LIZ ANASTASIADIS — Going Greek doesn’t only mean joining a fraternity or sorority.
A group of 14 Denison students and 3 faculty members departed to Greece on January 9. Right after getting off the plane from our 18 or so hours of travel, we were encouraged to explore the area and learn more about Greek culture.
In fall semester of 2018, I took a Denison Seminar course called Odysseus in America. The course was taught by Dr. Brenda Boyle, an English writing professor and head of Denison’s writing center, and Dr. Tim Hofmeister, a classics professor.
Denison Seminars are usually team-taught classes that take you off-campus to learn at the source, and where learning in the classroom and study abroad intersect. The pair of professors worked to combine their disciplines for a class based on writing, role play, reading and in-class interaction. Our class topic: Greek immigrants in the US, the influence of Greek mythology and architecture in the US and the study of the progression of Greek culture in modern Greece. The trip traveled to Athens, Greece and the small island of Aegina to introduce different ways of living in the country.
The first line that Dr. Boyle told the class when we met to go to Greece was “this group looks ready to travel.” We students didn’t know how true that statement would be during our trip, rightly titled “Athens (and Aegina) Past and Present: Crisis and Creation.”
“There are few more magical things for a professor than to see students in a class together bond over the course of a semester. There seems to be some alchemy involved, some mysterious complex of material studied, student intellectual curiosity, and professor scholarly passion that produces this magical bond. But it’s doubly magical to see that bond continue from the classroom when the class travels abroad and are faced with the application and expansion of everything studied in the classroom. The classroom comes alive, almost literally, and learning while traveling in the group is exhilarating, complicated, collaborative, important and powerfully relevant. All together, the classroom on Denison’s campus and the traveling ‘classroom’ are the best possible combination for the wonder of learning,” says Boyle.
The purpose of the seminar course was to immerse ourselves into the shoes of a Greek. It seems to have hit the mark for students to create meaningful friendships, find time for expression and for our wonder to take shape. On day one of the trip, Dr. Hofmeister gave us an orientation walk through the neighborhoods Syntagma, Monastiraki and Plaka, which are primarily tourist neighborhoods near where we were staying at Plaka Hotel. Not only did our professors introduce us to tourist areas, they strove to bring our attention to the various different neighborhoods, socio-economic classes and lifestyles of Greece.
“This Denison Seminar changed my perspective of what Greece is and what being a Greek means. It [Greece] is not just a tourist destination, but a place that people call home. The immersion allowed us be exposed to a different language and culture. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and shifted my American centered point of view of language and way of life,” says Tammy Palastigue ‘21, a Global Commerce and History double major from Chicago, Illinois.
The trip was a sort of a communion. It combined the interests of students in various different disciplines to experience one immersive class on the complex topics of identity, discovery, imagination and travel. Although the students were 5,307 miles away from the hill, the learning never stopped once we flew out of the states. We were challenged to climb up to the Acropolis to view the ancient along with the new of Athens, reminding us that the most constant thing in life is our ability to change.
“It was sheer delight to watch how everyone could come to a place that was strange to them and, day by day, make it their own. And there was no quit in the group,” says Hofmeister. “No matter how long a given day was, people still had the energy to do a little more, whether it was the Apollo temple at the end of our first day on the island or the Niarchos cultural center after a long day of travel. Or how about using their free day to climb up mount Lycabettus [the highest point in Greece] on one end of the historic center of Athens and then Philopappos hill on the opposite end! It meant so much to me to see everyone covering so much ground, with eyes wide open every minute of each day, and asking great questions during the entire trip, soaking in as much as they could of a place I myself love so much.”
Students were thrown back to campus with the remembrance of new bonds that will be tied to campus and abroad, echoing across their heads for their remainder at Denison and beyond.