By Martha Miller, Converse II
January Term at Converse is four weeks of intensive study that provides some exceptional learning opportunities. Among the standard course offerings is a variety of study-travel excursions. In 2008, the Theatre, Economics, Biology, Education and Art departments offered study abroad courses to Western Europe, Great Britain, and South America. Professors Ansley and Mac Boggs spent sixteen art-filled days with Converse students touring London, Paris, Lucerne, Pisa, Florence and Rome, tracing the steps of Michelangelo as they visited the sites in these cities where his art is displayed.
The study-travel program, called Teaching Through the Arts, is a yearly excursion shared by Converse’s arts and education departments. The program is designed to expose students to the arts in England, France, Switzerland and Italy, and to the power of teaching through the arts. Through exposure to famous works and accompanying reading recourses, the students have a total immersion experience. The trip enables students to create rich connections between works of art and curriculum topics.
“Traveling is a life changing experience,” states Dr. Ansley Boggs, Director of Professional Education. “I could tell students that I want them to use art as a teaching tool, and they would do it because I said it. But now that they’ve experienced the art first-hand, the change is so profound that they are eager to share what they’ve experienced.”
E.F. Tours, a professional touring company, matched the Converse team with a group from Wisconsin, and the strangers quickly became close friends. For sixteen days they witnessed some of the most famous and most photographed sites and works of art in the Western world, including: the British National Museum of Art, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London; the Louvre, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; Kapellbrücke, the Lion Monument and Mount Pilatus in Lucerne; the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Piazza della Signoria, the Duomo, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum in Rome. “There is nothing like seeing the great works in person,” Boggs says. “When you see Michelangelo’s David—real and right before you—it’s so amazing, you just want to get on your knees and gaze.”
Melissa Russo, a sophomore education major from Houston, Texas agrees. “You can always imagine what it would be like to see the Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo’s David, or original Monets…but nothing can prepare you for the moments when they’re right in front of your face, within touching distance.” Amber Shearsmith, a senior student teacher from Inman, South Carolina, is already using the principles of Teaching Through the Arts in her classes at Broome High School. “The most important thing I learned from this trip,” she says, “was that pictures may be worth a thousand words, but actually being there and experiencing so many things is worth so much more. Before going on this trip I only knew what I had seen in pictures and read in books. Standing in the ancient ruins of the Forum and in front of Buckingham Palace, I realized that no matter how much you research a city or history there is nothing more exciting than actually being on the sites of so many historical events.”