Students, faculty spend three weeks immersed in history and culture of Greece
By Shannon Sigafoos
As the world continues to open up in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, so too are opportunities for students to travel and study abroad. Fifteen students and two faculty members—Deborah Byrd, professor of English, and Elaine Reynolds, professor of biology—just returned from three weeks in Greece, where they became immersed in the unique blend of Middle Eastern and European cultures and were fascinated by the nation’s historical sites.
While other planned programs for summer 2021 were canceled and are projected to be offered again in 2022, getting the Greece Study Abroad up and running as the first faculty-led program since the start of the pandemic was a momentous occasion for the College.
“The return of Study Abroad is like a bookend to a really challenging year. Students began returning home from abroad programs that were transitioning to remote learning as early as mid-February 2020, so before the College and much of the U.S. went in that direction,” says Rochelle Keesler, director of International and Off-Campus Education. “While globally, countries, communities, and individuals are still managing the effects of the pandemic, the return to study abroad feels like a cause for celebration that we’re moving forward as a global community.”
An extraordinary amount of faculty preparation, in consultation with International and Off-Campus Education staff, went into making sure that students and faculty who were eager to participate could do so safely and with realistic expectations for the experience. In Greece, students navigated the diverse topography and learned about how Athens was once a powerful city-state that produced magnificent works of art, architecture, history, mathematics, philosophy, and literature.
“The type of learning that people experience by going abroad is a deep learning about history and culture that you can’t do on campus. For example, we had dinner at Nike’s house, where we experienced where a person lives and works, and we got to interact with Nike and Rhea, our Athens team, in an informal way that showed us the hospitality of the Greek people,” says Reynolds. “We got to watch as phyllo dough was made, and then we ate it and experienced that traditional meal. We bonded as a group overlooking the beautiful city of Athens with the Parthenon in the background, which was a beautiful merging of the past, present, and future.”
Study Abroad supports the College’s mission to encourage students to examine the traditions of their own culture and those of others. It provides students an opportunity to grow and discover who they are in the larger context of the world, and they gain firsthand experience of developing soft skills such as problem-solving and intercultural communication that will benefit them in the global workplace.
“This was my 10th time taking Lafayette students to Greece, and as usual, I was delighted to be introducing them to Greek culture, past and present, and to the natural beauty of the Greek mainland and islands. This trip is especially wonderful because after 2 1/2 semesters of Zooming with our students, Prof. Reynolds and I were able to interact with students face to face,” says Byrd. “We hiked up volcanoes and down gorges; we had class at museums and archeological sites, at Byzantine churches and Jewish synagogues, and on hotel verandas. Our students were eager to talk about what they’re seeing and learning. What’s not to like?”
Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, Keesler anticipates about 20 students will study abroad this fall, with the largest cohort participating in the Lafayette in Costa Rica program. And while the fall application cycle has already passed, Keesler “anticipates offering a full slate of winter interim programs, and registration will open for those in mid-September.”
Photos for this story were provided by Sydney S. Leibovitz ’23, Ben Wild ’22, Kaitlyn Hilley ’23, and Prof. Elaine Reynolds.