Plato postulates in The Republic that success for state and soul is reached simply through finding balance. This ancient philosophy became more than just the topic of study during my exploration of its birthplace.
For five weeks over the summer, I traveled across the timeless civilizations of Greece and Italy as part of Geneseo’s Humanities I: Mediterranean Roots study abroad program. The general education requirement of humanities was also supplemented by a two-credit philosophy course, all taught by our fearless leader, guide, thinker and Greek-American, Elias Savellos of the philosophy department.
The most versatile of the Humanities trips, Mediterranean Roots whisked our group of 20 from the Minoan antiquities of Crete to the hub of the Renaissance – Florence – with sojourns in Athens and Rome, as well as jaunts to paradisal places like Santorini and the Italian region of Campania.
While the movement was overwhelming – think 24-hours-plus of flight and plane-chasing – the places firmly stick in my memory, for several reasons that can all be encompassed by that eternal idea of balance.
I was able to absorb the culture, rich and layered by age, in the invigorating way that I only achieved through both immersion and knowledge. In other words, it was important to learn about where I was by hitting the books … and the bars.
I definitely could never have appreciated the ruins of Cretan civilizations had I not read and discussed them beforehand, but I also would not have been able to embrace the deep-seeded Cretan philosophy of “siga, siga” (roughly translated to “slowly, slowly”) had I not gone out and dug it up from the amazing people living on that gem of an island.
This approach proved beneficial in every place that we visited. I reached an understanding of the depth and layered vivacity of Rome by studying Cicero and Machiavelli by morning, touring the city by day and pub-crawling through it by night. I never could have truly comprehended the Renaissance without seeing Tuscany sprawled out beneath my eyes from Piazza Michelangelo and feeling the music and art pulse through the narrow streets of Florence.
This experience was, as a whole, deeply enlightening, and that is without a mention of the incredible bonds formed with those who accompanied me on my travels, the delectability of the food concocted in these exotic places or the temperate atmospheres in which we were able to enjoy ourselves.
To say the trip was a success due to the blissful equilibrium it offered is an understatement that only verifies Plato’s ideal soul. The level of appreciation I gained from my change in surroundings is indescribable, a matter I’ll leave for Aristotle to discuss.
I can only plea with anyone who has the opportunity to travel to take full advantage of it. This means not only getting past the price tag – there are plenty of loans out there for undergraduates – and making it happen, but doing it the right way: informed and engrossed.