Searching for the “Good Life” in Maine

Surrounded by the majestic beauty of Georgetown Island, Maine, 12 students were the first group from MC immersed into the very same elements that inspired the writings of Henry David Thoreau.

Philip Francis, Ph.D. and assistant professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, grew up in the coastal woodlands of Maine and could not think of a better place for students to learn.

“One of the ideas of the course was to allow our reflection on the good life to be honed by living close to nature,” Francis said.

“The city can teach us a lot about life, but given that MC students tend to be urbanites, I thought it would be more instructive for students to spend 15 days in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world.”

Withdrawn from the hectic environment of New York City, these students embarked on a two-week journey in Maine to earn credit for a Religion 300 course with the hopes of discovering what it truly means to live the “good life”.

After almost a year of planning with MC’s study abroad office, the program for Maine was set for May 21 to June 5. The fee is $2600 per student and includes room, board, books and all day-trip fees.

Francis also added that the course can be completed without a laptop, internet access or any screen time whatsoever.

According to Elen Mons, coordinator of the study abroad office at MC, the program was designed around Francis’ academic and research interests as well as his personal connections with Maine.

“A particular strength was the integration of hands-on activities with the course readings and lectures to make the materials and ideas come to life,” Mons said.

Eleanna Georgiadis, a senior electrical engineering major, was drawn to this program because of the non-traditional classroom setting and its ties to Thoreau.

“The idea of reading a text while going out, often into the woods, and experiencing its content while discovering the meaning was an invaluable experience,” Georgiadis said.

Francis recalls that one of his favorite hands on experiences was when the whole group gathered around a campfire on a small island to discuss Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept of self-reliance.

“In this sense, we were following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau and others back to the landers, who have gone to the woods to live simply, deliberately and reflectively,” Francis said.

Gaensly Joseph, a senior economics major, has enjoyed discussing philosophy with Francis and decided that he could not afford to miss another opportunity to do so.

“My expectations for this trip were to experience new heights in life and also to grasp a better understanding of myself. Those expectations were met and surpassed ten times over,” Joseph said. Joseph described the designated day of solitude as one of his favorite moments from the program.

After the group kayaked to designated areas, they were dispersed about one mile apart from each other for five hours. During these five hours, Joseph said it rained heavily and the temperatures were low. “Personally, I feel it made the experience all the more better. Being alone in the dark with just one’s thoughts can really force an introspective view and shine light on the darkest corners of the mind,” Joseph said.

“That day was truly an awakening to feeling more alive and self-reliant.”

Seeing the smooth cliffs, sand and ocean of Reid State Park was a moment that Georgiadis identified as most profound.

“This trip to Reid State Park resonated with the concept of simplicity and the ability to see things in their fundamental forms. It was incredible to see how the components of nature combine to form the environment.”

Francis said the students’ enthusiasm and toughness was displayed during moments like canoeing six miles to an island through serious wind and waves, getting up at 5 a.m. to go dig clams with the Shellfish Warden in a state park and jumping into Walden Pond on May 21 which he adds was, “very cold!”

Since the program finished, Mons has received overwhelmingly positive feedback and the Study Away Program to Maine will be offered again next spring, at the end of May, with enrollment limited to 12 students.

“Most students reported feeling they will carry the lessons learned from the readings, discussions and interactions within the beautiful Maine environments with them well into the future,” Mons said.

“They felt more mindful and observant of their surroundings and have a greater sense of self-awareness about their interactions with the environment and their peers.”

“The setting gave the opportunity to see how the infinite and infinitesimal components of nature interact to create the environment we normally perceive,” Georgiadis said.