Part II: An Odyssey of Learning

This summer’s short term, for-credit trip to Greece made an enormous impact on the students who participated. Following up on the original post by Dr. Jeffrey Collins, we now hear from three of those students, in their own words. [Read Part III: Study Abroad Creates ‘Momentum’, Part IV: An Oglethorpe Journey]

The author (center) with OU's Alan Loehle, associate professor of art, and Dr. Jeffrey Collins, assistant professor of art history and director of Oglethorpe University Students Abroad (OUSA).

Holly Bostick ’15 (center) with Alan Loehle, associate professor of art, and Dr. Jeffrey Collins, assistant professor of art history and director of Oglethorpe University Students Abroad (OUSA).

Reading the Odyssey, I never thought I would experience an adventure even remotely similar to the wondrous events of the heroic epic. However, this summer in Greece, I was proven wrong. The short term study abroad trip turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime with rewarding knowledge and marvel around every corner.

From our first dinner in a little tavern in Athens with traditional cuisine and Greek dancing, I knew the mood was set for the entirety of the trip. Every location and site were reflected in the joy and amazement of our entire group, particularly emanated by Dr. Collins, Professor Loehle and our outstanding friend and tour guide Mara Kanari. Beginning in Athens, and then traveling between the islands of Mykonos, Delos, Santorini, and Crete, before returning to the mainland for a few final days spread between Corinth, Nafplio, Delphi, and again Athens, I was overwhelmed with the beauty, history and hospitality that Greece had to offer.

Delphi

Delphi

Though I was thrilled of course to be in a foreign country studying art and art history, the magnitude of what we were doing didn’t truly hit me until we were standing at the foot of the Parthenon looking up at the precise and everlasting architecture of the structure. You walk in through the Propylaea, the entrance to the Acropolis, and then there it is, right before your eyes: the Parthenon. It is humbling to imagine a civilization so advanced to have created such a colossal wonder. I found this to be true at every site we visited, be it the expansive ruins at Delos and Mycenae, the civilization at Akrotiri, or the great Palace of Knossos in Crete, one of my favorite sites having previously been introduced to the history of the Minoan people. It was life changing and indescribably influential being able to experience such a monumental piece of history on location. There is something profound about experiencing a site like this in person, because it suddenly becomes more attainable and real. The knowledge and information becomes your own.

The Palace of Knossos

The Palace of Knossos

The trip of course was filled with awe inspiring wonders like these, where pictures in textbooks came to life before my eyes. This was the case with many famous pieces, like the Bronze Zeus, the Kritios Boy, the Cycladic figurines, and the boundless gold of the Mycenaean culture. And as if experiencing ancient Greece in its truest form wasn’t enough, the professors surprised us with a spur of the moment trip to Isthmia, an active dig site in Corinth, where we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of archaeology being conducted in real time. Dr. Tim Gregory of Ohio State University even allowed us to walk on and analyze a beautifully restored and well preserved mosaic floor of a Roman bath house. The site was made only more astonishing when water was poured on the monochrome tiles of the mosaic and each and every distinct color was made visible. It was truly a memorable and altogether inspiring experience, being some of the only people besides archaeologists to have stepped on that floor.

Donkeys on Santorini!

Donkeys on Santorini!

Between hiking volcanoes, riding donkeys up steep cliff sides, swimming in the Aegean Sea with the Temple of Poseidon in sight, and watching one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets from the heights of Santorini, this trip was truly an excellent blend of “harmony and contradiction.” This phrase as coined by the ancient Greeks, fully expresses the circumstance of our time in Greece, where one minute we could be beachside on a sunny island, and the next deep in the mystical mountains of Delphi.

Yet somehow, thanks to the ingenious and boundless insights of our professors and tour guide, each and every destination and experience cohesively worked together to create a seamless string of knowledge and awareness. This trip to Greece, with its rewarding, exhilarating, and life changing experiences, can only be described as an odyssey, and one that given the opportunity, I would gladly take again!

Holly Bostick ’15 is an art history major, minoring in Spanish.

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

 

Part III: Oglethorpe professors help history come alive in Italy

This summer’s short term, for-credit trip to Italy made an enormous impact on the students who participated. Following up on the original post by Dr. Jeffrey Collins, we now hear from three of those students, in their own words.   [Part II]  [Part IV]

The author Annie Morgan in an Italian market. Photo: Robert Findley

Earlier this summer, I boarded a plane to Italy with a group of Oglethorpe students, Italia-bound. As I settled into my seat, thumbing the pages of a book about the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I wrestled with a sinking feeling. As an English major, I’d studied little art, art history, or even Roman history in my four years at Oglethorpe. I knew that I was one of the least prepared students on that plane. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had scrambled to catch up on what knowledge I could. I found myself sitting cross-legged in the Italian history section at Barnes & Noble, lamenting all the things I didn’t know. The only fruit from that endeavor was the book in my hands and the sad feeling that I wouldn’t get to experience Italy in all of her fullness.

Leave it to the Oglethorpe faculty to exceed my expectations, as usual.

Photo: Laura Jacques

It was clear within moments of setting foot in Rome that my lack of information was not going to be a problem for very long. As soon as our weary troupe of travelers stepped off the bus next to Teatro de Marcello, our professors started scanning the horizon with a strange glint in their eyes. As a group, our energy was waning in the doldrums of jetlag, and all I could think about was finding a panino and a pillow. Dr. Collins and Professor Loehle, however, lit up like a couple of Christmas trees as soon as they saw the crumbling brick walls of ancient Rome. They could hardly wait to start explaining things to us, to let us in on their joy. Their love for the places we would see worked perfectly in tandem with my desire to learn; I was full of curiosity, and they were brimming with thoughts and information to share. I doubt that every student who studies abroad in Italy is fortunate enough to have professors who care so ardently about what students know about what they see.

Photo: Laura Jacques

And our professors weren’t the only ones filling up our brains with new things; Italy herself was a great teacher, and the more time I spent getting to know her, the more colorful my experiences became.

Thus, many of my favorite moments of the trip happened when I tackled Rome or Florence with only a map and a friend to guide me. Usually this happened at the end of the day when everyone was free to find dinner on their own, and my friend Sean and I would wander through parts of the cities that we hadn’t yet explored. While the daylight hours were packed with narratives from history that made the city come alive, the evenings were when we got to live out our own Italy stories—ones I’ll never forget.

Photo: Laura Jacques

It seems like I would need a decade to do justice in writing to all the magic that we found in unexpected places: the trees that overhang the Tiber and catch the gold glint of streetlights at night; the guitarist that filled up one piazza with songs that made you feel like you were dreaming; the organ concert in a gorgeous old church, with the music coming through the rafters like thunder and shaking the pews. It was on an adventure with Sean that I first glimpsed the coliseum and the forum, both very haunting and mysterious in the moonlight. One night, we stumbled upon Michelangelo’s Piazza in Florence, with its stairs winding up seemingly straight into the night sky. At the top, we discovered a breathtaking view of Tuscany, tiny lights glittering from the Duomo all the way to far away hillsides. And, of course, we made sure to track down the best gelateria we could find in both cities, and to celebrate our success by returning to those wonderful establishments—frequently.

In the last 12 months, I have set foot in five countries other than my own—never did I feel less prepared for any of them than when I boarded that plane to Rome. I can confidently say, however, that if I left with my hands proverbially empty, I came back with more than I could carry. In my mind, this voyage to Italy was very much what a study abroad trip ought to be: not only did the history of art in that country come alive to me for the first time, the place itself offered more culturally than anyone could grasp in just two weeks. And maybe that’s better, anyway—I suppose I’ll just have to go back!