From Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, Oklahoma Christian University Study Abroad sent 42 students and four faculty to Athens, Greece. The Winter Session trip was the first Study Abroad group to travel since spring of 2020.
The Winter Session trip was originally slated to travel to Vienna, Austria, where Oklahoma Christian has its own facility. However, a week before the trip, Austria locked down its borders in the midst of a coronavirus surge. Rather than canceling the Winter Session trip altogether, Study Abroad pivoted to another location.
When Director of International Programs, John Osborne, began to sense that Austria would lock down, he started the search for another facility. On Nov. 18, he met with the directors of international programs at five sister schools; Harding University offered their facility located just outside of Athens, Greece.
On Nov. 19 at 4 a.m. CST, Austria closed its borders. By 4:30 a.m., Osborne had secured Harding’s facility and approved the plans with University administration. He spent the next 10 days finalizing plans to move the program.
“I popped out of bed and just started sending emails immediately,” Osborne said. “It really was that quick.”
Four classes were offered on the trip: Christianity and Culture with Jeff McMillon, Studies in European Civilization with John Osborne, The Bible and the Holocaust with Charles Rix, and Network Modeling: Real World Engineering with Byron Newberry.
“We had all planned our courses thinking about Vienna as the context,” Osborne said. “I think for all of us the content still worked; the big piece was saying, ‘if I can’t go to this site or location, what’s something comparable in Greece?’”
Freshman George Hartman took Osborne’s Studies in European Civilization course. He said the class consisted of analyzing how Greek history affected modern Europe.
“When we went to our locations he (Osborne) would ask us to look for influences into the modern world,” Hartman said. “I got a lot of perspective on how Greece has influenced the world with their democracy, architecture—even down to language influence was really interesting to see.”
Students spent most of their time within the Athens area. The group also took several other excursions, including a day trip to Corinth, a weekend on the island of Crete and a weekend on tours of Delphi and Meteora.
“I really learned how to travel right. Instead of just going and seeing fun places, (I learned) what is the meaning of this place,” Hartman said. “In Corinth, James (the tour guide) was reading 1 and 2 Corinthians and explaining what everything was around us, and that was really cool.”
As the first group to study abroad since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, students and faculty had to take new precautions. The entire group had to show proof of vaccination and wear medical grade masks in order to travel.
For senior Cassidy Davis, the Winter Session was her last opportunity to study abroad before graduating.
“It was stressful, but I knew we were taking the necessary precautions,” Davis said. “I think it was a really good experience, and I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t gone.”
Davis took Network Modeling: Real World Engineering, where students were tasked with creating a program to optimize travel between 13 cities. She said the experience helped her understand how to apply her education to the real world.
“Actually being able to go to those cities put things into perspective. Like, people live here and travel to these places, and it (our program) could help people if we put it out for the world to see,” Davis said.
Osborne said although Greece was not the intended destination, students were able to have an educational and spiritually developmental experience.
“We get to go to some fantastic places, and that helps the experience be really rich,” Osborne said. “But ultimately, the programs are about the people who are going and developing relationships that can help the students grow.”