What Students Say
About Mark Vecchio's Study-Abroad and Other Myth Courses
My experiences during these study abroad trips were the most influential and inspiring aspects of my academic career. Not only was the literature fascinating, but the opportunity of combining an intensive Mythological study with the actual visitation of the ancient sites being studied, truly allowed me as a student to immerse myself in a deepened understanding of these cultures.
The itinerary put together by Mark Vecchio provides an intimate study environment which brings the student directly to the source. There are few things comparable to studying Mayan hieroglyphs and then being able to decipher them as you walk through an ancient Mayan ruined city; studying Greek astronomy and being able to follow history while standing under the stars at the temple of Apollo at Delphi; or being able to watch the sun rise as you run your fingers across the monolithic blocks at Stonehenge. I feel that this is the kind of education that is necessary for one to gain intimate knowledge of the past, granting further recognition toward the human path of progression, and the origins of the realities of contemporary society.
These courses have given me the courage to explore foreign lands, the determination to gain understanding through rigorous academic research and artistic projects, but most importantly they have broadened my respect and fascination for all cultures and histories, transforming the world into an endless source of lifelong learning.
B.A. Simon's Rock College
England, Ireland, Mexico, and Greece-Turkey trips, 2005–07
The course was both more challenging and more rewarding than I initially expected. Instead of asking his students to retain volumes of information de-contextualized by centuries, or to simply evaluate academic theories and analysis, Prof. Vecchio brings his classroom into an active engagement with mythology by pursuing the ways in which it functions and creates meaning. I would describe my experiences in the classroom and on the trip abroad as active and participatory.
I think that by having students perform the work of analysis themselves, both the mythology and the critical theory become more accessible and relevant. The chronological and physical distances between Perseus, Jung, and myself are condensed through Prof. Vecchio's emphasis on engaged learning.
This course had a considerable impact on my intellectual development, and continues to shape my career path. The extent to which I am able to apply the techniques of the course to my current work, if not the subject matter, is remarkable.
I would recommend Prof. Vecchio's courses and trips to any student majoring in any discipline. The methods by which he teaches the material are as valuable as the subject itself, and transcend the field of mythology.
M.A., PhD candidate (Literature and Film)
Classroom: Greek Mythology, 2001; Abroad: Greece-Turkey, 2001
The Mythic Imagination course has shaped much of how I look at not only mythology and storytelling (both of which are relevant in my writing career), but also my understanding of the way people experience and interact with the world. To say that I use what I learned in the course daily is a literally true statement. The trips I've been on with Mark Vecchio have all been enhancements to the understandings I began to form in that course. Not only did they impact me on an academic and intellectual level, but they made an impression on me on a human level, helping me to develop myself further as an emotional and spiritual person.
Traveling to foreign countries is always an eye-opening experience: as a visitor, you recognize that other people see the world differently than you do, whether that's expressed through culture or language or daily rituals taken for granted. What makes Mark Vecchio's travel courses special is that not only do you see how different a modern world view can be when you're traveling in another culture, but you're also comparing that to the ancient world view held in the same place. On the Turkey and Greece tour, when experiencing modern Turkish culture particularly (as that's the most foreign from my own world view), and then imagining that culture, with its barter and loud trade, overlaid on generations of previous experience back to Constantinople, and further back to Troy—the palimpsest of thought and experience becomes clear through doing studies of mythology and mythic understanding in the places where those myths originated in a way that illuminates both the ancient and modern cultures in tandem.
As I said above, not a day goes by when something from one of the myth trips or from Mythic Imagination isn't relevant to both my career and to my own world view. On an intellectual and creative level, the courses provided me with material to use in my own writing from the study of the mythic content and the legends themselves. Better still, particularly in my fiction writing, the courses helped me to develop a more expansive view of how the stories of a culture impact the way that culture interacts with its surroundings, which applies even in a modern setting. That's vital for character development—and for me to understand the characters that I'm writing.
I have been greatly privileged to go on six study tours with Mark Vecchio, and I can confidently say that, even repeating the courses (as a chaperon), I've learned something new and different—both about the course material and about myself—on each tour.
