By now, the Spring 2017 students have completed a third independent travel and made it back home to the States (or in one case, Japan) and their oversees HUF experience has come to a close. Who better to sum up that experience in words than the students themselves.
So it is fitting that our last Greetings from HUF for this semester include excerpts from several of the student's final writing assignments. Part of the essay is a reflection on the following question:
What was your "Aha" moment of the semester? When did all of what we have been doing come together and somehow cause something to click in your mind?
"There was no A-Ha moment that changed me in the way I expected, rather every seemingly small thing we came into contact with was merely like a chisel to me, a raw block of marble, and sculpted my HUF experience to what it seems like now: a finished and polished beautiful piece of art. When looking at all these creations that the greatest minds on earth have input into the world, I realize what I want most in this life. These men stayed true to Robbie's saying of "aggressively seek beauty in every day" and rather than seeking refuge in nature or something of those sorts, they sold their minds and embodied some of the most beautiful pieces seen in the history of the world. I realize what I want most in my life, and that is to effect the world in a positive way, just as these men have done. I realize that in today’s age, marble working or creating frescoes for churches are still amazing things to do, but today affecting the world beautifully could be done in many different ways. I don't care what I end up doing or what hobbies I will end up taking on, but I know for a fact that I want to aggressively seek beauty in all of it, and I want to put my experience and meaning within in everything I do."
— Evan Rosenzweig
"While at HUF I have experienced many events that will surely stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though I will not always remember every detail from this trip, I will always remember the lessons it has taught me, and the way my view of the world has changed through it. I have yet to experience a single epiphany moment, but looking back I can see the series of revelations that have led to the grand total of my life lesson learned. While in Europe I have been able to see how history has influenced the present, and how that should affect the way I live my life today."
— Caroline Brown
"Using the analogy of a clock, I am but the smallest piece like a spoke on a miniscule cog when it comes to the world going ‘round. I think I have come to some small actuality that I am almost of no consequence to the world. Chances are that I will not change the world by myself, and the world will never know my name. While this may seem like a melancholy thought to dwell on, it just makes me appreciate more and more the love that God has for each of us individually. He knows each of us individually and completely, knows our every dark secret and triumph and loves us regardless. So while I may not be of consequence to the world, I am the apple of my Lord’s eye and that is more than enough for me."
— Leah Johnson
"I have found myself during this trip staring off over a Florentine skyline, watching the sun set into the ocean, and standing at the pinnacle of the island of Capri muttering to myself the question “Where am I?” I am smiling as I say this because I am in complete disbelief of what I am seeing with my eyes. The sheer beauty that God has laid before me and blessed me with, I am experiencing in that very moment. The Amalfi Coast, Capri, Florence, Abetone, the Turkish Steps, and a castle in the middle of Casentino to name a few are some of the places that I have felt this because of how beautiful they are! I try and capture the moments in my camera as quickly as I can because I know just how fleeting the moments are. I have found that during this trip, if I don’t keep myself focused then I will miss those glimpses of God. I might see the sights, experience the art, and meet special people, but if I am not aggressively seeking beauty then it will pass me by."
— Addison Picker
Visiting Faculty Note:
Dr. Shawn and Jennifer Fisher, professors of history and speech-language pathology respectively, were our visiting faculty this Spring semester. Their daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel, also accompanied them on the trip. Shawn and Jennifer were HUFstudents in the Spring of 1996.
For my wife and me it has been 21 years since we have visited Italy, and it is still as beautiful and magical as our first visit. This time things are a little different, of course. Last time we were footloose students, backpacking across Europe with boundless energy and a Eurail pass. This time we are, perhaps, a little slower and not quite as adventurous, and of course we have with us not only 36 students to teach and look after, but also two kids of our own.
Jennifer and I were dating when we came to HUF in 1996, and it was really a serious commitment of our relationship to see if we could tolerate each other for the extent of the semester. It is safe to say that we did! We can honestly say we fell in love in Italy, and we wouldn't be the first to make that claim. But after 21 years of marriage, it's nice to be back here together and reflect on how much closer we have grown emotionally and spiritually. It's not quite as romantic to visit Venice with our two kids in tow, of course, but it's nice to watch them marvel at it, just as we did years ago.
In some ways this has been an even better experience than the last, mostly because we get to experience Italy through the eyes of our children and our "HUF kids." As we visit some of the exciting and interesting places in the world there is a palpable feel of joy and elation. It never gets old. For a history professor like myself, it's also a chance to tick off a few items on the bucket list -- give a lecture about the Colosseum, or at the landing site for the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, or teach about Paul while walking the streets of an ancient Roman city.
One of the best experiences of the trip has been the HUF students, and we've enjoyed watching our girls interact with their 36 big brothers and sisters. There's been plenty of fun interactions, some laughs and friendly kidding, and a lot of kindness and patience as well. It also been a treat to reconnect with Robbie and Mona Shackleford, who were the directors here in 1996. They have both been so sweet to our family and still have the same level of energy and excitement today as they did in 1996. Grant Schol is a new face, and the ladies Paola and Leda, have replaced Anna and Renatta, but in many ways it's truly been like going home. The Villa is the same, the smells and tastes are just as delightful as we remember.
From an intellectual standpoint, the museums and tours are even more enriching the second time around, even for someone who has been teaching Western Civilization for several years. I have new stories and details to relate in class, of course, but also a broader understanding that comes from advanced study. I have often caught myself making connections in ways that I missed the first time. You don't have to pull questions out of students; the questions come naturally as we walk together, whether in the Greek temples in Agrigento, or the Roman Forum, or the Uffizi. Students learn as easily as breathing, and as educators, we have come to value that perhaps most of all.
Another semester has come and gone and another group photo is in the book. But the importance of the significant life changes and world-view shifts that have taken place in the past three months are no less noteworthy. These students now join the ranks of over 3,000 HUF Alumni, all of whom have had a similar experience to what these students have just finished. Many of whom are still having "aha moments" about something they may have learned during their time in Italy. The program is over but the learning has just begun.
From everyone at the Harding University in Florence program, we hope and pray that somehow the students have been affected by this experience. Because through them we hope that they can help make this world a better place.