The Art of Travel


1: Awakenings

Post by Feb. 1

“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

Readings: 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; be sure to follow the instructions for identifying the image source.  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. Getting oriented

Post by Feb. 8

“To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city.  We are supported by the presence of others and by special way-finding devices: maps, street numbers, route signs, bus placards. But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being. The very word ‘lost’ in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster.” — writes urban planner Kevin LynchThe Image of the City

For this post, write about the experience of learning your way around, getting lost, asking directions, and learning to form an image of the city you’re living.  Think about how maps and landmarks (public and personal) have played a role, and focus on the five basic elements of urban form: path, edge, node, district, and landmark. To get some ideas, look over the first chapter of  Lynch’s The Image of the City.

3. Communicating

Post by Jan. 15

“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.

4. Politics

Post by Feb. 22

What’s happening in the political realm of the place you’re studying?  You might examine the country’s political parties and what they stand for, the country’s policies regarding a particular issue (e.g., human rights, drugs, etc.) and how the debate is framed, or about the issues in an election that’s going on, or about how the people you ‘ve met talk about the U.S. and its politics.  Think about “politics” broadly, including issues involving race, class, and gender.  You may want to do a little research for this and discuss a news article or two.  Include text links to any articles you reference (just highlight a key term, like the name of the article or the publication, click on the link icon in the editor control panel, and paste in the URL).

5. The Spirit of Place

Post by March 1

“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

“The spirit of place is a strange thing. Our mechanical age tries to override it. But it does not succeed. In the end the strange, sinister spirit of place, so diverse and adverse in differing places, will smash our mechanical oneness into smithereens, and all that we think the real thing will go off with a pop, and we shall be left staring. — D. H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia

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.  And take a look at Lawrence Durrell – Landscape and Character.

6. First Book

Post by March 8

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. Free topic

Post by March 15

Write about whatever you want — a travel story, reflections on the place you’re studying, a comment on something you’ve read about travel, etc.  If you’d like some suggestions, Sun Magazine has a regular column called “Readers Write” in which people contribute short pieces on a particular theme.  The pieces aren’t usually travel related per se, but they are just about the right length for a blog post, they are written in interesting personal styles, and they should give you some ideas about how to approach this assignment.

Acts of Kindness; Appetites; Authority; Borrowing; Breaking the Rules; Cheap Thrills; Clothes; Family Vacations; Fights; Keepsakes; Making It Last; Medicine; Narrow Escapes; Noise; Paying Attention; Pretending; Rites of Passage; Rumors; Running Late; Saying Too Much; Security; Shoes; Singing; Slowing Down; Taking Chances; The Best Feeling in The World; The Last Word; Walking Home; Warning Signs.

8. Bubble

Post by March 22

Travelers and tourists often find themselves in a kind of bubble — a place where the comforts and familiarity of home have been re-created and where travelers are shielded from unpleasant experiences. The bubble is often a geographic area, but it can be a “floating” place as well (e.g., traveling as part of any kind of travel group). The bubble is sometimes created by the host place (to attract tourists and their money or to make travelers feel comfortable and keep them safe), but it can also be a state of mind (like staying on the beaten track). Inside the bubble, travelers have limited interaction with locals (sometimes the boundaries not only keep tourists in the bubble but also keep the locals out).  The classic examples of the bubble are resort complexes, theme parks, tour buses, and cruise ships, but study abroad sites can also become bubbles that share similar characteristics.

For this post, write about your own experiences (and those of other students) inside and outside the bubble.

9. Troubles

Post by March 29

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.

10. The Art of Place

Post by April 5

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 here). 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.

11. Second book

Post by April 12

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.

12. Strangers

Post by April 19

“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 you have come to trust, at least in some sense. 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.

13. Free topic

Post by April 26

Write about whatever you want — a travel story, reflections on the place you’re studying, a comment on something you’ve read about travel, etc.  See prompt #7 for suggestions.

14. Tips

Post by May 3

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. Farewells

Post by May 10

“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.”