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My experience with Abbey Road Western Civilization Program - by Rachel L. (Green Ticket Scholarship recipient)

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I set out on the Western Civilization program with this mindset, knowing that in order to get a full experience I might have to put in a little extra work. Nothing could have prepared me for how fun and rewarding this ‘extra work’ would be. My ‘try everything new’ mindset was first put to the test in Greece when we were told that we would climb down the 999 steps from the ruins of the Palamidi Fortress to reach the town of Nafplion. The climb down from the ruins was one of the most physically draining, but most surreal experiences of my life. To our left as we descended we could see the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and the many small islands that stand nearby, including the island fortress of Bourtzi which appears to protrude from the water. While I was gawking at my surroundings, I suddenly felt like I was intruding on a scene only meant for the front of a postcard. It was perfect: the color of the water, the picturesque ruins, even the sky, which barely had a single cloud. At this moment I knew I was in a special place and I truly began to appreciate the opportunity I had been given. 

I had a similar moment on our last night in Rome. Our hotel was only a few minutes walk from the Pantheon and my new friends and I often found ourselves wandering in that direction at night, looking for a quick espresso or just a place to sit down and relax. As we headed towards our favorite monument, we found ourselves in a familiar piazza, but this night it was crowded and filled with light. We moved towards the center of the crowd and were immediately absorbed into an Opera Concert. Four singers stood on a low stage, spotlights following their faces and light dancing off their sparkling costumes. We stood amazed and listened to the music until we had to return to our hotel for check-in, but in those minutes I felt like I was witnessing something truly unique. It wasn’t just the beauty of the scene, but also the feeling of raw culture; I was experiencing something utterly Italian.

Although I will remember this summer because of all the new friends and experiences I’ve had, it was really our daily lessons that helped me appreciate my surroundings more than I could have on my own. I remember our very first day in Athens when we were walking among the ruins in the Agora. Our two teachers, Chris and John, led us through a small museum inside one of the buildings and they were able to identify and explain almost every artifact in the room. They seemed to have an inexhaustible knowledge about everything we saw and they continued to amaze me throughout the summer. Every person on this trip made my weeks something I will always remember and I only hope that I can have another summer that will live up to this one. Thank you Abbey Road!

You spent a summer at Oxford taking classes prior to this trip, what made you want to participate on a travel program through Abbey Road rather than a campus based program?
 I knew I wanted to go abroad because I knew that next summer I would have to get a summer job. I thought that this Program specifically (Western Civ.) sounded really appealing. The fact that we got to travel to different cities and learn about a lot of cultures and not just one specifically and I felt that these specific cultures related to what I was learning during my semester. I was working on the farm with tools and using my own hands to produce my own food to make my meals and that’s exactly what people in these ancient societies had to do. They didn’t have advanced tools and I thought it would be interesting to learn how they survived without technology the way I had kind of done for four months. 

 What drew you to Abbey Road?
 I had a friend that went on the summer program in Florence the previous summer. She had come back and told me how amazing the program was and that she met so many great new people and that the leaders were really cool and so when I was deciding on what to do during the summer the name Abbey Road was already in my mind. I had done some Internet research and a couple names popped up. I was mostly researching travel programs that focused on the classics like Latin or Greek. Abbey Road was really the only name I remembered. The size of the program was really attractive too. It was the smallest program I had ever been on. My Oxford program had like 200 people on it! 

 You were awarded a Green Ticket partial scholarship, what kind of green activities are you involved in?
 For four months in the fall of my junior year I went to school on a farm in a small town in Vermont. For half of the day we went to school, but we would spend the other half of the day working on the farm and learning about sustainability and living off the land. We learned about the environment and the woods around us and did a lot of environmental research in the classroom and the surrounding areas. It was a huge learning experience and when I came back to school I was able to use the knowledge that I learned to promote being environmental friendly and help out with the Environmental Action Committee at my school. I had always been a member of the committee at school, but more of an off-hand member. I had always gone to the meetings, but didn’t do that much other than that. After I came back I was more devoted to it and started showing up more regularly and became a lot more interested and involved. 

