January 3, 2018

Observations from Jan Sanders, Ph.D, Regional Director of Mediterranean Programs

Autumn in the US is a perfect time to be on the road and I had the opportunity to do just this with Arcadia colleagues last month. Southern Greece is not rich in deciduous trees and, come autumn, my New England roots long for a few red, orange and yellow leaves. Driving through a colorful landscape acted like a tonic, as did the many conversations with advisors and faculty about students and student learning. We are now working to offer directed student research options in Athens as well as in other Arcadia Centers. Student research is highly focused and might well be discipline narrow but, offsetting this, I also heard a renewed stress on our long-standing interdisciplinary approaches to learning.

Arcadia aside, I was struck by an absence of conversation. Standing in the inevitable Starbucks line I was the only one whose nose was not in my phone. Lives lived by apps is nothing new and, indeed, this is alive and well in Athens too. But so is the art of conversation. Edward T. Hall’s 1983 The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time still resonates today as we talk about time being wasted, saved, spent, cut and taken. What I missed in the US was an absence of time, or absence of awareness of time, that is still a part of the culture in Greece and the southern Mediterranean. Conversations, as opposed to scheduled meetings with agendas, blossom in this sort of time void. And Mediterranean time is often one of the things that returning students say they will miss. So, as we prepare to welcome a new semester of students to this lively, engaging and idiosyncratic city which is so fundamental to all the learning that takes place here, I will be looking for ways to highlight the art of conversation.