Hillsdale College’s Collegiate Scholars Program is looking to return to Greece, not Turkey, next summer, after a packed 10-day journey in the Hellenic Republic in May.
Students said ancient locations brought The Western Heritage reader to life. That experience and continuing uncertainty in Turkey, led Collegiate Scholars Director Eric Hutchinson to assess a return to Greece in 2017, he said. The group’s tour guide, who students said was a highlight of the trip, is already booked for next year.
“That destination worked perfectly for this program,” Hutchinson said. “It hits on so many of the important texts and ideas and places that are part of the core curriculum at Hillsdale. For those who are rising seniors, that can help to tie together strands they’ve been getting over the course of their education.”
Just 36 days before 31 people — the largest group in the history of the Honors Program, now known as the Collegiate Scholars Program — were supposed to board a plane to Turkey, then-Collegiate Scholars Director Richard Gamble changed the annual trip after the U.S. Mission in Turkey released an emergency message concerning credible threats to tourist areas in the first two cities on the group’s itinerary. The destination changed for the first time in 13 years, and the trip shortened to 13 days instead of the original 22 because Greece is more expensive. Former Honors Program Director Don Westblade said he originally chose Turkey for the trip because it is where Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian faith met.
Matt Sauer ’16 said this year’s trip was comparable to the Turkey experience. Sauer went to Turkey in 2015 as a member of the Honors Program and accompanied the rising seniors this summer.
“You’ve got the ancient Greek world, and then you’ve got the Byzantine era,” Sauer said. “We saw where Paul taught. We got to see how Christianity flourished in that part of the world a very long time ago, which is what you get in Turkey.”
Senior Andrea Sommer said she was relieved when Gamble and Hutchinson announced that the group would not go to Turkey.
Greece was no disappointment, she said, noting highlights included seeing the Oracle at Delphi, Corinth, and the jail cell in Athens where Socrates probably drank the hemlock that killed him.
“We stood in the Agora, exactly where Pericles would have given his funeral oration and where Socrates would have been teaching and questioning people,” Sommer said. “Having the history come alive in that way was really cool.”
Sauer said the group’s tour guide, Smaro Touloupa, from Aristotle Travel kept the schedule busy and the scholars consuming new information on ancient art and Greek history.
Hutchinson said it was like a “miniature college course.” She set up the historical and cultural context of the sites and exhibits before students looked at them.
“It made the viewing of the artifacts that much more worthwhile,” Hutchinson said. “It made the experience of looking at the objects much richer after having gotten all of this background material.”
Sommer said since Touloupa was a native Athenian, she also provided a unique look at modern Greece.
“She wasn’t afraid to speak about the political situation, which I heard is different from the Turkey trip,” Sommer said. “She even had stories about modern-day Greece, like her family had done a pagan sacrifice at the foundation of their home to set it up because that was tradition. The ways the ancient traditions affected modern life, she was able to comment on, too.”
Sauer said he felt the trip, however, lacked many interactions with locals. Two Hillsdale alumni living in Turkey, in the past, would introduce students to friends and native Turks.
Nevertheless, the travelers said the trip was worthwhile, growing their understanding of the Western heritage and learning from their tour guide. Sauer said Touloupa was impressed with Hillsdale, too, since she noted that in her 18 years of touring, only one other group could keep up with the information she fed them.
“She didn’t spare us anything,” Sauer said. “Everyone was so engaged and involved.”