Monthly Archives

February 2017

Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Spirit of Competition


Often, travel is seen as an escape. People take their allotted vacation time and run off to some place, near or far, where they can forget their troubles and responsibilities for a few days. While I can personally attest that a sun-filled week of spring break in a beautiful location like St. Pete’s Beach, Florida makes for a nice getaway, this is not my preferred style of travel. Not anymore, at least. I was lucky enough to be able to spend the last three weeks exploring Greece, and my experiences there completely changed my outlook on travel.

Walking a trail in Greece

My trip to Greece was not a vacation. A vacation generally consists of free, unscheduled time spent relaxing in a nice location. Relaxation was rare in Greece, with more sights to see than I had time or energy for. I took a class on sports literature, and spent most of my time taking part in activities that were organized by my professors, Liz Wilkinson and Amy Muse. This would have made for a terrible vacation, but it wasn’t a vacation. I wasn’t taking a trip to escape the stress of life at home. I wasn’t trying to lose myself in a faraway place. In fact, as clichéd an idea as this may be, I found a new part of myself through my hurried exploration of Greece.

As we studied the Olympic Games, both ancient and modern, I started to focus my journal entries on examining the competitive drive that is a core part of human nature. This drive to achieve and to prove ourselves better than our peers is prevalent throughout nearly every facet of life. I have always felt the spark of competition within myself, but the more I examined my competitive drive, the more the spark grew. When our class had the opportunity of listening to a speaker who was a marathon runner, I listened closely to her motivations for running, and found that she shared the same drive I did. The main difference between us was that she had acted on her drive, and I had let mine begin to fade. As she spoke of her desire to prove to herself that she could run a marathon, I felt that little spark of drive in me flare up wildly.

Nafplio, Greece

In a moment of pure inspiration, I declared to my friends next to me –and more importantly, to myself– that I would run a marathon by the end of 2017. Now, it’s important to note that, before this decision, I did not run consistently. I was (and still am) not in prime shape. This didn’t seem like a reasonable goal. It still doesn’t. Yet, I know I can do it. In making my decision, I drew inspiration not only from the speaker, but from the Olympic athletes, both ancient and modern, and from the very land of Greece. I’m convinced there’s some sort of magic at work in Greece, magic that erased my doubts and fears, and magic that fueled the growing drive within me.

The Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Three weeks was not enough time for me to get tired of Greece. Not even close. I still think of it every day, wishing that I could wake up to see the sun rise in Nafplio each morning, and longing to watch it set over the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. As Dr. Muse had warned me would happen, I left a piece of my heart in Greece. But the experience was worth it. And you can bet I’ll be going back in search of it.

 


Henry Koller is sophomore majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis, with minors in Philosophy and the Renaissance Program. Aside from writing, he likes to spend his time reading, swing dancing, and baking bread, and he hopes to study abroad again before he graduates.

Faculty Teaching, Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Grand Tour: Cultural Disparities

The famous Shakespeare and Company store in Paris.

Inside the clock tower at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I walked down the cobblestone streets of Paris and stopped. To my left was a row of antique buildings. Every building held its own share of history and was now filled with chic boutiques blooming with French fashion and bookstores containing the works of authors that used to find their muse in the exact surroundings I was currently experiencing. To my right was the Musée d’Orsay with only the Seine river separating me from its’ hundreds of years of art and sculptures held inside. A quick stroll down the street would land me at the famous Notre Dame and deliciously unmatched gelato. For the month of January, twenty-four other students, two professors, and I experienced sights like these in each of the cities we visited.

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy

Led by Professors Kelli Larson and Cecilia Farr, we were lucky enough to experience various more-than-just-picturesque cities in order to learn about the Grand Tour. The course, titled “Americans Abroad: The Grand Tour,” took us on a detailed exploration of 5 cities: Paris, Nice, Venice, Rome, Siena, and Florence. Each day, in every city visited, we were able to see and experience first-hand some of the exact same places as various nineteenth-century Americans did. Typically, they did so to polish themselves artistically or socially, but they also did so to complete their education or to find inspiration. Our texts for the course consisted of works by Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and included various excerpts from other exceptionally talented authors who completed the Grand Tour.

Group picture in Nice, France.

The texts were all unique with their own plot and purpose, but comparatively they all revolved around a common theme: the cultural differences between the Old World and New World. In some way, the protagonists in each of the texts encountered foreign customs and cultures and had a difficult time adjusting.

Florence, Italy

A lack of typical American customs—like hasty meals or differences in social expectations—is unsettling to them at first. Eventually, though, after experiencing various trials and tribulations mixed with benevolent encounters, their cultural ignorance begins to fade and they soon attach a sense of value and appreciation to this differing culture. In a different scenario, like in Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the exposure to European culture only reinforces the protagonists’ sense of superiority in their familiar American customs.

Venice, Italy

After retracing some of the same steps these nineteenth-century Americans did, I can say that experiencing a culture different to my own only broadened my perspective and understanding for other cultures and their customs. It is easy to find one’s own ways of life or customs to be superior to others when you have never experienced or attempted to understand the logic or history behind them. As a Minnesota native, I definitely missed the constant smiles and “hello’s” from a random passersby, but I also came to prefer their slower, relaxed pace of life. There is no correct right way to live. Traveling, though, allows for reflection; to appreciate your own culture but also to take a step back and realize where other cultures might be getting at something deeper than you ever fathomed.


Shayla Curtis is a sophomore Accounting & Finance major with a minor in English Literature. After college, she hopes to work as a financial analyst or in another position related to her major. With a passion for animals and kids, she hopes to volunteer on the side and perhaps start her own nonprofit.