National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


Document Type



In: Place, Self, Community: City as Text™ in the Twenty-First Century, Edited by Bernice Braid and Sara E. Quay. National Collegiate Honors Council, 2021.


© 2021 NCHC.


In the fall semester of my senior year in 1998, twenty-two years before the time of this writing, I participated in the National Collegiate Honors Council’s Honors Semester in Thessaloniki, Greece. I still remember this experience as vividly as if it were yesterday: a four-month long study at Aristotle University in which half our time was spent walking through Thessaloniki’s medieval streets and modern boulevards; interacting with the people on a daily basis in the limited (but workable) Greek we knew; and making a number of weekend excursions—beginning on Wednesday evenings for us—to surrounding areas: Athens, Pelion, the beaches of Chalkidiki, the monasteries of Meteora, Mount Athos (for us males), the peak of Mount Olympus, and for the rest of the group a weeklong trip to Crete while I sailed to Byzantium to experience the splendor of Istanbul (Constantinople, or simply “the City” for Greeks). To say the experience left a lasting effect on me would be an understatement. As a double-major political science and history nerd, not only did I eagerly apply for an opportunity to live and study in an area I was fascinated by, and not only did I have an opportunity physically to visit nearly a dozen locations I had read about since my freshman days, but I made a number of lasting friendships— one of these friends came to visit me ten years later in 2008 during my stay in Belgrade, Serbia, and whose presence created a series of fortunate events that led me to meet the woman who would eventually become my wife.*

As in most City as Text™ (CAT) modules, the emphasis on learning outside the classroom through sight, sound, exposure, and experience offered all of us in the group a unique chance to apply our knowledge and skills from our respective majors and areas of concentration to practical, real-life living. More than simply a “study abroad” program where a bunch of Americans jet across the world to study in a foreign country, CAT methodology requires the student to view the city and its surrounding areas as a living, working, interactive classroom. For myself, being fascinated with Byzantine and modern Greek history, classroom instruction with some of Thessaloniki’s finest academics was still overshadowed by attending Greek Orthodox church services in the fourth-century church of St. Demetrios, speaking with vendors and shoppers in the open markets (who almost all bought me Greek coffee upon realizing an American could converse in passable Greek), or simply connecting visual sites to things I had learned about in books and lectures back at the College of New Jersey. Interacting with what were otherwise abstract facts, concepts, and figures for me and being encouraged within the CAT discipline to “get out there and experience”—as was so frequently imparted to us by our group coordinator—gave me and the other students an enormous educational advantage over our peers.