The Humanities and Philosophy Department’s experiences journeying through Europe

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Novella, Florence Photo taken by Jason Flora

BYU-Idaho’s Humanities and Philosophy Department takes a trip to Europe every summer.

The last trip was canceled due to COVID-19. Possible dates will be planned for Summer 2022.

The people who attend the trip go through life-changing experiences that transform what they have been studying into reality. Professors and students in the past have recorded their experiences through writing and photography.

“It is more meaningful to be in front of a work of art, edifice, or historical marker than to learn it from a textbook,” said Johnathan Austad, a professor for the Humanities and Philosophy Department. “Students walk in the very footsteps of historical figures, writers, artists, philosophers, etc. and see through their eyes. This enables students to come to a better understanding of themselves.”

Students connect and appreciate the way Heavenly Father presents the gospel into culture and art. They see that their life has purpose and meaning as a disciple of Christ.

“They better appreciate the myriad of ways Heavenly Father reveals Himself and learn truth in what has been revealed to others,” Austad said. “This enriches their experiences with the gospel. Students return different people. They are better able to appreciate life as a gift given to us.”

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Church and Museum of Orsanmichele located in Florence, Italy
Image taken by Jason Flora
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Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome, Italy
Photo taken by Jason Flora
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Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome
Photo taken by Jason Flora

Traveling abroad has helped humanities professors in the way that they teach.

“As a budding music historian, I was eager to enjoy first-hand the creative, historical, and social circumstances surrounding the composers, ensembles, and concert halls that I was researching and hoped to teach about someday,” said Charles Stratford, a humanities professor at BYU-I.

Living through the music played at various symphonies and concert halls has inspired Stratford to study musicians such as Mahler.

“One of my most memorable moments was hearing Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony performed by the Vienna Philharmonic in their famed Musikverein concert hall,” Stratford said. “Such formative artistic experiences play a crucial role in how I bring the Western world to my students at BYU-Idaho. They enable me to speak with authority and expertise regarding the primary sources, creative figures, and surrounding histories that ground our collective journey through the arts in class.”

Stratford delights in witnessing his students’ first and past experiences with historical places, artwork and structures like the Parthenon in Athens or the famous Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre in Paris.

“I witness the students acting as both learners and teachers in my humanities classes,” Stratford said. “While I have many spots in the world left to visit, these cultural experiences have not only aided my teaching approach, but have given me a renewed way of looking at humanity through the directed study of the arts.”

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Photo taken by Jason Flora
The photo taken by Jason Flora
Florance, Italy
Photo taken by Jason Flora

Not only have the study trips affected professors, but they have changed students’ lives and their view of what they learned in their classes.

“The European tour changed the way I connect with the world,” said Michelle, a former student at BYU-I. “The tour continues to inspire and influence me, even though it has been years since going.”

The curriculum taught at school is no match for the experiences that students saw and felt in real life.

“Compared to the classroom, being able to see the grandeur and scale of the works was much more powerful than what a curriculum allows for,” Michelle said. “The works studied in the classroom were meant to be experienced, and that is what the tour gifted all of us who went.”

Image taken by Johnathan Austad Taste Italy Cooking Class
Florence, Italy
Photo taken by Jason Flora

Students who attended the trips in the past shared their experiences on the Humanities and Philosophy page. Here’s what a few of them had to express.

“Throughout this trip, I’ve become less afraid of the unknown,” said Becca, a student participant on the trip. “I’ve become excited about the future and now look forward to the unknown. I have learned more of who I am.”

Along with learning and experiencing new cultures, the students bonded and connected with each other.

“I saw famous artwork IN REAL LIFE,” Becca said. “I was in Europe exploring each city on my own! I know my testimony and self-confidence have grown. I came back a different person. This really has been the best experience of my life so far.”

Verona, Italy Photo taken by Jason Flora
Verona, Italy
Photo taken by Vaughn Stephenson
Jason Flora
Photo taken by Jason Flora
Jason Flora
Photo taken by Jason Flora

The reality of observing the artwork and architecture in person was something students couldn’t have prepared themselves for.

“I (studied the) Notre Dame Cathedral before . . . but nothing could have prepared me for the reality of that beautiful place,” said Mary Lou, a student participant of the trip. “The architecture is phenomenal. I nearly cried as I walked along inside it. Standing in the middle of the cathedral, looking at the stone walls and stained glass … that made me feel something.”

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Vatican City, Rome
Photo taken by Jason Flora

Experiencing this history in person brought it to life for the students. They were emotional and grateful for the growth they encountered.

“To see something you have learned about offers a real, personal experience that no one can make or take away,” said Sophia, a student participant on the trip. “Each time I see these great works of art, my imagination is whetted, my mind opened, and my confidence grows . . . First-hand aesthetic experience is an education all on its own.”

Being placed in an unknown, divergent place has caused students to move outside of their comfort zone and become independent. They have realized who they are and who they want to become.

“I have accumulated all my education learned from BYU-I and applied it to my life and my adventures,” Sophia said. “Throughout this trip, I have lost my fear of the future and unknown, but learned to embrace it and learn from it.”

The students had to prepare for the trip. It wasn’t as easy as hopping on a plane and going on a vacation. They studied the things they were going to see and the places they were going to go.

“I was so excited to go that I started planning six months in advance, which ended up really paying off,” said Charlotte, a student participant on the trip. “While I counted down the months, I researched things to do … I searched online for prices and times (open hours) to further plan our days. But I also allowed for time to explore too, because I learned over and over in Europe that some of the best experiences were stumbled upon.”

Students have journaling requirements. They also were encouraged to journal outside of those assignments.

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Venice, Italy
Photo taken by Jason Flora
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Duomo di Siena
Photo taken by Jason Flora
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London, England
Photo taken by Jason Flora

Overall, students and faculty were present where history was made. They changed spiritually and found confidence within themselves that they never knew was there before.

They had the chance of a lifetime to meet the artwork, cities and architecture that they had studied before.

Students and faculty received healing and new insights to their trials and challenges. They received motivation and peace to move on to do bigger and better things.

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Padova, Italy
Photo taken by Jason Flora