No one can take the memories from them now as their coming blogs will show. They will live in our students’ hearts and minds as long as they live. No one could ever take from them now their newly discovered ideas and images—try, and they will no doubt respond: “come and get them.”

They are Spartans.

Part II: An Odyssey of Learning

Part III: Study Abroad Creates ‘Momentum

Part IV: An Oglethorpe Journey


Oglethorpe Students Discover “La Dolce Vita” in Italy

A group of Oglethorpe University students and professors recently returned from a short term, for credit academic study abroad trip to Florence and Rome, Italy. Here, Dr. Jeffrey Collins shares some of their life changing experiences, accompanied by photos courtesy of student Robert Findley.

I could not begin to describe this extraordinary trip, Oglethorpe’s tenth to Italy. Perfect May-like weather throughout, and we spent six hours a day in examining art, architecture, and sites, lecturing, and giving fabulous reports.

Think of our students standing in front of the Pantheon, walking Piazza Navona, walking through and discussing the art in the Vatican, analyzing the sculptures of Michelangelo, Bernini, many Baroque churches, paintings from Leonardo to Caravaggio, examining the ruins of the Roman forum. It was the best kind of education—they all agreed, and were passionately engaged—well, it is Italy, and art is everywhere.

In Florence, we explored and spoke and questioned the art in the Uffizi, the Piazza Signoria, studied the architecuture of Santa Maria Novella, the Santa Maria della Fiore, and a host of churches—Santa Croce of course—discovering how the Renaissance emerged here, how perspective was rediscovered, how Medici money and genius and artistic perfection and rediscovery of ancient works all fused and formed an era unmatched in western history.

Each day was a day of unparalleled discoveries for most of the students who, by the way, never stepped on a plane before. They learned some Italian, more than just ciao or bona serra, tasted some fine Italian brunellos and montepulcianos, ate prosciutto in the Tuscan noon up at Fiesole. I brought them to the best leather factory in all of Florence, where several bought the best leather purses designed for Grace Kelly. Days spent laughing, studying, dodging vespas, eating marvelous pastries—la dolce vita—walking for miles, building a remarkable community of scholars. As we talked in museums, onlookers from elsewhere would gather and listen and comment upon the student presentations. Two people from boring tour groups told us they wish they were with us.

Professor Alan Loehle and I tag teamed [this trip], and his commentaries and his artistic insights were sheer genius. We are indeed fortunate to have a Guggenheim artist at our university, and the students loved his perceptions and revelations about every painting. I cannot think of a better colleague to work with on these trips, as he rose to the occasion and served with me as teacher, scholar, father, counselor, friend, and a few times, positive disciplarian.

Our hotels were splendid, the food more so. Students cried during our final meal, and many of them, having learned Rome and Florence, went in small groups and explored on their own—they became confident, capable, and independent, exactly what we want, telling us in excited breath their views of Pozzo’s ceiling in Il Gesu or what they found in the hidden symbols of Botticelli’s Primavera. Their most memorable night, no doubt, was the opera at St. Mark’sLa Boheme. Our ladies all cried, the men tried to hold back the tears.

Adrienne Findley, the wife of Oglethorpe’s Board Chair Norm Findley, was absolutely remarkable—she was THE great model of energy, excitement, and joy for our our younger women on the trip, and she too served as a “Mom” and asked great questions that stirred and inspired our students. Everyone was sad the day she had to leave us. She will hold a reunion party for us all at her home soon. The students loved her.

It took some all-in-fun effort to get them focused on broken pediments and balustrades as we passed shop after designer shop—shoes, belts, crosses, icons, leather books, more shoes. Not one complaint though, and the transports were all perfectly timed. Soon, through some blogs, and pics and Facebooking, you will hear and see what they discovered.

I never saw so much community and friendship and cameras and support among students: they acted like an army when we needed them to be so, delivered reports like first-rate scholars when asked to do so, and brought each other home to the hotels each night, the guys guarding the ladies like knights, walking back with gelato in hand, the ladies with scarves and purses—they realized they too could be quite sophisticated, and were.

They all want to go to Greece now, and will; they all told us Oglethorpe was the best, they all will graduate and remember nights in the Palazzo Vecchio and the Tuscan dawns, the touch of refined marble, the rich expresso, and the light pouring upon their faces for eternal moments under the vast dome of the Vatican.

One student, Robert Findley, said it perfectly: “I cannot go back to what I was now, I see the world so differently. I have been blessed by beauty.”

To see more of Robert’s photos from the Italy study abroad trip, visit Oglethorpe’s Flickr photo page.

Part II: Italy was “life-changing” for Oglethorpe student
Part III: Oglethorpe professors help history come alive in Italy
Part IV: “Learning experiences at Oglethorpe came full circle” in Italy