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‘Greek week’ comes early for group on study trip to Europe

Barry McNamara
Monmouth College students who traveled to Greece over spring break included, in front row, from left, River Laing and Denzel Johnson. In the back row are, from left, Nick Galvan, Kensey Arlt, Hannah Rillie, Becca Wahlberg and Maddie Baker.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – It will soon be Greek Week on Monmouth College’s campus, but a group that included Monmouth students and faculty had a “Greek week” of their own March 1-9 when they traveled to Greece for a study-abroad project during the College’s spring break.

Eight current or former Monmouth students were part of the 21-member group, which was led by Monmouth faculty members Bob Simmons, Lori Walters-Kramer and Adrienne Hagen. Simmons’ family, including his wife, educational studies professor Michelle Holschuh Simmons, also traveled, as did communication studies professor emeritus Lee McGaan.

In addition to several days in Athens, the group traveled to historic ancient Greek sites such as Olympia and Delphi.

“Going to a place like Greece is a tri-level experience,” said Simmons, who teaches classics. “First is going to a modern country with its own developed culture. Then we got to see reminders of some of the most celebrated places in human history. We were physically in those spaces. Third, we can project onto that, using our imaginations to rebuild those structures and populate those places and make connections to the material we’re reading.”

A veteran of trips to Greece, Simmons was particularly struck by two places he hadn’t seen – the cities of Sparta and Pylos.

Sparta, he said, had a “straightforward, utilitarian” mindset in ancient times, so much so that “if all of Greece had had that approach, there’d be no study of classics today.”

“They left very little behind,” said Simmons of what we know today as “a Spartan existence.”

“They weren’t into building buildings or writing things down,” he said. “They were a military power, and they devoted everything to ensuring they could defend themselves. Today, a person would never know it was such a powerful place.”

While everything had to be left to the imagination in Sparta, Simmons said Pylos was the opposite.

“We stayed in a gorgeous hotel right on the Ionian Sea, looking out across the bay at Sphacteria, which is an island where a famous battle took place,” said Simmons. “We’d read about the battle (which took place in 425 B.C.), so being able to illustrate right in our surroundings things that happened 2,500 years ago was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Plus, it was a simply breathtaking and beautiful place.”

A member of Monmouth’s communication studies department, Walters-Kramer was especially drawn to the trip’s rhetoric theme, calling the Ancient Agora of Athens “hallowed ground.”

“Greece is considered the birthplace of western rhetoric, and the Agora was an essential site for multiple forms of communication,” she said. “This was the marketplace at which Socrates interacted with citizens, citizens defended themselves in court, and speakers delivered messages on platforms designed for their use. It felt like hallowed ground to me, which was a personal reaction to being in that space that I had not anticipated.”

“I think the Theater of Epidaurus was the most significant sight we visited,” said Maddie Baker ’19 of Galesburg, Ill. “While standing on the ‘stage’ area in the center and speaking in a normal voice, anyone in the theater could hear the speaker. To me, this was mind-blowing that the ancient Greeks had such a high level of logic and intelligence to lay out and execute such a complex, yet simple design.”

Walters-Kramer was pleased the trip could influence students, no matter if their primary interest was classics or communication.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that the trip was interdisciplinary, and I think that aspect of the travel course experience is of particular significance to students at a liberal arts college,” she said. “I hope that the students noticed we learned from each other during the trip and that we enjoyed highlighting connections between our disciplines.”

“This trip was a great learning experience in terms of learning about new peoples and cultures and realizing there is a greater world out there than Illinois,” said Baker. “This trip has put the travel bug in me. I want to go out and explore more of the world to experience all that I can while learning and interacting with new ways of life.”