The first Classics event of the semester occurred this past Friday with a lunch talk given by two senior Classics majors and sponsored by Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics honors fraternity at Wabash. Colson Crowell and Eddie Pingel both related some of their adventures from and reflection about their semesters abroad last year while the audience enjoyed Greek salad and gyros. Talks such as this one are an opportunity for guys who have studied the Classics to inspire younger students to take an interest in traveling to Greece or Rome. Colson and Eddie certainly inspired me.
Colson began the lunch by speaking about his experience with College Year in Athens (CYA). This program allowed Colson to visit sites throughout Greece such as Epidaurus, Delphi, and Thermopylae. I had chills when Colson described his trip to this last site and how he attempted to imagine the width of the pass where the 300 Spartans and their allies fought the Persians. In the amphitheater at Epidaurus, where Colson said that one could hear a pin drop in the center from anywhere in the audience, his group recited the opening lines of the Iliad. At Olympia, Colson and several of his classmates sprinted around the racetrack. Apart from visiting famous sites, however, Colson also was able to experience the “real culture” of modern Greece in a way few tourists can. By the end of his semester abroad, Colson understood the Greek people better. For example, at the lunch he talked about how Greeks today are divided about their past: should they embrace their ancient history as a mark of greatness or should they focus more on the future?
Following Colson’s talk, Eddie spoke about his time at the Centro, the Intercollegiate
Center for Classical Studies run by Duke University in Rome. Here Eddie studied the Classics and art history with a small group of fewer than 40 students. Everyone in the program took one particular class called the Ancient City, which included weekly field trips and two extended trips to the Bay of Naples, featuring the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Sicily. I laughed at Eddie’s picture of himself doing a hand-stand in front of the Colosseum. Then I asked him how his experience overseas had changed his “big picture” view of his future, and he responded that, even though he does not intend to pursue a career in Classics, the program helped him milk much more out of his Classics major than he would have without visiting these places in person. Eddie mentioned that the program is housed a mere forty minutes from the Vatican and next to a convent. Despite this location, the tight focus of the program on the ancient world prevents as much interaction with modern Italian culture as, for example, Colson got with Greek culture under the CYA itinerary.
This last point illustrates what became a theme of the rest of the lunch talk: there is no one study abroad experience. These programs, like CYA and the Centro, contrast in size, focus, and even living space. In this variation, these programs are like the study of the Classics themselves. Both Colson and Eddie agreed, however, that their classes in the Wabash Classics Department had prepared them for all the rigors and challenges of their respective programs. Their testimonies provide encouragement for any Wabash student interested in pursuing study abroad. While a myriad of options and potential focuses of study are out there, a Classics education from Wabash will prepare a student for any of these programs.