Friday, August 10, 2018

The University of Alberta Study Tour in Greece, 2018

Dinner at Zorbas, 9 pm, Saturday, in the Plaka in Athens. There can’t be a better way to start a course than this. While the students sit down, the waiters greet my wife (and colleague) Margriet Haagsma like the old friend she is. We used to come ahere regularly in the 1990s, when we lived in Athens, and every year since 2004 Margriet has introduced her students here to Greek food at its best, before driving up to Thessaly with them for her annual archaeological field school at Kastro Kallithea, near Pharsalos.

This year is a bit different, however. The work this season at Kallithea did not lend itself for a well-rounded field school - they will resume next year – and Margriet decided to offer a Study tour of Greece instead. After all, we have a long-running tradition to uphold at the UofA of running at least one on-site course in Greece and one in Italy every year. So there we were: sixteen students, three TA’s (one for each van we rented) and Margriet and myself as instructors, enjoying a late-night meal in one of the nicest parts of Athens.

Nine pm may sound late for dinner, but it is much preferable to six or even seven pm, when the heat of the day still lingers. That is why we also made an early start each day. The very next morning, Sunday 8 AM, the two groups of students and TA’s arrived at the Acropolis – two groups, because the one was housed in the CIG, while the other stayed in the Finnish Institute. One of the advantages of having an institute like the CIG in Athens is that they provide affordable, safe accommodation. At present, the CIG can only house 10 people, but hopefully the new building will increase that number, once it is renovated. The CIG also assisted us with information, permits, free entry passes and the like, a great help in organizing this study tour.

The itinerary took us to Athens, Aegina, Attica, the Peloponnese and North-central Greece, and had too many highlights to mention them all. That first Sunday was typical of the wat we planned our days. We spent the whole morning on the Acropolis, then had a siesta from 2-5 pm, followed by a visit to the Acropolis Museum. A last-minute adjustment had us return to the Acropolis Tuesday afternoon, when we had a special permit to go inside the Parthenon (thank you, CIG!) – certainly one of those highlights.

After spending five days with Athens as our base, we moved to Nafplion (four days), visiting Mycenae, Epidaurus, Isthmia, Corinth, and other sites. All these places are so evocative, and raise so many issues to discuss. Nonetheless for many students a guided tour of the active excavations at the site of Corinth’s Lechaion harbor was one of the high points of this part of the trip.

After Nafplion we drove from hotel to hotel, spending nights in Sparta, Pylos, Olympia, Preveza, Ioannina, Litochoro, and, finally, two nights in Delphi. The students were fantastic, giving excellent presentations at their assigned sites, and absorbing the immense amount of information and impressions with great energy and enthusiasm. As we read their final essays, it is clear that from a didactic perspective this study trip achieved all that we had hoped for. The students were able to gain an understanding of such abstract and complex concepts as social memory, constructed identities, the role and nature of myth, and the like that well exceeds what we can normally accomplish in the classroom at home. Time and again we could show how such processes were formed and shaped by the sites we visited, and indeed how they formed and shaped the sites themselves. Spending so much time together exploring each new site and museum allowed conversations to carry on over days, giving them a depth they simply to not gain in a regular classroom setting. This was an exciting and stimulating course for all involved, and the Canadian Institute in Greece contributed significantly to its success.

Steven Hijmans
Director of Classics, University of Alberta

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