By CHARLES BOOTH
In late July, the summer turned brutal on the Austin Peay State University campus. Temperatures rose to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the weight of the humid air caused faculty and students to slouch as they shuffled along sidewalks. If at all possible, people stayed indoors with the air-conditioning dial set to “high.” They looked forlornly out the window, knowing they’d have to face that heat eventually.
On those miserable afternoons, it was very difficult for many people to read the status updates on Facebook, posted by individuals such as Dr. Minoa Uffelman, APSU associate professor of history.
“Greece is fabulous. I will bore you with pictures when I return,” she wrote on July 19. Two days later, this little note popped up on computer screens: “Started morning at Delphi, a stunning monastery in the afternoon, the Acropolis this evening. One of the best days of my life.”
Such happiness was a little unnerving for those unfortunate enough to be stuck in Tennessee during one of its hottest summers on record. Then came the pictures. A group of smiling people standing before ancient ruins, eating delicious meals or looking out onto the deep blue Aegean Sea, with its refreshing salt-air breezes.
After a while, one had to simply close out of Facebook and go back to work. It was just too much. But now that the temperatures have cooled somewhat around campus, we don’t feel so upset when we stop by Uffelman’s office to hear about her 10-day adventure.
“It was an extraordinary trip,” she said, still a little tan from her vacation. “Just extraordinary. Everything was so well organized. No glitches. I was on a history high, to say the least.”
Uffelman, who also earned her bachelor’s degree from APSU, was among 14 former students who took advantage of a new Alumni Travel program now offered by the University. The trips, open to APSU alumni and their families, seek to bring these individuals together and reconnect them with their alma mater.
“It was a very big bonding experience,” Nikki Loos Peterson, APSU alumni director, said. “That’s one of the benefits of alumni traveling together. They reconnect with each other, they reconnect with the university.”
The success of the recent trip to Greece has prompted Peterson to plan out the next 10 years of alumni trips to places such as Germany, Ireland, Paris and Brazil. Next spring, the office will take a group on a cruise around Italy.
“Once a summer, we’re hoping to do an international trip and a domestic trip,” she said. “President (Tim) Hall will join us for all the domestic trips.”
The first domestic trip will be to New York City in May.
“The alumni will have the opportunity to go to a Broadway show, tour Ground Zero, New York Harbor, be in a five-star hotel on Broadway,” Peterson said. “It’ll be a really nice trip.”
The concept of alumni travel is nothing new. Universities across the country have offered similar programs to their graduates for years. A faculty member from the university typically joins the group, offering a richer experience for the travelers.
““People are really hungry for informed travel, educated travel,” Dr. Tim Winters, APSU professor of classics, said. Winters accompanied the group to Greece in July, acting as their personal guide. “I wanted to give them a broad picture of what Greece is all about, in terms of its landscape, its history, its politics.”
For the last 30 years, Winters has traveled to Greece in the summers to conduct research and lead students on study abroad trips. He’d heard about other universities offering similar alumni travel programs, so he approached Peterson about setting up an alumni trip to Greece. She jumped at the idea.
“These trips are enormously helpful in reminding people why the University is so important,” Winters said. “It’s eye opening for them to see the sorts of things we do (with students), and they all come away with a much different understanding of that country as a result of seeing it through the eyes of a scholar who knows it well.”
Earlier this year, Uffelman wrote down the names of several places she wanted to visit someday. She’d recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and her thoughts inevitably drifted toward creating a “bucket list.” At the top of this list, she wrote “Greece.”
She didn’t know when she’d actually be able to organize such a trip. Setting up travel arrangements, accommodations, food and tour guides can be an enormous hassle. But then she heard about the new trip offered by the APSU Alumni Office.
“When I heard Tim was giving the tour, I knew I needed to go,” she said. “I invited two close friends, friends for 30 years, and we went on this trip together. Everybody was an Austin Peay alum.”
In early July, Uffelman and her friends joined a group of 14 APSU alums, ranging in age from late 20s to early 80s, at the Atlanta airport for their flight to Greece. After landing in Athens, they spent 10 days traveling through the remnants of the ancient world, visiting sites such as The Acropolis, Rhodes and Corinth.
“There were so many things to see,” Carolyn Howell, of Cadiz, Ky., said. “It was a pretty place. We got to walk up to the Parthenon. I thought that was really neat.”
Howell’s husband, J.D., graduated from APSU in 1961. She said the two of them wanted to visit Greece, but they were a little nervous about going by themselves to such a faraway destination.
“We would never go on our own,” she said. “I think being with a group that we knew, APSU alumni, made us feel secure. It was such a nice way to travel. I wish that other people would take these trips.”
Sherwin Clift (’60, ‘61), a previous APSU alumni director, hosted a similar excursion for alumni to Europe in 1971. When the alumni trip concept was revived this summer, he and his wife Norma decided to join the group.
“It was just an outstanding trip,” Clift said. “Nikki did an excellent job. Tim Winters did an excellent job. He’s been over there approximately 30 straight summers, knows the language, knows the customs. He’s just the perfect host.”
Winters started each morning by reading a poem to the group in Greek. Then he gave them an intimate look at some of the wonders of the ancient world.
“There’s an inscription next to the theater in Corinth that was put up in honor of a guy named Erastus, who was mentioned in the New Testament in Paul’s letter to the Romans,” Winters said. “If you’re just walking around down there and see this thing, you won’t know what it is. A casual visitor won’t make that connection. That’s the sort of experience that it’s a little harder for a person to buy on a vacation.”
“He guided us in every step,” Uffelman said. “He would know the best restaurants and the best dishes in each restaurant. The food was excellent. He knew some of those people who owned the restaurant for 30 years.”
After 10 days of venturing through the Greek isles, the group returned to the devastating heat of Tennessee in late July. But they had their memories of the trip to keep their minds from the temperature.
“It’s not only a once in a lifetime trip, but it’s an educational experience,” Peterson said. “It’s priceless.”
For more information on the alumni trips, visit the APSU alumni website at www.apsu.edu/alumni.