Alana Joli Abbott (née Foster)
B.A. Simon's Rock College
Freelance writer and editor
As student: classroom: Mythic Imagination, 2000; Abroad: England trip, 2000. As chaperon/teaching assistant: Greece-Turkey, 2001, Ireland, 2006, England, 2009.
Refreshing, mind blowing, and totally unique. I was invited to be unsure, uncertain, to explore and examine my edges, my boundaries, my experiences, my truths, to dig deeper into myself for my own authenticity. These courses, trips, and the container that Mark holds for his students invited me fully into my own process, to explore through my own creativity, my own self. Mark's courses, trips, and teaching style raised my expectations for what education should feel like—beyond memorization and regurgitation of information—something that changes my being, which invites me to question my own notions, which ignites my curiosity, and which provides me with the tools of exploration, creativity, and discovery.
The experiential and interdiciplinary nature of both the classroom portion of these courses and the trips themselves are the most vital elements of these experiences.
The scope of these courses and trips is infinite—no matter one's area of study the implications are endless. As someone who is inspired by expression and creativity, mythology is a rich topic to begin with, however Mark invites his students to experience mythology as something alive and deeply relevant, not merely as text to be analyzed, but as something to find within one's self through non linear thinking and awakening one's senses. As someone who understands reality and experiences life through movement and touch, I have often felt throughout my academic career a struggle to integrate the realm of thought with that of the embodied, non-verbal experience. It was in these courses both in the classroom and on the trips that I was both challenged and invited to begin to explore this seeming polarity. Mark gently encourages and inspires his students to approach the "intellectual" with one's whole being, one's entire human intelligence.
B.A. Simon's Rock College
Classroom: Greek Mythology, Mythic Imagination, 2008–09; Abroad: Greece-Turkey, England, 2008–09
I think the courses had a high impact, at a very early stage. I'm in the final stages of finishing a PhD (philosophy). I have frequently bumped into the study of myth, especially as Greek myth is the "prehistory" of the history of philosophy, and as philosophy has always been engaged with myth, often as its supposed opposite, or in the last two hundred years (Schelling, Heidegger, Nietzsche, for example), as its rehabilitated origin. My dissertation ends with a short chapter of reflection on the continuity between myth and philosophy. My philosophical studies began from, and have continued to draw on, a concern with philosophical responses to humanity's relationship to nature, which was a focus especially of Mark's England trip. I'm sure that what I learned on those courses, 13 years ago before I had developed my philosophical inclinations or much of my environmental concern, served as part of the foundation for both.
I had a very positive experience in the course and on the trip. I have distinct memories of the professor's high level of enthusiasm and ability to communicate his sense that the questions asked in the course and trip were deeply important to our lives today, not just antiquarian curiosity. Having had exposure to the academic treatment of mythology since then, I am now very impressed with the professor's ability and willingness to think outside the box and deal with theories and texts outside of what seems to be a standard and generally accepted interpretation.
M.A. Environmental Studies, and PhD candidate (Philosophy), University of Oregon
Field instructor, National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, Wyoming
Classroom: Greek Mythology, 1997; Abroad: England, 1997
Amazing and life-changing. The courses not only totally changed the way I understand and think about mythology, but the way I think about so many other ideas.
Mark brings unique ideas, deep understanding, and passion for the subjects he teaches. He encourages students to explore their own ideas and figure things out for themselves, but he's always ready to help by offering his own ideas and insightful feedback. Mark's the best teacher I've ever had.
B.A. Creative Writing and Literary Studies, Simon's Rock College, summa cum laude
Ireland, Greece-Turkey, 2006–07.
These courses made it possible for me to reflect on and articulate my perception of the mind, the outside world, and the connection between the two in a way that no psychology or philosophy class could do. It changed how I experience everything around me and within. Every time I go for a run, or I rock climb, or sit on the grass even—I feel a much deeper connection to the earth than I did before. I have always respected nature, but had never had a mental process I could use in order to truly feel part of it. I would never have called my mind a creative one before this class—but now it can't stop creating, inventing, and most importantly discovering its own capabilities. I am lucky that I was able to take these courses—both my memories and my future will be better for it.
Being able to read works by Owen Barfield in this class [Mythic Imagination] and context was a gift. By context I mean with a professor who expects a lot from his students, shows deep interest in their perspectives, truly listens, and gives clear answers. A student is not only rewarded for being able to understand the basics, but also for using that understanding as a jumping off point for their own intellectual journey.
