University of Iowa

A Greek winter for the books - Iowa prof. leads writing course abroad

July 28th, 2019

Students pose in front of the Acropolis of Athens

In a restaurant in Greece, 18 students stood and offered words of gratitude in respect for Eleni, archaeologist and tour guide, who accompanied the group throughout their stay. John D’Agata, faculty leader and University of Iowa English professor, remembers this as a vivid example of the special connection that was cultivated within the small community he helped to organize.

D’Agata both led and co-designed the program Land of the Muses: Traveling like a Writer, taking place in various cities in Greece, home to philosophers such as Homer, Plato, and Aesop. Focusing on creative writing and cultivating literary experiences, this three-credit course abroad fosters an atmosphere of intimacy and belonging among the participants, as many faculty-led programs do.

“It usually takes a class on campus a few weeks to really connect, but something magical happens when you’re abroad."


Students listen to D’Agata as they enjoy class at Plato’s Academy

“It’s a 10-12 day whirlwind that brings us to half a dozen different cities, all while the students and I are regularly writing about what we’re seeing, reading, hearing, eating, and experiencing. And we’re doing all this as a small group, so there’s an immediate bond,” said D’Agata. “It usually takes a class on campus a few weeks to really connect, but something magical happens when you’re abroad. The intensity of being away from home and immersed in a new culture brings everyone closer a lot more quickly.”

The University of Iowa offers 26 faculty-led study abroad programs. One of their defining features is the rare opportunity for personal engagement with a professor. Leslie McNeilus, study abroad program coordinator, says that “you get to know the faculty member really well because you’re basically with them 24/7. So you’re really developing a relationship with a faculty member on campus, which could even lead to further research or projects down the line.”


Posing in front of the Lion Gate, the original entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae

McNeilus emphasizes that programs like Land of the Muses are often ideal for those pursuing very specific interests. Rebecca Carey, English and creative writing major on the publishing track, recounts her experience in D’Agata’s program in Greece.  

“Students should travel with faculty-led programs because they are an immense source of information to tap into. Our local tour guide, Eleni, was so informed on the architecture and history, but Professor D’Agata knew how to teach young writers and make the experience memorable for us.”

“Students should travel with faculty-led programs because they are an immense source of information to tap into."

Carey, with immediate plans to work at a publishing house while pursuing her American Translator’s Association (ATA) certificate, learned not only about early Greek philosophers and their writings - the intimate trip also helped her to cultivate a deeper connection with her own writing.

“My trip to Greece has undoubtedly deepened my appreciation and dedication to the craft of writing, and has helped me develop a skill that I link my identity to.”

For faculty wishing to design their own study abroad program, D’Agata suggests beginning to plan at least two years in advance. If you are a student interested in learning more about study abroad programs, attend a Discover Study Abroad session or visit International Programs at 1111 University Capitol Centre.


Students engaged in a writing exercise in Plato’s Academy, where Plato and his students had once done the same

Learn more about this amazing opportunity to travel to Greece - Thursday, August 29

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