In May, Dr. Jason Swanson and Dr. RayeCarol Cavender, faculty members in the Department of Retailing and Tourism Management, traveled to Ikaria, Greece with 17 hospitality management and tourism (HMT) students. The study tour focused on "Transformative Travel," providing students with the opportunity to observe the practices of Greek culture and learn from the locals on the island. Ikaria is classified as a 'Blue Zone', a geographic area where people live the longest. This classification has brought more publicity to the island because of the incredible geography, culture, diet, lifestyle, and outlook of the residents.

Group photo of students

HMT student Heather Gogel was impressed with the vision of the island and the local hospitality that they were shown. She said, "Ikaria attracts pretty simplistic people, and most of the locals hope to keep it that way. Ecotourism and wellness has been a big promotion for the island. Being able to speak to one of the mayors on the island enabled us to see future visions in regards to tourism. Lessons of hospitality happened everyday on Ikaria."

From helping out on a local farm, to talking with the residents and tasting new foods, to spending an unplanned, hour-long mindfulness and meditation session with a Swiss yogi, the students were fully immersed into the Greek culture during their time abroad. When the students took time to reflect on their experiences in Ikaria, many reported that they grew personally and noticed areas in their own life where they could incorporate the Blue Zone Greek lifestyle, such as a slower pace of life, being present in the moment, relaxation, and a healthier diet.

Students celebrating with locals on Ikaria

Recent HMT graduate, Ember Moran said, "I've learned a ton in these four years, but there is a certain type of growth that can only be experienced outside of the bubble of comfort. Sometimes it takes completely leaving your regular environment to understand just how narrow and conditioned your mind has become. Breaking your regular mold initiates a unique type of development. My time on Ikaria is something I will remember for a long time because it wasn't part of my routine; it was a singular and unique experience."

When asked about student learning objectives from the experience, Dr. Swanson stated, "I hope they gain an understanding of the impact that traveling can have on those who travel, including themselves and those they serve during their hospitality and tourism careers."

Author: Michaela Mineer
Terms: RTM