Studying abroad is a very popular opportunity at Tufts University, a school well known for its internationally minded student body. Each year, 40-45% of Tufts undergraduates attend a one-year or semester-long program in a foreign country. As impressive as that statistic is, Tufts Global Education is looking to bring even more students abroad with a new program that will run during the winter break this academic year. Taught by Professor and Head of the Classics Department Bruce Hitchner, the Greeks, Romans and Celts in France program will take a group of students to important archaeological sites in and around the city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France.
The program will embark on its maiden voyage over the winter break, although it won’t be the first on-site learning experience for its widely-traveled instructor. Hitchner conducted similar classical study programs abroad, including multi-day courses in Aix-en-Provence, provided by the city’s Institute of American Universities. What makes Tufts’ version of Hitchner’s program unique is that it focuses exclusively on Aix-en-Provence and its surroundings for two and a half weeks.
According to a former participant in one of Hitchner’s programs, a longer stay in France can be worth the students’ time. Mikayla Barreiro, currently a graduate student at Tufts and an alumnus of Hitchner’s 2019-2020 winter program through IAU, felt a closer look at the south of France was a smart choice for this new affiliate program. at Tufts.
“There’s so much in one place,” she said. “You can’t see it all in a few days if you split it.”
Barreiro cited Hitchner’s on-site lectures, French museums and pancakes as highlights of his own experience in Aix-en-Provence.
Although the course is only concentrated in one place, its areas will be very varied, and intentionally. Hitchner hopes undergraduate and graduate students from all majors will apply and has organized the program to transcend the discipline of classical studies.
“It’s not just your standard type of traditional history lesson in the traditional classical approach; he looks at it the way you would expect a professor at Tufts to try,” he said.
This means, for example, deepening scientific perspectives on the sites they visit. Hitchner has scheduled classes on local flora and fauna and aqueduct engineering, which might be of particular interest to students with a background in biology and engineering. Hitchner has also prepared lectures with contemporary relevance, including course content on climate change and its effects on populations in antiquity.
“It’s open to everyone, and it will resonate with everyone who takes the course,” Hitchner said.
Another aspect of the program’s accessibility is that it matches Tufts’ winter break, when students are more likely to be idle. Greeks, Romans and Celts are designed to operate within the confines of the Tufts academic calendar, allowing students to study abroad for a relatively short time.
“One of the benefits, or one of the many benefits, of winter term programs is that students typically don’t have any other obligations that they have to work around,” said Melanie Armstrong, associate director of programs and outreach at Tufts Global Education. “They won’t miss an opportunity, like working or doing an internship over the summer.”
Armstrong hopes the introduction of the program will further remove barriers to student participation in overseas programs.
Indeed, timing was a crucial aspect in the feasibility of Barreiro’s experience abroad, due to the obligations she had during the school year.
“I couldn’t have gone abroad, and I never would have gone abroad, if it wasn’t for going with Professor Hitchner at that time,” she said.
But above all, she would not have had the experience that changed the trajectory of her academic and professional career.
“I had no intention of [become] a classic,” Barreiro said. “And then I went on this trip, and I couldn’t get these things out of my head.”
Now Barreiro is studying to complete a master’s degree in classical studies at Tufts, with Hitchner as one of his advisors.
Armstrong added that participating in a shorter study abroad experience could also serve as a starting point for doing a semester or even a full year abroad.
“I think for some students too, they want to… get their feet wet. So a short term program gives them a chance to test it out a bit and then see if maybe a full semester or year [abroad] is something that interests them. she says.
Armstrong also emphasized the transformative potential of studying abroad. “I have been in contact with students who are between 10 and 15 years old, who are doing really interesting things,” she said. “It’s really cool to see how study abroad was one of the catalytic experiences for them to go on and do what they’re doing now.”
Hoping to inspire students to think both globally and historically, Hitchner intends to address important philosophical questions that are intrinsically linked to the course material. Most significant is the relationship between the current culture of France and the cultures that occupied and contributed to its ancient Gallic society.
Hitchner approaches this variety of different cultures that have shaped today’s France by questioning how they have interacted.
“It is very important to note this question of identity: how do we know who we are? he said. “What did it mean to be, for example, someone of Celtic origin, of Gallic origin, a Roman… what did it mean to be a mixture of all these things?
At the very heart of this study abroad program is cultural interaction, an experience that can illuminate other ways of life and enhance understanding of one’s own culture. Hitchner posits that these questions of identity have remained the same, despite the millennia that separate modern times from antiquity.
The course accompanying the two-and-a-half-week student residence in Aix-en-Provence is worth 3 semester units and will be delivered as part of the Classics Department. Students will participate in a total of 10 excursions and site visits. Applications for the Greeks, Romans and Celts in France program are open until November 1st.