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Students and profs. to embark on European Odyssey

By Linda Longmire, Ph.D., Professor of Global Studies

On February 27, 2010 a dozen University students will embark on the European Odyssey Program and spend 10 weeks traveling throughout western and eastern Europe while taking four courses. This is the twentieth anniversary of this unique program, which began in 1990 as a summer program in the Netherlands and eventually expanded to become the University's only semester-length study abroad program.

The 12 students and two faculty travel in two minivans, and this mobile classroom setting enables students to experience a rich comparative array of ten diverse countries and cultures. Participants have the opportunity to interview politicians and policy makers, professors and students, as well as ordinary citizens throughout Europe.

The four courses that compose the program cover a range of topics. Ancient and Medieval Life and Thought examines the historical conditions and ways of thinking and being of early peoples with particular focus on ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The program visits major archeological sites that illustrate the themes of the course. The Politics of the European Union provides a contemporary panorama of Europe's changing political, economic and cultural landscape and includes visits to the three major EU institutions: the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the European Commission in Brussels and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Human Rights and Human Values in Post WWII Europe is taught by Professor Timothy H. Smith and includes a visit to Terezin, a former Nazi concentration camp outside of Prague. 

The final course, entitled Know Thyself, takes a more philosophical and psychological approach to the journey and encourages students to reflect on their own evolution while reading some of the great European authors. For example, students read Sigmund Freud while visiting his former home and museum in Vienna;  they read selections from Karl Marx while visiting his former home and museum in Trier, Germany, and they study the existentialist writers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir while in Paris where they lived and wrote.

The laboratory of the Odyssey also provides an ongoing opportunity to learn about oneself and others. Students must develop patience, empathy, compassion and creative problem-solving while living together in close quarters. I often tell students that if they pay attention, the 10-week program is the equivalent of 10 years of psychotherapy and a whole lot cheaper! Though so much is learned about Europe and the world during the intensive itinerary of the European Odyssey, the program is not just an external journey of discovery.  It is also a life-changing excursion into self-knowledge.  According to Dag Haamarskjold, a former Secretary General of the UN, "The longest journey is the journey inwards of him who has chosen his destiny."  And this is a learning adventure which indeed helps participants discover their unique individual destinies.

Over the next weeks we will be sharing our learning adventure with Chronicle readers, and we hope to convey both the challenges and delights of our Odyssey experience. We know that when we return we will have new appreciation not only for what we have seen and learned, but also for the home we left behind.

Linda Longmire is a Professor of Global Studies in the Global Studies and Geography Department and the Director of the European Odyssey Program.

(Illustration by Sean M. Gates)

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