The Art of Travel

Fall 2016

1: Awakening

Post by September 7

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.” — Freya Stark

For a romantic view of travel, read Pico Iyer’s “Why We Travel,” and for an amusing but more cynical view, read the first chapter of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel: “On Anticipation.”  For the first post, try to do two things — introduce yourself to the rest of the class and respond to the readings, directly or indirectly.  You might say something about where you’re from, where you’re studying, why you chose your abroad site, what your concentration is about, what you hope to accomplish while abroad, how you’ve been anticipating your semester abroad, etc.  In responding to the readings, you could discuss a theme or tell a little travel story, perhaps about what happened when you arrived at your abroad site.  As you write about yourself, remember the website is not just for the class but available to the general public on the Internet.

For your first featured image, you could post a picture of yourself or the place you’re studying, or something else related to what you discuss in the post.  (It can be a photo you took yourself, or something off the Internet.)  Take some time to read everyone’s first posts so you get to know who’s in the class.  Don’t forget to write a comment on someone else’s post.

2. Communicating

Post by September 14

“To alight in a country without knowing a word of the language is a worthwhile lesson.  One is reduced, whatever identity or distinction one has achieved elsewhere, to the level of a near-idiot, trying to conjure up a bed in a sign language. Instead of eavesdropping drowsily, one is forced to look at the eyes, the gestures, the intent behind the words. One is forced back to a watchful silence.” —  Alastair Reid

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.” ‒ Dave Barry

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” ‒ Flora Lewis

For this post, write about your experiences dealing with language: learning the language, knowing or not knowing the language, misunderstandings, communicating without words, dirty words, idioms, the importance of gesture, the “watchful silence,” etc.  If you’ve used a foreign language app, you might write about that (check out this NY  Times article on the subject).  To get started, read chapter 3 of de Botton’s Art of Travel,  On the Exotic.

3. Describing

Post by September 21

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya StarkRiding to the Tigris

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

“You can observe a lot by just watching.” — Yogi Berra

For this post, practice your powers of observation and description.  Just sit somewhere and write down what you see and hear. Write about things static (the space) and dynamic (what happens in it).  Stick to small but interesting details — facial expressions, gestures, light and shadows, sounds, smells, etc. — and don’t comment, analyze, or digress from the picture you’re painting

4. The Spirit of Place

 Post by September 28

“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’ Most travelers hurry too much…  The great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not to much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling…  You can extract the essence of a place once you know how.  If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.” ― Lawrence DurrellSpirit Of Place: Letters And Essays On Travel

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling

In the ancient world, the genius loci was the deity who protected a place, its guardian spirit.  The term now refers to the “spirit of place” or the “soul of a place” — its characteristic atmosphere or feeling, as embodied in its architecture, environment, music, cuisine, social manners, clothing fashions, and so on.  For this post, write about something that captures “the spirit of place” where you’re studying.

To get started, check out a few of the Intersection videos at the New York Times, in which people from all over the world are stopped on the street and asked to describe the clothes they’re wearing as a way to manifest their neighborhood’s unique sense of place.

 5. Daily life

Post by October 5

For this post, write about the everyday, nitty-gritty details of your life abroad: what do you eat for breakfast, how do you get to school, how much do things cost, how do you do the laundry, where do you shop for food, and so on?

Before you start writing, read some of the contributions to the New York Times column called “Sunday Routine” in which “Prominent New Yorkers recount their weekend rituals.” The articles are archived here.  You don’t need to write about Sundays.  Pick any day of the week.

Also, take note that the next assignment involves reading a book, so you may want to get started on that this week.

6. Book #1

Post by October 12

Write about a book related to the place you’re studying.  There’s a page of suggested readings for each site on the main menu on the course home page.  If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance.

For the post, write about what the book has to say about the experience of travel in the place you’re living, or how it represents the place, or how it may contribute to one’s understanding of the place. Be specific by referring to details in the book and perhaps quoting a couple of passages.

It’s impossible to do justice to a whole book in a few hundred words, so stay focused on what the book has to say that’s relevant to our travel themes.  The post should not be a summary of the book or an Amazon-like recommendation, and it should be mostly about the book, not your own experiences.  Focus on how this book represents place and shapes your impression of the place.

