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"This whole experience has been surreal. Every day I see or do something that I find hard to believe. I've become so close to some of the group members that I can no longer picture my life without them. There's something so special about learning about the world by experiencing it, rather than reading about it in a book." – Genevieve Lysen
"Fourteen random students, many of whom did not know each other prior to orientation, are put together on a transnational journey across Europe. Having to get to know the places we visited as well as each other, we were put in an unusual position that nurtured emotions and a closeness between us that we would not have experienced under other situations." — Christine Simon
While this might sound like a pitch for a new reality television show, Christine is referring to the 2007 European Odyssey, a study abroad experience like no other in Hofstra history.
On February 23 a group of 14 students and two professors – Drs. Linda Longmire and Timothy Smith – boarded a plane for Paris to begin the Odyssey, which, though in existence for many years at Hofstra, had never before encompassed an entire semester. The students and faculty, basically strangers to one another at the onset, were committed not only to a unique academic experience, but also to a goal of getting along and working as a team despite almost claustrophobic conditions.
Upon their return to the United States on May 6, participants said that they had become as close as family, and the independent learning environment – though meticulously structured – was the most liberating educational experience they had ever known. The 10-week program took the group through 11 European countries and more than 30 cities. Though "claustrophobic" may seem an odd word to describe this sprawling adventure, consider that the group traveled in two small minivans. They were on the move constantly and at night boarded at inexpensive hotels and youth hostels.
According to Dr. Longmire, a New College professor of political science who has many years of Odyssey program experience, the European Odyssey is unlike any other study abroad program in the country in terms of the number of locations covered, the heavy academic workload and the mobile classroom atmosphere.
"There is something about being in a community-in-motion that raises issues for the students about who they are. I'm convinced people learn more about themselves when they are taken outside their typical environment," says Dr. Longmire. "When you are continuously adapting and then readapting to new and different surroundings, it compresses life lessons. It forces you to see things about yourselves and others."
Dr. Smith says, "The students learned not just how to deal with each other's idiosyncrasies, but also to appreciate them."
Students earned 16 credits for the program, which was broken into three areas of study: the first focused on the ancient and medieval roots of European civilization. Students visited Olympia, the home of the Olympic games; the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens; as well as the Colosseum and the Pantheon in Rome.
The second part of the course was devoted to understanding the contemporary political, economic and sociological landscape of Europe. This was complemented by excursions to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Brussels and the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The third and final aspect of the program was an examination of human values and human rights in the context of the history and culture of World War II and the postwar era in Europe. This part of the trip included a stop at the Czech concentration camp Terezin. "This trip," says Dr. Longmire, "certainly is a direct encounter with history – all its beauty and all its horror."
Sponsored by Hofstra University's New College, the Odyssey programs date back to 1990. Hofstra graduates from past European and American Odyssey programs have called them life-changing, transformative experiences.
Following are edited journal highlights of the European Odyssey students and faculty. For complete journal postings and a gallery of photos, visit www.hofstra.edu/odyssey.
Dr. Linda Longmire – After a smooth flight, the European Odyssey 2007 group arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where we picked up our brand-new, silver Renault minivans and found our way to Hotel Voltaire near the Republique Square. After flying all night, it took the beauty of Paris to override our fatigue. After settling into our cozy hotel, we took an initial, rather dreamlike spin around Paris, stopping at the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, the Place de Concord and other Parisian landmarks. It's always a thrill to share the first moments of witnessing these historic symbols that students have imagined for years. February 25
Katlyn Maze (after visiting the Louvre) – The Bronze Ballerina was made by Degas, and I have been wishing to see it for many years. Along with the Sistine Chapel, this is my other favorite work of art. The fact that I am seeing both up close and in person on this trip makes me extremely happy. February 28
Christopher DeLuca – We arrived in Nice, which is incredibly beautiful and looks like Italy. The whole city is built on and around a mountain range and the valley in the middle. I'm actually writing from this great youth hostel; it used to be a rich family's villa and is built on the outskirts of town near the top of a mountain. Last night we went to the last day of Carnival, which is a big deal here. … It was pretty incredible. March 4
Genevieve Lysen – This trip has already been life-changing, and it's only week two. The group has come together, and I feel like I have known everyone for years. I already consider some members family. We are soaking in so much beauty and history. At times it's overwhelming, but that's why we have one another – so we can go through this together. Florence is absolutely amazing. Walking the streets is like walking through a huge museum. March 8
Amanda Bowker – Yesterday we arrived in Greece. Docking the ferry at Igoumenitsa was so beautiful, and the scenery was totally different from Italy. We drove up the mountains on twisty little roads, passing snow-capped mountains and finally arriving at Kalambaki. From our hostel we are surrounded by huge rock formations. Today we hiked about three hours to Meteora. It was absolutely breathtaking. March 15
John Leonard – I have experienced and seen more than I have in any of my 21 years. I realized today that since leaving New York, I have driven the length of France and Italy, and now I am sitting in a hotel in Greece. To this point alone, our journey is something that most people in the United States will never undertake. That is an astonishing fact, considering the majority of our time traveling still lies ahead. March 15