The trip to England was crucial. It allowed me to fully experience what was learned in the classroom. This course showed me how to experience the teachings of Jung and Barfield everyday whether it was going to Stonehenge, sitting in a cathedral or small church, standing in the center of a very large man-made ring, staring at a stone, or sitting under a tree. Rather than merely look at and walk past these places and objects, I experienced them—and I have not stopped.
What we studied will make it so that I can understand and appreciate everything I study in the future far more deeply (including, especially, poetry and literature). I look at every walk of life in a new way with every course I take and with every experience in life—but I must say that this course and this experience have affected me more than almost any other.
I would say that these studies have made me much more open minded and understanding of the world and other people. One of the main ways that it has impacted my intellectual development is in how I view and think about religion. Now, nothing deserves to be rejected—every little object, action, and thought is deserving of deeper reflection.
Stephanie Katryn Barefield
B.A. candidate, Simon's Rock College
Classroom: Mythic Imagination, 2009; Abroad: England in Myth and Stone, 2009
Magnificent, unique, and wildly educational.
The most important element for me was the group discussions. It was a revelation for me to hear how others had interesting and vastly different perceptions of the historical, mythological and cultural relics and monuments we encountered. The communal aspects of mythology made our processing the things we saw and thought as a group seem natural and organic.
This two week trip revolutionized my concepts of mythology and the manners in which it is entangled with history and community. It also brought about a change in the way I looked at creative writing (both my own and others').
The trip was invaluable, and Mark is an incredible leader for such trips—he knows how to get the perfect blend of structure and the freedom that enables students to absorb and process the culture and history on their own terms while still a part of the group's experience.
B.A. Simon's Rock College; J.D. candidate, Cornell Law School
Ireland trip, 2006
The trip I took with Mark and Scott [McPartland, NYU: co-leader of 1997 trip] is still easily one of the most interesting things I did as a student.
Being 17 and abroad for the first time was enlightening both intellectually and emotionally on more levels than I can succinctly expand on or maybe even fully understand even now as a 30-year-old. My personal experiences on our exploration of the mythic sites of ancient England certainly solidified my desire to explore the early origins of Christian myths as an undergraduate, which I pursued to a degree. What was more, though, was what I learned about intellectual exploration by examining a multitude of theories and possible causal relationships surrounding the megalithic sites.
It's impossible to overstate the impact of "being there" if you're going to make a serious attempt to intellectually explore the idea of these ancient myths and sites. Doing so with someone like Mark Vecchio insures that you're going to do it right while you're there.
B.A. Religious Studies, McDaniel College
Photographer, owner Nickel City Studios
England trip, 1997
Physically seeing these mythological sites has a huge impact on how we relate to the myths themselves. I was 16 when I went on Mark's trip, and I'd been reading Greek mythology since I was a little girl, but I still remember, for example, how awed I was when I saw Delphi in person. The energy of the space is undeniable—surrounded by dizzying mountains, it's like you can feel the heartbeat of the world. It brought new meaning to how I thought about the Oracle and read stories about her. The trip certainly encouraged and helped solidify a deep love of stretching myself via primary experience of domains that can be dangerously easy to make overly airy and theoretical.
Mark has a great combination of intellectual rigor and easygoing approachability, which makes him both a wonderful traveling companion and instructor.
B.A. Simon's Rock College
Peace Corps Volunteer, Swaziland, Africa
Classroom: Greek Mythology, 2001; Abroad: Greece-Turkey, 2001
Mythic Imagination: Profound and insightful. Greece-Turkey: A once-in-a-lifetime experience that successfully contextualized the historical and spiritual connection that these ancient cultures had with their surroundings—a context rooted in targeted and varied texts that gave me, as a student, a mythological understanding to accompany the historical background of the cultures and sites encountered in the classroom and on the tour.
My experiences in both the Mythic Imagination course and on the Greece-Turkey tour are cornerstones of my college education. I continue to refer to the texts, memories, and writing I produced during these times.
A.A. Simon's Rock College
Classroom: Mythic Imagination, 2007; Abroad: Greece-Turkey, 2007