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Professors Help Students Experience Europe

December 19th, 2011

By Alyssa Foster. Originally published in the PHC Herald, 12/2/11.

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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The PHC Chorale, on its Europe tour in spring of 2010

In the cool, dark catacombs, Dr. Douglas Favelo and his students from UCLA were surrounded by nearly a mile of the tombs of early Roman Christians, some of whom were martyrs. A feeling of contentment and peace washed over Favelo as he thought about the hope in life after death that Christians have had for thousands of years.

Nearby, his students were freaking out. Some of the girls were crying. One girl was convulsing with sobs while her friend tried to comfort her. The tour guide talked to the visitors about the hope that the ancient Roman Christians buried there had in eternal life. The hopeful words fell on inattentive ears; the students were preoccupied with thoughts of death.

“I could see that the Enemy would want people to be disturbed and not think about the glorious message that the tour guide was talking about -- the hope these people had in resurrection,” Favelo said. “When I say I think it’s spiritual warfare, that’s my speculation.”

This experience in the catacombs was part of a class trip to Rome that Favelo led while employed as a professor at UCLA. Favelo spent a month in Rome with college students before returning to his home in California, where his wife was packing up the family’s belongings for the upcoming move to Virginia. At the time, Favelo was taking a new job as Assistant Professor of History at Patrick Henry College.

In the spring semester of 2012, Favelo will travel with PHC students to Rome, where they will tour major historical sites during spring break.

Dr. Steve McCollum and wife Dr. Laura McCollum, R, on spring 2010 Europe tour with the Chorale

“The purpose of the trip is for students to experience Rome in so much more depth than what we can do in a classroom in a few minutes,” Favelo said. He hopes that, by experiencing Rome, students will grow personally in their understanding of the practical, educational and spiritual values of Roman history. International travel allows students to learn about history on a greater scale than any classroom lecture or book can provide.

“History was really a part of everybody’s life a few hundred years ago,” Favelo said. “That has been lost in our culture, especially ancient history. I want to inculcate a love of ancient history.”

Favelo is not the first PHC professor to organize an international trip to enlighten PHC students in historical knowledge. Both Associate Professor of Literature Dr. Bonnie Libby and Associate Professor of Music Dr. Steven McCollum have led recent student trips to Europe.

McCollum led a group of around 30 Chorale students throughout Europe over spring break in 2010. He and his students visited Germany, Austria and Italy to tour and sing at historical sites.

“Our students had an opportunity to really hone their skills to a much higher degree,” McCollum said. “They came back better musicians.”

During the trip, the chorale members visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. As they drove by their destination, the cathedral loomed over them.

“We got out of the bus and I couldn’t see it at first,” said Emily Morcos, a PHC senior in the Government: Political Theory track. “I just stepped out of the bus in my chorale dress and realized that we were singing there.”

In Venice, the chorale sang the music of the Italian composer Gabrielli at St. Mark’s cathedral. Gabrielli had been the music minister of St. Mark’s in the 16th century and had written the music specifically to be performed in the cathedral. “It was like we were bringing Gabrielli back to Venice,” Morcos said.

“That makes a pretty significant impression educationally, because you understand the specific context that the composer was working in musically and aesthetically,” McCollum said. “It really reinforces the prior learning.”

The trip to Europe also educated students by surrounding them with different lifestyles and worldviews. “It really is a different culture,” said Charlotte Blacklock, a junior history major. “A lot of the time we don’t really grasp that until we actually go there and soak it up.”

One culturally meaningful aspect of the trip for the chorale group was spending Easter in Munich. “I woke up hearing the church bells ringing,” Morcos said. When the students went to eat breakfast, the hotel staff had colored eggs waiting for them. As the group drove off for the day, they sang Christ the Lord has Risen Today.

Dr. Bonnie Libby (L) and senior Sarah McCartney traveling in England in 2011

On the literature side, Dr. Libby organized Europe trips for students in the spring semesters of 2008 and 2011. Over spring break in 2011, Blacklock and a few other students accompanied Libby to England. “Only five of us went on the England trip,” Blacklock said. “We got to do pretty much anything we wanted to do because there were so few of us.”

The trip, however, was not without difficulties and complications. At one point, Libby and her students literally ran to catch a train. They were relieved when they thought that they had caught the train, but that relief turned to frustration when they realized that it was the wrong train and that they would have to wait for the next train which didn’t come for two more hours.

They arrived at their destination late. They then decided to walk to the car rental place, and the walk was significantly longer than they expected. When they finally got to the car rental place, Libby and the students had to overcome the steering wheel location change and different driving laws. “I think just learning to function in a foreign environment is valuable,” Libby said. “Getting around is always a challenge.”

The group finally got to the coast of Tintagel, where they visited the old ruined castle on a cliff. “It was just this raw beauty,” Blacklock said. “It was just enthralling.” When they left Tintagel, Libby and her students got lost. By the time they arrived at the car rental place again, it was closed, so they could not return the car. “In spite of all that, it was still my favorite place that we went,” Blacklock said. “Mishaps followed us around, but it was still fantastic.”

The great historical context that the England trip provided to students made the trip worth the time and money spent. “It’s so valuable to put our lives into perspective,” Libby said. “When you are looking at a castle built in 1160 or at an actual copy of the Magna Carta, you gain some small appreciation for the scope of human history and literature.”

Senior Charlotte Blacklock and 2011 alumna Crista Richey in London

One of the stops that Libby and her literature students made was Stonehenge. The famous structure was much bigger and greater than Blacklock had imagined. “Seeing things with your eyes is so different from seeing pictures of them or reading about them,” Blacklock said. “It makes history come alive to be able to go and see that kind of thing with your own eyes.”

On both trips that Libby has organized in the past for PHC students, she attended worship services at Church of England cathedrals. “It is stirring to participate in services in such beautiful and historic settings,” Libby said. “But also to realize that Christianity comes in other flavors than our typical American evangelicalism.” The historical distinctions of England from the United States, such as the martyrdom of people over religious conflicts, make the religious culture of the country different.

Blacklock, who went on both McCollum’s Europe chorale trip and Libby’s literature trip to England, plans to travel to Rome with Favelo and classmates next spring. “Dr. Favelo’s trip is coming up, and it should just be amazing,” Blacklock said. “I can’t think of anyone else I would rather go to Italy with and give me tours.”

“We’re going to eat Italian food in Roman restaurants; we’re going to eat gelato; and we’re going to see people who are dressed in thousands of dollars of clothing, because the Italians take their clothing really seriously,” Favelo said with a grin.