Art of Travel Assignments
Due dates: The assignment is to post once a week, for a total of 15 posts. I’ve made the due date Thursdays, but depending on your schedule, another day might be better—whatever works best for you. You don’t need to post on the same day every week, but it might be a good idea, just to help form a blogging habit. The important thing is to post regularly and keep up with the schedule of assignments—it’s also part of the final grade.
The prompts: The assignment descriptions below are intended as prompts to focus, guide, and inspire. With the exception of the two posts about the books you’re reading for the course, you don’t need to refer to the prompt explicitly in your entry and you can take whatever approach seems appropriate—a short essay, a personal story, etc.
Format: The posts should be about 400-500 words. Your post will probably consist of four or five paragraphs—please use “block style”—double space between paragraphs and do notindent at the beginning of a new paragraph. When you create an entry, you’ll be asked to include a title and subtitle. It’s up to you, but generally the title is something poetic and the subtitle something more descriptive and prosaic. Also, remember to scroll to the "Art of Travel" in the "Course" box and the appropriate assignment topic in the "Art of Travel Topic" box.
Images: Each post has an image. Please give your selection of images some thought. It can be one of your own photos or something off the internet. Try out various key words on “Google Images” or whatever search engine you’re using. Please remember to include the URL for the website where you found the image so that you can give credit where it’s due. If it’s your own photo, say so at the end of the post.
Comments: In addition to writing your posts, you’re also required to write a comment on someone else’s post for every assignment. While it may be difficult to read everyone else’s blog every week, try to read a few and comment on one. Writing comments is an important part of the course, and it will help make the class more of a group sharing with each other, rather than everyone just working and writing in a vacuum. (The comments are also part of the grade.)
Getting started: Before you create and account and start posting, please read this note about getting started. The instructions for creating an account and posting blog entries and inserting images can be found on the website help pages here.
Post by Aug. 31
Introduce yourself to the other members of the class. Write about whatever seems relevant: where you’re from, where you’re studying, your concentration, what classes you’re taking, what you hope to accomplish while abroad, perhaps something that's already happened on your travels. For this first post, you could post a picture of yourself or the place you live or the place you'll be studying, or something else related to what you discuss in the post. Take some time to read everyone’s introductions so you get to know who’s in the class. Write a comment on someone else’s introduction post.
2. Going places
Post by Sept. 7
Read the first two chapters of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel: “Anticipation” and “Traveling Places.” The book is available online through the NYU library by going to this link. (You may need to download a special piece of software to access the book.) If you're having trouble accessing the book via the NYU server, here are the chapters as pdf files: De Botton, ch. 1, On Anticipation.pdf De Botton, ch. 2, On Travelling Places.pdf.
Before you do the post, please read these "tips for better posts." For your post, write something in response to the reading—a reflection on de Botton’s themes, a little story illustrating one of his topics, etc. (You don’t need to discuss de Botton explicitly—just let the inspire your thoughts.) You might write about how you’ve been anticipating your study-abroad semester and how things you’ve read and seen (movies, pictures, etc.) have shaped your image of the place. Or you might a short travel story about your departure from home or your arrival in your study-abroad site—saying goodbye to friends and family, the taxi ride to the airport, your thoughts about what’s to come, the first thing that happened when you arrived in your new place, your first walk around your new neighborhood and how it compares with your expectations. Remember to comment on someone else’s blog.
3. WayfindingPost by Sept. 14
Wayfinding refers to the way people orient themselves in space and navigate from place to place. It’s one of the main challenges and pleasures when you arrive in a new place. For this post, write about the experience of learning your way around, getting lost, asking directions, the middle of nowhere, your journey from your new home to school, how maps have played a role, the landmarks and routes that are helping you form an image of the city in your mind.
Post by Sept. 21
“To alight in a country without knowing a word of the language is a worthwhile lesson,” writes Alastair Reid. “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.” For this post, write about your experiences with language: learning the language, knowing or not knowing the language, misunderstandings, communicating without words, dirty words, the importance of gesture, the “watchful silence,” etc. To get started, first read de Botton’s Art of Travel, chapter 3, on “The Exotic.” It’s in the NYU ebrary, and a pdf is here: De Botton, ch. 3, On the Exotic.pdf
5. Quotidian life
Post by Sept. 28
Write about some of the quotidian, everyday, nitty-gritty details of your life abroad: your daily routine, your apartment, how much things cost, what you’re eating, doing the laundry, the garbage, doors and locks, going to the gym, food shopping, and so on.
6. Books (1)
Post by Oct. 5
Write about one of the books you’re reading for the tutorial. The Suggested Reading list is here. If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance. The post should not be a 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.
Remember to write a comment on someone else’s blog post.
Post by Oct. 12
Read Dean MacCannell's “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings." (That link requires an NYU Bobcat login; if that link doesn't work, try this one: MacCannel Staged Authenticity.) Write a post about something related to MacCannell’s thesis that travel and tourism are related to spiritual pilgrimages, and that what the traveler seeks is a secularized version of the sacred—“authenticity.” Think about an experience you’ve had that relates to the traveler's desire to get into a “back region” or in which you encountered "staged authenticity." You might also think about issues of national identity—being “American,” what’s “Italian,” etc. (By the way, the first few pages of the article are slow going, but it gets better—and the article was later developed into one of the most famous sociology books about tourism—The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. This link will take you to Google Books, where you can read more passages from the book.)
8. The "art" of travel
Post by Oct. 19
For this post, write about art—paintings, drawings, photographs, artifacts, etc.—associated with the place you're studying—work by a artist who lived there (or lives there now), or 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: Alaine Botton, Art of Travel, chapter 7, Eye Opening Art.pdf).
As always, remember comment on someone else's post.
9. Great good places
Post by Oct. 26
A “great good place” refers to cafes, bars, corner stores, parks, street corners, bookstores, study halls, libraries, and other places where people hang out and have a good time. Describe such a place in the country you’re living. 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 such places. There’s also a book called The Great Good Placeby Ray Oldenburg, and you can read an excerpt on Google Books, here.
10. Books (2)
Post by Nov. 2
Write about the second of the books you’re reading for the tutorial. The Suggested Reading list is here. If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance. The post shouldn't be a 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. Genius loci
Post by Nov. 9
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country,” wrote Rudyard Kipling, “is to smell it.” In the ancient world, the genius lociwas the deity who protected a place, its guardian spirit. The term now refers to the “spirit of place”—its characteristic atmosphere or feeling, as embodied in its architecture, environment, food, the people’s manners, etc.—and smells. Write about the genius loci of the place you’re living or a place you’ve visited this semester. What embodies the genius loci for you? It could be an individual, a food, a drink, a place. Use lots of concrete details in your description.
12. The comfort of strangers
Post by Nov. 16
"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—maybe you’ve never even spoken with the person. 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.
Post by Nov. 23
In the bible, an epiphany refers to the appearance of a god; in literary terms, it refers to a moment of realization or recognition. For this post, write about such a moment that you’ve experienced in your time abroad. It could be a “peak experience,” but it doesn’t have to be a big, profound realization—it could be something that seems rather mundane or funny. It might be a moment when you realized something about your own preconceptions about the other culture: as Mark Twain writes, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Or maybe it was a moment when you saw things in a new way: as Henry Miller writes, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Post by Nov. 30
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?
Post a comment on someone else’s blog.
Post by Dec. 7
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. Some possible questions 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?