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Seattle Pacific University
Autumn 2007 | Volume 30, Number 2 | Features

Europe: A Place of Discovery for Generations of SPU Students

Students on European Quarter visit Paris, France.
SPU students completed European Quarter 2007 in Paris. For nearly 10 weeks, they lived and studied in four countries.
A class paper about Rome’s Flavian emperors takes on new meaning when presented in an ancient amphitheatre at the mouth of the Tiber River. So does a research project on World War I trench warfare when delivered in Weimar, Germany, and a report about the World War II French Resistance when given at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Assignments such as these, in locations such as these, were part of the learning experience for Seattle Pacific University students during European Quarter this past spring.

Led by four professors, 27 SPU students traveled 12,754 miles in 69 days as they studied in Italy, Austria, Germany, and France. “There is nothing like spending quality time — two-and-a-half months — interacting with people of other cultures and seeing the huge cultural mix now in Europe,” says Michelle Beauclair, associate professor of French.

Her students observed a changing continent: The character, population, and influence of the European Union (EU) continue to evolve rapidly while its 27 member nations still cherish their individual historical identities.

Begun in 1981, Seattle Pacific’s European Quarter marked its 20th study trip in 2007. “SPU was one of the first Christian universities to start a European Quarter abroad,” says Michael Macdonald, professor emeritus of European studies, German, and philosophy. Macdonald, who retired at the end of Spring Quarter 2007 after 40 years at Seattle Pacific, led 11 European Quarters, guiding students through the in-country discovery of Europe’s history, culture, literature, music, and art.

“Europe has produced many of our greatest thinkers, artists, writers, politicians, and theologians,” he says. “The study of Europe is vital to a well-rounded education — and to an understanding of the history of the Christian faith.”

In late March, the Seattle Pacific students arrived in Italy with Kathryn Bartholomew, associate professor of foreign languages and linguistics. During the next four weeks, she and the students immersed themselves in all things Italian. They visited museums in Rome and Florence, navigated busy 14th-century streets in San Gimignano, and some students climbed the Sacred Steps — which tradition says Jesus climbed to go before Pontius Pilate (Constantine’s mother, Helena, had the steps moved from Jerusalem to Rome in about A.D. 325). The students also spent Holy Week in Rome, joining 70,000 other worshippers in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Easter morning.

“Entering a holy place like St. Peter’s Square brought out a whole new aspect of my faith,” says senior English major Allie Fraley. “American Christian culture lacks that view of our faith: the beauty and the rich, even painful, history. … It really penetrates the soul.”

From Italy, students traveled to Vienna, Austria, where Macdonald, joined by Professor Emerita of French Marilyn Severson, introduced them to museums, operas, and overnight trains, one of which they took to Germany. Together, professors and students visited numerous German locales, including Berlin, Heppenheim, and Weimar, where they visited the Goethe Haus, restored childhood home of legendary German writer and philosopher Johann von Goethe.

“Weimar is also the place where I took students to introduce them to the Third Reich, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust, because Buchenwald is on the outskirts of the city,” says Macdonald. “So we have Goethe and the poet-philosopher Schiller on the positive side, and the Third Reich on the other side.”

Finally, Beauclair introduced students to their last classroom of the quarter: Paris. Students explored such sites as the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa and other DaVinci works; Chartres Cathedral; Versailles; and the Musée D’Orsay, famous for its Renoir and Monet masterpieces.

“Giverny, Monet’s home village outside of Paris, was heavenly,” says Fraley. “I am now convinced that heaven will be one huge, gorgeous garden, similar to Monet’s own little paradise in the French countryside.”

Fraley admits she’s still “processing” European Quarter, but she returned with an unexpected perspective on her faith. “I got the feeling of being very small — not unimportant, but that my Christian faith, and the history that goes with it, is larger than I’d ever thought it could be.”

Bartholomew says she saw that same soul-searching in all of this year’s European Quarter students. The spiritual climate in Europe is different than in the United States “in every sense of the word,” she says. “The sky looks different; the air smells different; the people have different cultures and customs. Of course, spirituality is going to be a little different. Official church attendance is low in Europe, but everywhere you can find communities of Christians who are living out their faith in vibrant ways. The European Quarter students picked up on some of that and found the experience deepened their faith and took it in wider directions.”

— by Hope McPherson []
— Photo by Dick Makin

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