Some years back, Mike and I discovered The Great Courses company, which specializes in educational CD's and DVD's on a variety of college level topics. From their website: For more than 20 years, we've produced The Great Courses – college-level courses taught by the most engaging professors that universities like Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Georgetown have to offer. The Great Courses maintains a catalog of more than 390 courses in science, literature, history, philosophy, business, religion, mathematics, fine arts, music, and better living. We've created a "university of the best," designed in careful collaboration with our customers.
Our first purchase was a set of DVD's on Ancient Greek Civilization that we watched in preparation for a trip to Greece. Having failed to appreciate the value of history in my high school days, and having taken very little history as a business major in my college days, I was fascinated at the information being shared. For some reason, a little tidbit about the current good ole' summer ritual of the American BBQ being a vestige of the ancient Greek ritual of communal animal feasting as a tribute to the gods, was my primary takeaway. Who knew so many of the things we do today are actually remnants of much older traditions?
Our second purchase was a series of DVD's on Ancient Egypt, again in preparation for a trip. I didn't realize how much I'd been affected by the lecture course series until we entered the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Instantly I was hit with the enormity of the treasure trove of Egyptian history contained within the museum. I stood there completely overwhelmed with emotion for several moments, struggling to take in what I was seeing, before I could pull myself together and move forward.
Looking backward some years later, with regard to both trips, I now see that investing the time to better understand what we would be seeing was actually a tremendous gift to ourselves.
As we prepare to leave for our upcoming visit to China, we've been going through yet another series of The Great Courses DVD's, this one titled From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History. Which kind of makes me laugh, I must confess. Absorbing thousands and thousands of years of history on this fascinating country via 36 brief thirty-minute lectures is clearly not possible, but still, its way better than nothing.
And I would add that regardless of how successful I am in absorbing the material, preparing for our foreign travel trips in this way considerably impacts and extends our enjoyment of the entire experience. We'll not just be spending two weeks in China, we'll also be spending many enjoyable weeks prior to our trip listening to lectures.
One of the wiser sayings about travel I ascribe to is the following:
1/3 of the pleasure is in the preparing, 1/3 is in the doing,
and 1/3 is in the remembering
So, while I'm not a paid spokesperson for The Great Courses, I do appreciate the amazing value their products present, and would encourage you take a look at their website when you have some time. And if you see something intriguing, but notice it's not on sale, just wait. Every course offered goes on sale on some point during the year, so there's no reason, ever, to pay full price.