During the three-week January term, I have had the opportunity to lead several study abroad courses for Maryville College students. The purpose of these courses has been to give students a chance to experience a culture very different from their own firsthand, to explore religion and culture in one or more Mediterranean countries, and to learn to travel in a way that goes beyond sightseeing and promotes genuine engagement with a culture.
The first travel/study course I led was to Turkey in January 2001. Among the places we visited were Istanbul, Ephesus, Pergamum, Troy, and Antalya. Students watched skilled craftswomen spinning silk and making rugs, talked with village children who were learning English in school, bargained with vendors in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and met students at a local university.
When the events of September 11, 2001 prevented a return trip to Turkey or other areas of the Middle East in January of 2002, we planned a travel/study course to Malta. While Malta is a European country in many ways, its location in the Mediterranean has meant that it has been a point of intersection for many cultures. Some of the oldest temples in the world, predating Sumer, Egypt and Stonehenge, are on the Islands of Malta. Ancient Phoenicians established ports here, the Romans incorporated Malta into their empire, Arab occupation had a strong impact on the local language, and a series of invaders from Europe, including Normans, Sicilians, Knights of St. John, French and British ruled before Malta established its independence in 1964. We returned to Malta in January 2003 and 2008.
Two of the Malta courses included a few days in Sicily.There we visited Roman ruins in Taormina and Syracusa, marveled at the incredible mosaics in the church of Monreale, and attended the opera in Palermo.