By Rei Ramos ‘15
A summer expedition in Greece recently gave an undergraduate the opportunity to better understand his fraternity’s mission of “building balanced men.” Russell Rosenkranz ’15 was selected among hundreds of national applicants for this year’s Tragos Quest, a 10-day trip through Greece sponsored by Sigma Phi Epsilon. Reading selections from Homer and Socrates and subsequently venturing through the country’s archeological sites, he was given the opportunity to challenge himself mentally and physically in hopes of obtaining the Greek goal of having a “sound mind in a sound body.”
The trip allowed Rosenkranz, president of the U of R’s NY Xi Chapter of SigEp, to simultaneously experience Greek culture and consider the origins of his fraternity. Along with 18 undergraduates from chapters around the nation, he traveled through Greece from June 12-22.
“Each day of the trip was both mentally and physically rewarding,” he said. Typically, the morning routine would consist of an early, 6:30 a.m. breakfast and an hour-long discussion with a professor based around writings from the poets and philosophers of Greek antiquity. Throughout each day, the group would go on to visit archeological sites that corresponded with the stories and history discussed. The first day of the trip brought the team to Poseidon’s Temple in Cape Sounion, a visit that helped to explain the capital’s namesake – Athena, the goddess who defeated Poseidon in battle. The evening discussions were then led by a smaller group of two to three undergraduate Tragos Scholars, focusing on the values of virtue, diligence, and brotherly love upon which the fraternity was founded.
Rosenkranz found the search for a “sound mind” to be perhaps the most challenging part of the expedition. The nightly group discussions often forced the group to think both outside of the box, as well as their comfort zones. “We constantly pushed the envelope to have some of the best and deepest conversations I have ever had in my life.” Delving into topics such as fear and the pursuits of happiness and success, the nightly discourse pushed the undergraduates to think critically and introspectively.
That’s not to say that the rest of the trip was without other obstacles. The trip’s physical challenges included hiking up mountains for better views of temples and dig sites and climbing a 1000 step fortress overlooking Nafplio to get a panoramic view of the seaport city. The group of Tragos Scholars also held a friendly race on the original Olympic track, which Rosenkranz went on to win. “We were also constantly challenging one another to try new experiences or tasks each day,” said Rosenkranz. The group’s mentors asked them to prepare a lunch for the team on a set budget, which forced the Tragos Scholars to coordinate and barter with locals without a common language.
The quest’s focus on physical fitness and mental equilibrium did not detract from the trip’s showcase of Greece’s beautiful scenery. Rosenkranz recalls gorgeous, breathtaking views from the Hosios Loukas Monastery in the town of Nafpaktos. “I cannot do it justice describing it in words,” he admitted. The sixth day of the trip offered views of Delphi and the natural landscape of the Corycian Cave. The final day of the trip ended on the tallest hill of Athens, overlooking the entire city and the Acropolis. With a dinner at sunset, the group was able to watch the sunset and see the entire city light up at night, a sight which Rosenkranz would go on to note as one of the most memorable of the entire trip.
Through all of the harrowing physical activities and journeys through memorable sights, Rosenkranz found a conversation with a stranger to be the most meaningful experience of his journey. Asking three locals in Nafpaktos for words of wisdom, one older gentleman went on to share a story of the loss of his child. “It was shocking how this stranger was able to open up to us – four young Americans – and tell us his emotional story in such a vulnerable state.” This brief, but meaningful, exchange quickly moved Russell to empathy and led him to consider himself somewhat of a surrogate son to the Greek man.
Having lost his father exactly a month prior to the flight to Greece, Rosenkranz entirely understood the man’s sadness. A discussion on fear on the following day gave him the chance to share his grief with his mentors and fellow scholars. “That night, everyone opened up and showed that level of emotional vulnerability which led to the deepest and most meaningful conversation of the entire trip,” he said. “It was an experience I will never forget; though short, it made the biggest impact on the rest of my trip and my life.”
Rosenkranz’s time spent in Greece, beyond being an enriching cultural experience, has taught him a few lessons that he plans to carry with him into senior year and beyond. The first lesson involves being more vulnerable and emotionally open to his peers. He believes that this alone will allow him to develop deeper relationships with those that he trusts. The second is to make time to grab a cup of coffee with friends – or even strangers – to “soak it all in” day-by-day. “I am one to always be on the go, so being able to sit and hangout with people helps clear my head and open my mind,” he said.
Looking ahead, the rising senior, pursuing majors in applied mathematics and financial economics, hopes to one day seek out a career in consulting or within the banking industry. “When it comes down to it, I will choose a career that challenges me to grow and constantly learn.” In the meantime, he will juggle involvement with SigEp, the varsity swim team, and the Students’ Association. With a sound mind and sound body in tow, Rosenkranz is more than ready to take on these many commitments as a balanced man.