Professor Lea Graham
By Elizabeth Hehir '15
Each semester, Marist College sends hundreds of students all
over the world to study abroad. These students come back with
incredible stories that shape their education, career and life. But
what about the professors who head to Marist’s Florence campus
each semester, or those professors on sabbatical who are also
When in Poughkeepsie, Dr. Lea Graham, a poet and faculty member
in the English Department, often teaches Travel Writing and Poetry
Workshop classes. This year, she spent Fall 2014 teaching three
First Year Seminars for Marist’s Lorenzo de' Medici (LdM) Florence Program in Italy and is currently on sabbatical in Quito, Ecuador, for the spring 2015 semester. Dr. Graham's First Year Seminar
was called “Florence by Foot, Tuscany by Train.” She explains, “It was essentially a travel writing course that focused on the
connections among reading, research and personal narratives.” Each student went on a personal pilgrimage to explore how
travel went beyond “the bucket list.” Some visited their ancestors' towns; others focused on a favorite artist. According to
Dr. Graham, “It was a class that challenged all of us, but proved to be interesting and important.”
Dr. Graham is the kind of professor who connects with her students through writing and class discussion. She feels that while teaching in Florence, she had more in common with her students than she normally does. There was a special bond as both
professor and students tried to navigate and figure out living in Italy.
One of the biggest differences in the Florentine classroom was the internet.
“I really missed having easy internet access, where I could call up a piece of
art or a song quickly and put it on the screen for students,” Dr. Graham recounts. However, she thinks Florence more than made up for this as well:
“To be able to walk out into the Piazza della Signoria and look at, then talk
about the statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa or have students lead
me around and talk about what they discovered in Florence (e.g. midnight
pastries, the meaning of the fleur-de-lis, the history of a particular building,
etc.) was more than a fair trade-off!”
Despite her position as professor, Dr. Graham spent the semester learning, especially from her students. She expressed that she always learns from her students, but this semester that was even truer than usual: “They helped me think about
how hard it is to be outside your comfort zone when it comes to language, place and routine.” As a prolific traveler, Dr.
Graham had become used to traveling in a way her students had not. As a result, she describes how “they helped me
re-see travel in a way I couldn’t have done on my own.”
Now on sabbatical in Ecuador, Dr. Graham recently finished editing her second full book of poems, From the Hotel Vernon.
She is also writing a group of new poems in response to a Canadian poet who influenced her significantly. And having
done so much travel in the past year, she’s working on an essay about pop music, memory and travel.
Dr. Graham is living with her brother in Quito, where he is doing research on Environmental Health. Her environment provides
the perfect inspiration for her work and relaxation: “The weather is in the 60s, I am about to try a fruit called ‘tomate de arbol’
(tomato of the tree), birds are chirping in the avocado tree outside and I can see the Andes from where I sit.”