7. Politics

Post by October 19

The U.S. election is just around the corner.  Write about how the election is being perceived abroad.  What are people saying about the candidates, the process, the future?  How are the news media reporting on things?  What are your friends saying?  Have you made arrangements to cast an absentee ballot?  Is NYU making any efforts to help with absentee voting?  To get started, check out this New York Times article, “Fearful and Flummoxed: Watching the Presidential Race From Abroad.”

8. Travel 2.0

Post by October 26

The internet and social media have changed travel in countless ways.   Online booking sites have replaced travel agents, AirBnB provides an alternative to hotels, cellphones keep travelers in constant contact with friends and family, hand-held digital maps make getting lost a rarity, travelers share their experiences and recommendations almost instantaneously via blogs, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

For this post, write about the article and your own experience in the world of Travel 2.0.  To get started, check out this infographicthis article in the Guardian, and this article, “What is Travel 2.0?

9. Art & Place

Post by November 2

For this post, write about art — paintings, drawings, photographs, artifacts, etc. — associated with the place you’re studying — work by an artist who lived there or lives there now, or a work that depicts the place (as in a landscape painting).  Hopefully you’ve already been to a museum where you are; if not, it’s about time. You could write about a trip to a museum: the experience of going there, what you saw, what you’re learning about the art of the place you’ve living, etc. Or you could write about a particular work: How is the place you’re living represented in the painting? How does art works like this affect your perception of the place?

To get your thoughts going on this assignment, please read de Botton, The Art of Travel, chapter 7: “On Eye-Opening Art” (available in the ebrary here or the pdf: chapter 7, Eye Opening Art. You might also check out this New York Times piece about “drawing yourself into the scene,” and this website about art and travel (watch the videos). As always, remember comment on someone else’s post.

10. Books (2)

Post by November 9

Write about the second of the books you’re reading for the course.  The Suggested Reading lists are on the sidebar.  If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance.  The post shouldn’t be a plot summary or recommendation.  Instead, focus on what the book has to say about the experience of travel in the place you’re living, or how it represents the place, or how it may contribute to your understanding of the place.  Be specific by referring to details in the book or quoting a couple of passages.

11. Mishaps

Post by November 16

The word “travel” is thought come from the word “travail,” probably from a Middle English word meaning torment, labor, strive, or work strenuously. According to Simon Winchester in his book The Best Travelers’ Tales (2004), the words “travel” and “travail” both share an even more ancient root: a Roman instrument of torture used to impale.

Travel often involves painful experiences, misadventures, and ordeals. Write about a particular travel ordeal or misadventure or mishap you’ve had — getting lost, getting robbed, getting homesick, missing a flight, becoming ill, losing your passport, a time when things just went wrong.  The Rough Guide has some good examples here.

12. Thanksgiving

Post by November 25

Write about what you did on Thanksgiving (or thereabouts).  For ideas, here are few “Thanksgiving abroad” stories: The Wayfarer’sWhat It’s Like to Celebrate Thanksgiving Abroad“; Bon Appetit’sHow Author Claire Messud Celebrated Thanksgiving Abroad“; and “The American Thanksgiving” in a recent New York Times.  If you didn’t do anything special for Thanksgiving, write about what you did do that weekend.

13. Strangers

Post by November 30

“Traveling is a brutality,” writes Cesare Pavese. “It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. ”

Describe a person you’ve encountered who’s from the country where you’re living and who has, in one way or another, given you “comfort” by making you feel at home or by helping you on your way. It could be your house parent, a new friend, a teacher, someone who works in your neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be someone you know well.  It might be someone you’ve never even spoken to. As you’re working on the piece, take a look at some of the travel books you’re reading and see how these authors describe people. Remember to write a comment on someone else’s blog post.

14. Tips

Post by December 7

Write a post giving advice to other students planning to study where you are. Would you recommend this study-abroad site? What would it help if they knew in advance? What do you wish someone had told you? If there are choices about where to live, what would you recommend? What tips do you have about preparing in the weeks and months before the abroad semester begins? What places have you discovered that you want to tell people about? As always, remember to [ost a comment on someone else’s blog.

15. Goodbye

Post by December 14

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Write something for a little closure: saying goodbye, some final reflections about your study abroad experience, a few words about doing the Art of Travel course.  Topics to consider: What was the most rewarding aspect of the experience? What were the biggest problems you faced? What do you think you’ll do differently when you get back home? What will you take note of at home that you weren’t noticing before? What do you think you’ll remember years from now? What might NYU do to make study abroad a better program?  And check out the Sun Magazine excerpts on “Going Home.”