For a group of Honors students who traveled to Greece in May, that moment arrived shortly after placing their feet on the worn, white stones that form the starting line in the Ancient Stadium of Olympia.
At this site, more than 2,000 years ago, athletes from around Greece would gather in the stadium to honor Zeus by participating in the ancient Olympic Games.
From the starting block, the students face a flat, clay surface that extends nearly 600 feet ahead, with grass-covered hills surrounding the site. The place is quiet now, but these hillsides once served as seating for thousands of spectators.
After everyone is set, the countdown began …three, two, one!
The students took off down the track, some faster than others, but all finishing the journey.
For Marilyn Bisch, a senior instructor specializing in Latin and ancient Greek languages, literature and culture, moments like this make for lasting memories and a unique educational experience. “Absolutely nothing replaces physically being there,” she said. “And that's really what is irreplaceable with these trips."
“As much as I try to explain to them the various sites that they're interested in, when they go there and see them themselves, that's when they truly understand.”
The visit to the Ancient Stadium of Olympia was one of the many highlights on a nearly two-week, faculty-led, study-abroad trip led by Bisch and Student Research and Engagement Coordinator Matt Bird. The students enrolled in summer course GH 301, entitled “Study Abroad in Greece,” which included a classroom and research component in addition to the trip.
For Bisch, participating in study- abroad trips provides a deeper educational experience. “I'd say just an amazing growth that they undergo while they're traveling,” she said, adding that negotiating unfamiliar circumstances is a big part of the learning experience. “They get to know one another, but I think they also get to know themselves.”
Bisch and Bird designed a trip to provide the students with an overview of Greek history and culture, with stops in Athens, Delphi, Olympia and Tolo. Highlights included visits to the Acropolis, Parthenon, the Theater of Dionysus and the Athenian Agora, as well as the Oracle of Delphi, the Temple of Apollo, the Ancient Olympia site, Epidaurus and Mycenae.
Bisch has been leading study-abroad trips since 2006, mostly focusing on Italy and Greece. Bisch said she hopes the addition of the Experience Grant, which is part of the Indiana State Advantage, will encourage more students to study abroad.
The grant provides up to $3,000 for internships, research projects, or research, educational and service travel. The Experience Grant is a one-time opportunity and is available to incoming students beginning their second year at Indiana State.
Bisch said students rarely tell her that they would not like to travel abroad. “It’s always ‘I'd love to go to Greece, but I don't know if I can afford it,’ and so the Advantage scholarships are going to be a tremendous help financially to students," she added.
As part of the course, students were required to select a research project on some location or aspect of the trip. The process of gathering information, formulating an argument, and presenting findings to the class provides valuable experience for those who are looking towards post-graduate work. Bird assists students in focusing their projects and helping them develop their research and presentation skills.
Senior nursing major Haley Hames decided on Epidaurus, a location best known for its healing sanctuary, for her research project. “I'm going to look into the different healing aspects and the rituals that took place, as well as looking at the architecture.”
The Sanctuary of Asclepius was a healing center and a destination for those suffering with ailments. Those who visited the sanctuary for its healing power were guided by priests through rituals. They would spend the night at the site in hopes that Asclepius would visit in their dreams and provide answers on how to recover their health.
“The overall atmosphere is very peaceful here, and we've learned about how that is very good for their psychometric healing,” Hames said. “So, they're healing from their mind to their body, which is definitely something you can tell from here by the beautiful atmosphere.”
Hames said being able to see the layout of the site and to hear from the local tour guides has helped her understand the mindset of the healers.
Grimes selected Olympia, and specifically the Temple of Zeus, because she is interested in Greece as the founding location of the Olympics.
While this wasn’t the first trip abroad for Grimes, it probably won’t be her last. “Once you start traveling, you start making more opportunities for yourself to travel,” she said, noting that travel helps give her depth as a writer. “People always say, ‘Write what you know,’ and if you know more, and if you have experienced more, you have more to write about.”
“There’s a lot of cool, unique characteristics to Greece that I wasn't expecting. Like the cats roaming around on the streets is really fun to see.”
Grimes also has some advice for other students who are considering studying abroad. “I would definitely say do it now, because you have a lot of people here, a lot of support system and a lot of people who know what they're doing and will make sure that it's a good experience for you and that everything will be all right.”
Freshman business major Lily Randolph always knew that she wanted to study abroad in college.
“I think it really is important to have different cultural experiences when going into the workforce,” she said, adding that the Greece trip was the first time she has traveled outside of the United States.
“I was really nervous about the logistics of everything,” Randolph said, but traveling with a group and doing advanced research helped ease her mind and build her confidence.
Randolph chose a project that she thought would fit well with her major. “I am doing the exchange of currency and the economic impact with Greece…,” she said. ”I find coins really interesting and Professor Bisch stated a strong interest in it as well, so I thought it would be really cool to learn more about and it's kind of related to my major and could be useful in the future.”
For her research, the group visited the Numismatic Museum in Athens. “(They) had complete sets from different eras as well as, like, the Byzantine and Roman coins on top of the Greek currencies,” Randolph explained, adding that she was interested to see how that influenced the symbolism and different mythical aspects of what was printed on the different mints of coins.
Robert Scherz, professional aviation flight technology and aviation management major, selected as his project the Oracle of Delphi “because I have done some research with Oedipus and the Greek myths surrounding the temple, and that really sparked my interest in choosing the temple at Delphi for my research project.”
The Oracle was said to provide prophecies delivered by the Greek god Apollo from the temple. Scherz said the key to prophecies would be interpreting them correctly. He mentioned a story of a king who visited the Oracle and asked if he should engage in warfare with another country, and the Oracle said, “A great nation will fall.”
The king interpreted the pronouncement to mean that he would win the war, Scherz explained, but it was his own nation that fell.
“The Oracle would give advice to great leaders that would be interpreted, and if you interpreted it the wrong way, then that could lead to dire consequences.”
“Being in Greece and seeing the beaches is amazing, but as of right now … this is my favorite part of the trip,” Scherz said. “There’s really nothing like coming to a country like this and experiencing this firsthand.”