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Going Global with JEM

From the Desk of the Director – March 2022

A few weeks ago, the Honors Program marked the eighth anniversary of its first short-term study abroad offering. The trip included visits at various abbeys and Norbertine sites in Germany and the Czech Republic. At one point during the trip, twenty-two students were crammed into a single bathroom. At another, a student—who shall remain nameless—was seen streaking down to the river wearing nothing (that’s right, nothing) but an apron. To be clear: it was January.

Such short-term study abroad courses quickly became a staple of the Honors Program, and today they are one of its defining features. Though similar opportunities are now available across the College, the Honors Program continues to set the standard for quality and affordability. This year alone, we’ll run three Global Seminars: Tragedy and Philosophy in Greece; Lost Abbeys of the Norbertines in the United Kingdom; and A Brief History of the Brain in Spain!

Clearly, we put a lot of effort into these. Just as clearly, students are responding to that effort. But why? What’s so great about getting out of the country, if even for a few weeks? There are many reasons, but I’ll take a moment to highlight one of special relevance to Honors students: awe.

Remember back to that moonless night, far away from any city light, when you looked into the sky and were suddenly struck by the sheer beauty and overwhelming power of the countless stars in the Milky Way and other galaxies? Remember how unfathomably enormous the universe felt that night? Remember how tiny you felt by comparison? Almost microscopic? But remember, too, the exhilaration of feeling some kinship with that enormous universe? Some philosophers have attached a name to this type of experience: the sublime. It’s characterized by simultaneous respect for that which is beyond us and humility in the face of our own limitations. It is, in religious terms, a whisper from the Divine.

The sublime experience of nature has a cultural analog, and this is what’s at work when you step off that plane far from the familiar places and practices of life back home. You’re suddenly struck by the sheer sameness and overwhelming otherness of the countless persons and languages and mores in Europe or Asia or Africa or Latin America or Australia or wherever you are. You get the same feeling of exhilaration, the same simultaneous respect and humility. Honors students are especially sensitive to it. It’s what fuels our intellectual curiosity and inspires us to work for the common good. And it’s not something we can get from a textbook or a television documentary or a test tube, no matter how great those things might be in their proper context.

If you haven’t gone abroad yet, please talk to someone who has. We can’t guarantee bathroom-packing or apron-streaking, but we can guarantee a life-changing perspective on the world. So get in touch with Stacey or me or the Study Abroad office to see what opportunities lie ahead. We always have ideas brewing. At this very moment, visions of Scotland, India, Ireland, Argentina, and New Zealand are dancing in my head. The possibilities are…Awesome.

Interested in a Global Seminar but not sure how it all “works”? We’ve created a helpful guide that answers several of the most common questions. 

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