Rudolph-funded Study Abroad
Brayden Lentz ’23 ASCSA Athens, Greece Blog Post
It certainly wasn’t very late. No more than a quarter past 10, but even the keenest observer would have been oblivious to the clock. The sun had set long ago, and its light left no trace. The ferry had only just set out from its Piraean port with Crete still seven hours ahead, yet the population on the deck was dwindling. Many turned in for the night, including my classmates, but something inside compelled me to stay. As I stood there, I noticed that, though the mainland was enveloped by night, we were slowly crawling past the Greek coast at an indiscernible pace. Only pockets of soft light, which provided the only evidence of life against an inhospitable backdrop, still dotted the shore. The peaks of Greece’s defining mountains, low but sharp, shot forth like daggers against the yet blacker sky, and a row of bright red lights flashed methodically atop the hills, warning the night against a series of otherwise invisible towers. All appeared unusually still. The only evidence of movement against the empty void ahead was the soft waves of the Aegean lapping against the ship’s hull. I remember looking up into that untainted sky, with its bright stars providing life to that otherwise barren landscape and full moon resting just above the water. In moments like these, amongst the otherwise surreal environment, I could not help but feel utterly absorbed by the grandeur of my surroundings. It was impossible not to connect my experience to all who had come before me. I was encompassed by the same mountains, moon, and stars that had characterized the journeys of mythological heroes like Hercules, Odysseus, and Aeneas. I felt connected with thousands of years of human history and filling the shoes of the literary figures I had read so much about in school. Yet, no matter how long I could have spent on those texts in class, it was only in moments like these that I could ever truly understand what they said.
This experience and countless others have come to define my month studying abroad in Greece. Thanks to the generous funding of the Rudolph family and the wonderful professors at Wabash who helped me along every step of the way, I was fortunate enough to be one of twenty students admitted into the American School of Classical Studies Athens’ (ASCSA) summer seminar titled Thanatopsis. The course led my nineteen colleagues and me from site to site in Athens before taking us through the Greek countryside and Crete as we traced the evolution of Greek funerary customs from the early Bronze age to today. Though this topic may appear mundane or even strange at first glance, the reality was anything but ordinary. Nowhere else could I have had the opportunity to climb into long deserted tombs carved into mountainsides or abandoned holes in the ground, which may or may not have been structurally sound, to get up close and personal with information that had hitherto only existed in my textbooks. At times it felt like we had visited every museum in the country and climbed every historical hill, which the steps on my Fitbit account would appear to corroborate. While I may have preferred the air conditioning of the museums to the climbing in the heat of the Greek sun, every peak from Mount Lycabettus to Mycenae made the march worth the sweat and effort.
I must also mention the incredible group that made the experience as special as it was. There were no other Wabash brothers on the trip, and most of my classmates were older than I was, the oldest being 71 (and an actor in Star Wars, strangely enough), but that did not matter in the slightest. Thanks to the school’s acceptance of students from Canada and the United Kingdom, I made new friends from across the country and beyond. There was no other group that I would have rather traveled, sweated, complained, and studied with, as we took our school seriously but never at the expense of fun. At the heart of our team were two experienced figures that kept us on track. The first one was Professor Levine, who not only planned and helmed the journey through the country every step of the way but also led us fearlessly through the winding and chaotic streets of Athens at an Olympic pace, only pausing to make a witty joke or pun if the need arose. The other man was a Greek bus driver named Christos, whose smile never fell from his face, even as he squeezed a charter bus through streets built for little more than a mule and a cart. He also never missed the opportunity to teach us Greek insults, or as he would call them, “fighting words.” While I could complain about the lack of water at restaurants, the chaotic streets, and some aggressive vendors, I have nothing poor to say to all those at the American School who made the experience possible in the wake of a pandemic.
Though I tried my best, the hundreds of photos I took on my journey will never truly capture the feelings of the sites they intend to. Nevertheless, they are good reminders of my time abroad and the opportunities made possible by Wabash College and the Rudolph family. I deeply appreciate both and hope many more Wabash men continue to take advantage of the support the school will gladly give them.