On another scorching day in Athens, Greece, a rugged classroom awaited the arrival of two groups of students and their professors. The first crowd was one who sauntered through the University of Piraeus hallways daily, made up of the Greek students themselves. The second was a collection of students from The University of Akron, spending a month of their summer studying abroad in Italy and Greece. The two professors joined the class and an immersion of cultural viewpoints emerged, leaving each student with vivid new perspectives.
As the UA students travelled, a theme began to surface. Every new encounter was unique; it was never right or wrong, but only special to the culture that the students lived and breathed in. The month long journey to the countries of Greece and Italy held an amalgam of new cultural understandings for the seventeen students and their professor.
The journey included travelling throughout southern Italy, across the Aegean Sea, into Greece, and finishing with the Greek Islands. Among many other experiences, the students tossed coins into the elegant Trevi Fountain in Rome, hiked to the top of Aphrodite’s temple, looked into the eyes of a Pompeii skeleton, shouted hopa while Greek dancing in Athens, dove from the cliffs of Hydra Island, and swam in the hot springs of a Greek Island volcano.
Dr. Steven Ash, associate professor of management, organized and led the study abroad program, a task not unfamiliar to him. He served as the professor, scout, organizer, representative, and friend to the students, and on one occasion, the Greek dancing entertainment. In describing some of his goals for the students’ learning experience Dr. Ash stated, “You will develop a greater understanding for your culture, indeed, it has been said that you cannot understand your own culture until you have experienced another one to use as a point of comparison.”
When asked how she felt about the contribution Dr. Ash had made to the program and how she was affected by her experiences, student Ashley Slussar stated, “Dr. Ash showed quality veteran leadership and astounding organizational skills that made this experience a trip of a lifetime. I gained perspective knowledge and insight into the many places we ventured. Upon my return I feel well traveled based on my experiences; not to mention all of the memories that I will forever keep.”
The students were able to capture the essence of the cultures by living, eating, breathing, smelling, tasting, exploring, and relaxing with the very people that each are made of. They felt the way everyday people feel, with the smallest frustration of a bus or train not running. They tasted what they taste, from the rich wine the culture holds so dear, to the addictive spoonful of sweet gelato. They breathed the nightlife, from the exhilaration of the late night discotheque to the dismay of an alarm ringing at 7 a.m. They explored the terrain the people stroll over daily, and saw the great structures of civilizations that they pass by every day.
Plato once said, “When I wish to know about men, I listen to the stones of their city talking.” The students of The University of Akron study abroad program have not only listened to the stories of their stones, but to the stories of their students, entrepreneurs, laborers, scientists, gypsies, government officials, nuns, monks, tourists, waiters, teachers, wine experts, tour guides, and even their roaming cats.