It is August, and I am arriving at a lecture hall far below the stairs of the Humanities Quadrangle. 

Plato and Gilgamesh shroud my mind, and the Hebrew Bible is somewhere in the back knocking on the front door; hours in attempt of pouring over their meaning weigh heavily over me. The lecture hall’s interior is a lowly-lit labyrinth of nervous, but enthusiastic students, full of an inviting presence that I did not previously associate with Directed Studies.

I take a handout outlining today’s lecture, Professor Michael Della Rocca, speaking on the first three of Plato’s Five dialogues and take a seat near the front. I, and the other students in my Directed Studies cohort, spend the next hour in notetaking and conversation. When it is all over I realize that it was actually… interesting. I survived my first week as a Yale and Directed Studies student. I feel at my limbs and check that all vital organs are still in the same shape as I found them. Hah, look at that. I’m none the worse for wear.

When I tell most people that I’m in Directed Studies, their initial reactions are usually flabbergast, genuine interest, or utter disdain. 

When I first heard of the program, I was intrigued by its main two components — reading books and talking about them. I was already a steadfast consumer of 1,000 page, 14-book long fantasy series’, far-too-long-and-convoluted-for-their-own-good and I figured, “Well, reading old literature from a time where people still believed in dragons and giants and the Fates can’t be far off.” 

And like most things worth doing, going into Directed Studies, I sought advice from a variety of reputable sources (ie. Reddit, I know, I’m not proud of it either) and discovered Yale students held a whirlwind of opinions, very few of which could be considered “favorable.” After weeks of being divided, I sent in my application essay, a piece about how Susanna Clarke inverts the narrative of English superiority in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and the rest is history. 

Now, I’m in the final stretch of my first Directed Studies semester. Fall is holding open the door and winter is trudging in, and with it follows final exams and the culmination of a millennium of Western writings. 

The canon is becoming increasingly complex as cultures and languages mingle, empires fall and are born, authors take more and more from their predecessors. With each essay, I find myself becoming slightly better at writing from the perspective of exiled Greek historians, or writers of epics whose names have been lost to time or philosophers who carry different ideologies but still find themselves building off of each other. 

All and all, I have to say that my time in Directed Studies has been nothing short of magical. It is everything that pleases me best: an introduction to the great works of antiquity that never prove boring. 

Personally, I think Directed Studies gets an unnecessarily bad reputation. The syllabus of readings seems daunting on paper, but they’re spaced out and paced in a way where each week is spent striving to deeply understand the books, rather than just get through them. 

My three professors — Benjamin Barasch, Timothy Kreiner and Brad Inwood — are all experts in their fields, masters of taking their discussion sections from simple conversations to tours of the past. 

Weekly lectures are the icing on the cake. The entire Directed Studies cohort gets to see the already vibrant community of Humanities professors speak on that week’s reading. Mixing this with a deep exploration of their fields of study, they often present new angles in which to interpret the texts. 

From Professor Pauline LeVen’s fascinating lecture on the subversive nature of Sappho’s poetry in contrast to the epics of Homer to Professor Bryan Garsten’s speech on the moral underpinnings of the Near Eastern literary tradition to our first colloquium on the foundational scientific innovations of Ancient Greece, it has been an amazing experience to see so many individuals who have immense passion for their craft and fields.

But nothing has prepared me for the friendship and support of my peers and professors. There’s an inspiring element of being in a room with so many people who love the humanities. Whose passion for dusty, old texts matches my own. Professors who work tirelessly to prepare lessons and discussions, and who even now are learning with us — still getting excited over stories and treatises they’ve read hundreds of times. 

It’s only my first semester at Yale and I’m still trying to find exactly where I fit in. But through Directed Studies, the tall, Gothic walls and cold evenings have become a little more familiar. Now that I’ve braved the harsh seas of the Mediterranean and spent my nights strolling the long streets of Rome, I’m confident to say Yale is finally starting to feel like home. 

Landon Bishop covers Accessibility at Yale. He is a freshman in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.