 What did it mean to you to win this scholarship?
 I really had no idea of whether I would get it or not and the fact that I did was just really amazing. It inspired me to keep doing what I am doing for the environment because the fact that someone thought that what I was doing was so great. [Also, to] be acknowledge for things that I have done and worked so hard on is a great feeling. I’m thinking of studying engineering in college and environmental engineering sounds really appealing because I could be looking out for the environment while making advancements at the same time. 

 You mentioned wanting to really learn about other cultures through this program, can you describe your instructors and how the learning process was handled?
 Well we had two incredibly smart teachers who would rotate back and forth teaching us the art history aspect and the historical aspect of where we were [each day]. Occasionally we would pull out [program] readers and read an excerpt from it and relate what we were reading to where we were standing. Through the lectures and readings we tried to get a better understanding as to the significance of what we were seeing in front of us. 

 Did you think it was beneficial to have this “academic” component to the trip? 
 Yes. I feel if I had just been standing in the middle of a museum by myself I really would have had no idea what I was looking at. I would have known what I was seeing was important, but it wouldn’t have any meaning to me. I took away so much more because we were learning about what we were seeing at the same time. I could really understand why these things were being put in a museum, say, in the first place or why people revered the art as much as they did. If I were alone I wouldn’t have understood what I was seeing at all. 

 Did you have a favorite day on the trip? 
 I really liked the day trips. One of my favorite days was the visit to Pompeii. I had read stories about Pompeii in Latin class and the fact that a volcano had destroyed Pompeii had never really made sense until I was there. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and standing in the middle of the city and being able to see the volcano above us was awesome. 

 What was your favorite city on the program? 
 I really liked Athens only because I felt like I had never been anywhere like it and it felt the most different to me compared to New York. Paris I felt was pretty similar to New York and Florence was really fun. It was a lot smaller than the other cities so it felt more intimate. There was a lot time to hang out as a group, which I really liked. I felt like it came at a good time too. It was the third week and everyone was comfortable with each other and after that week, we were all really close. 

How would you describe the average student on this program? I would say someone who is enthusiastic and who is really excited about learning and experiencing new cultures whether that is different types of people, different types of food or clothing. Also, a student on this program is really interested in learning, but having fun at the same time. 

A traveling program like this involves a lot of coordination and flexibility. Did you think the program was well organized by the staff?
 I thought this was the most organized programs I had ever been on. I thought there were always activities to do. I really liked having the syllabus in the beginning at the beginning of the program. Everything was planned out and I always knew what to expect. There were always optional activities that were surprising and new. I was never bored. The staff dynamic seemed great. Chris and John [the instructors] worked really well together they had a really good balance of taking turns teaching. They were always interesting and in terms of Emily [Program Director] and Kathy [Residential Advisor] they were also really great. I never felt like I couldn’t talk to one of them or that they weren’t approachable. They were all really nice. 

 The program involves daily learning, activities and events as well as sampling local cuisine. Were you given free time as well? Do you think there was a good balance between planned activities and student free time?
 I thought the amount of free time was a perfect amount. I never felt like I was running out of things to do. I really appreciated the free time we were given. Just hanging out or wandering around the city with my friends was great, but it was also nice to have that organized time and we didn’t have to worry about creating our own agenda. 

 Being a senior in high school, do you think the program help prepare you for college in anyway? I definitely think the small group discussions are a lot like what I can expect in a seminar type class in college and the whole experience of being put into a group of people that I don’t know that come from all different backgrounds is also a lot like college. The teachers on this program were so knowledgeable they seemed more like specialists. They knew what they were talking about and they felt like college professors or what I hope my college professors will be like. 

 Do you think it’s important for students your age to study abroad?
 Yes absolutely. Especially coming back to school and the US I am a more cultured person. I know that’s kind of cliché, but I have seen how different cultures work and how they survive and I feel like it makes learning and school so much more interesting. Right now I am taking art history and learning about the statues of ancient Greece and the fact that I have been there makes it so much more interesting and the fact that I’ve seen some of the art in my textbook is really exciting. I feel like it’s given me a leg up on my classmates. I even point things out when I see them in class! 

 Would you recommend Abbey Road to a friend?
 Absolutely. I’ve already been telling people about it!

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