Dr. Timothy Smith – Kali Spera [good evening] from Meteora, Greece! In this amazing place full of geological and historical uniqueness, I am reflecting on the process of community building as we wind up week three of the European Odyssey. I have spent much of my academic life focused on the meaning of community and the process of caring that is at its core, and I am continually impressed by the depth and quality of learning that this type of community on the road fosters. March 16
Anthony Triolo –The experiential technique and personal interview style of learning are such great ways to access knowledge about current issues from the people who are actually dealing with them. Sitting in a classroom reading out of a textbook is one way to learn about Europe, but it's hard to appreciate the history until you actually see the sights and have a dialogue with the citizens that are living here during this historic time. March 18
Patrick Maloney – Visiting Europe has always been a dream for me, and it is amazing to visit the continent the way the Odyssey allows. You really get a feel for each metropolis, small town, and everything in between. Visiting the places that I have learned about in school and from books since I was a child and to actually see the Acropolis in Athens, the Pantheon in Rome, and the Louvre in Paris has been mind blowing. I will never forget this unique experience. March 18
Rebecca Hom – I was in the island town of Monemvasio, Greece, with Steve, Katlyn and Amanda this morning. We were aimlessly walking around and found the Aegean Sea on the edge of the island. The water was clear enough for me to see every rock and plant in the water. I peacefully sat on a rock just watching the water. March 20
Dr. Longmire – We are celebrating Greek Independence Day here in beautiful Nafpaktos, a small town at the edge of the Gulf of Corinth. There is a huge, new suspension bridge that spans the Gulf connecting the Peloponnesian Peninsula with northern Greece. Tomorrow on our way to the ferry back to Italy, we will stop at Dodona, the location of an ancient oracle described in earliest recorded history. March 25
Katlyn – While we were in Paris, we visited Père Lachaise Cemetery, and Linda [Longmire] split the group into smaller sections, giving each one four or five letters from the alphabet. Then each person within the group had to find someone with one of those letters as their last name. "R" was one of our group's letters. I found the memorial site of composer Gioacchino Rossini. Then while we were in Florence, I visited his actual burial site in San Croce. Yesterday we were in his birth city of Pesaro. March 28
Genevieve – We are in Piran, Slovenia. I have to say that I never in my life expected to be in this country. This whole experience has been surreal. Every day I see or do something that I find hard to believe. I've become so close to some of the group members that I can no longer picture my life without them. There's something so special about learning about the world by experiencing it, rather than reading about it in a book. April 6
Dr. Smith – We've just completed a spectacular week in Croatia, traveling down and back the breathtaking Dalmatian Coast to the ancient cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik. … Yesterday, one of our academic highlights was a moving and deep discussion of Hannah Arendt's concept of the "banality of evil," an attempt to unpack the horrors of World War II and other situations of unfathomable violence. It also helped us to better understand the 1991-1995 war in the former Yugoslavia, which led to the independence of Croatia. The "ethnic cleansing" that shocked the world during this time reminded us of the human potential for unspeakable crimes against humanity whose roots are often found in the incremental desensitization of everyday life. April 8
Brian Watson – Vienna and Berlin are home to museums housing the archaeological collections of Ephesus [an ancient city in western Turkey on the Aegean coast] in Vienna and Pergamon [another ancient Greek site in western Turkey] in Berlin. Seeing both of these expansive archaeological collections during this journey has motivated me to continue this amazingly life-changing experience and investigate the archaeology of western Turkey further. April 23
Rebecca – I am studying human trafficking for my independent project. I was excited to learn that there was going to be a Council of Europe regional seminar in Berlin on this topic. I was able to get interviews with three men in German and Austrian government positions who had participated. April 23
Katlyn – We were in Terezin a couple of days ago, and that was mind numbing. It is one thing to read about a concentration camp, but it's something entirely different to walk through such a place. It is so disturbing to think that people could do this to other people. April 23
Anthony – We recently visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg and also had the pleasure of meeting with an official from the European Commission in Brussels. In Strasbourg we had the opportunity to be in a plenary session while it was taking place. The MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] were voting on issues ranging from homosexuality to economic monetary problems that Europe is facing today. April 30
Steven Loeb – One of the greatest experiences for me on this trip was exploring my Jewish heritage in eastern Europe. I visited synagogues and museums in Hungary, Vienna and Prague that survived World War II, as well as Terezin, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic. These overwhelming sites … helped me reconnect with my past and have a greater understanding of what it means to be Jewish. April 30
Dr. Longmire – We are winding down the program, and students are taking their final exams today. They've worked very hard, and I am pleased with the amount of academic learning that has gone on in addition to the exciting travel adventure.
Each student also represented a country, becoming a specialist in its history, interests and aspirations. Last night we held a mini-summit in which each "diplomat" had to represent their country's position on a variety of subjects, including border control, immigration, and the expansion of the EU to include Turkey. This group has been outstanding in terms of its academic performance, so we are feeling pedagogical fulfillment despite our fatigue! May 3
Christine Simon – This has been a unique experience with friendship. Forming friendships, long-term bonds and love was a wonderful result of the European Odyssey. We shared unique experiences: climbing mountains to get to ancient monasteries; enduring long van rides fueled by laughter and music; sampling interesting gas station cuisine; and getting 14 individuals out of two vans in less than 10 seconds. May 6
David Kortava – The quality pedagogue does not teach in the traditional sense of the word, but rather ignites a flame of curiosity, impelling the student onto his/her own path of inquiry, examination and analysis. After having spent nearly three months on the road with them, I attest with conviction that Professor Longmire and Professor Smith are incontrovertibly of this rare breed of academic gurus. June 25