In the summer of 2013, I chaperoned a group of high school students on a Calder Classics study abroad trip in Florence. The students were there to improve their Latin skills in an immersive setting. Florence was unusually cool that summer as the students, Cindy, Meg and I traipsed through the Porta Romana across the Arno river and into the center of Florence each day. For many of our students, those weeks in Florence were their first experience outside of the United States. The students’ awe at everything from our cappucino & croissant breakfasts to their experience of the city’s many artistic and architectural masterpieces was infectious. Calder Classics brings to life the multi-layered nature of history. The students’ excitement at being able to see, touch, smell, hear, and feel the influence the Latin texts they were studying had on modern-day Florence was obvious in the way they bounded out of bed each morning.
With that unique combination of study and experience in mind, we are developing a program with Calder Classics for the summer of 2016 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Travel is a state of flux that can be both clarifying and confusing. It can sharpen awareness of your own perspective, while revealing layers you didn’t know existed and may not be able to fully understand. We are building an academic course based on the idea of digesting that dichotomy by combining travel with creative writing. Our trip will be based in Santiago de Compostela, the end point of the historic pilgrimage camino that has been walked for hundreds of years. We will spend part of the trip reading travel literature and visiting cultural sights around Santiago, and part of the trip walking the camino and producing our own writing. The idea is to experience the act of travel in the way writers have for centuries. Everything from Homer’s Odyssey to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild are examples of our human desire to reflect on our movement from place to place. In Don Quixote, the reader becomes a madman becomes a traveler becomes a truth-teller. We will read selections from the classics of travel literature, like Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, The Canterbury Tails, as well as contemporary short travel fiction.
Our program should draw on students who have both a deep interest in writing and literature, as well as the desire to get outdoors and the ability to hike. We are hoping that the physical component of our trip will stimulate the creative component and lead to creative leaps that would otherwise not have been possible.
My experience with those students in Florence who were abroad for the first time was revitalizing. It got me thinking about the idea of travel itself, the opportunities it affords us for expanding our perspectives. In Spain, through the process of reading and writing about travel, the students will learn about the process of reflection; something they can take with them for the rest of their lives.