Chief European Correspondent; Looking at Ruins for a Term, Part One:

As part of the ongoing campaign to fill this site with content, content, content, I’ll be running a weekly piece here relating to my experiences on the Classics FSP in Greece.

The first week of the FSP was actually not in Greece at all. Rather, it began in that most expensive of cities, London. During her solid century-and-a-half-long run as the world’s dominant power, Great Britain turned the acquisition of historical treasures into a bona fide industry, as millions of statues, coins, and other artifacts eventually wound up in the British Museum. Among these priceless antiquities are most of the best-preserved sculptures from the Parthenon, plenty of excellent marble statues, and a colossal amount of colossal Egyptian figures (hey, if you’re pharaoh, you build as big as you want). Overall, they acquired enough stuff relevant to Classics and put it all in such a convenient spot that our FSP simply couldn’t skip past it, even if London is such a brutally expensive city that you’d think everything you bought was laced with gold or Dartmouth tuition payments.

With that in mind, our rigidly organized FSP hunkered down in a very cheap hostel near the Museum to get to work while trying to avoid debtors’ prison. 

It’s my impression that most FSP’s are seen as pretty easy or laid back. One takes some reasonably easy courses and takes a lot of time to enjoy and explore wherever they’re staying.

This is not the Classics FSP. The Classics FSP is administered by Prof. Paul Christesen, famous for his 10-week Spartan training regimen Classics 19 (a requirement for the FSP). For the uninitiated, Classics 19 uses every x-hour, has 100+ pages of reading per class, employs the Socratic Method to make sure you actually did the reading, requires gargantuan term papers, and also has 2-3 papers per week, often requiring 4-10 pages of writing themselves. The FSP is easier than this, but primarily because on the FSP Classics 19 is essentially your job, with no pesky other classes to get in the way. Regardless, Christesen assignments run on a combination of terror and desperation, with 4-page single-spaced papers with 2-3 hour turnaround times a regular sight. 

In short, it’s the most enjoyable academic sequence of my Dartmouth career. There’s a lot to be said for professors who force you to learn at the point of a spear.

I was originally going to fill up the rest of this post with some commentary on the decline of Britain as a country, but frankly it regularly produces such depressing news that I’ll doubtless be able to dedicate a full post to it another time. Instead, I’ll wrap up with a few general pieces of knwoledge and advice for those students who haven’t gone on their own FSP’s yet:

-If you haven’t and your academic path has the room for it, go on one. Seeing the world is one of those eye-opening experiences that is very much in liberal arts tradition. Also, the chance to travel abroad for months at a time is the sort of experience one isn’t likely to see again after graduation.

-British food is as terrible as the jokes say. They put mayonaise on everything and one of their most popular sandwich ingredients is cold corn. No wonder their other famous gastronomic output is beer; even a teetotaler like me was tempted to start drinking after another bloody Tuna and Mayonaise sandwich.

-Their candy bars are excellent, however.

-Make sure you can get along well with your professor(s) and compatriots before setting off on the FSP. Once you’re in a harsh and incomprehensible foreign land, you’ll find that you’ll be spending a LOT of time with them, even if you don’t technically have to.

-The Greeks really like to rev motorcycles loudly. Even at three in the morning. They also built the Parthenon and launched Western art. So, uh, we’ll say they broke even.

–Blake Neff