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Curious 73-year-old joins study tour to explore Spain’s Islamic history

March 27, 2018

Elizabeth Kidd says she’s terrified of being bored. Keeping her mind active is just one of the reasons the retired art curator has joined an SFU study tour to southern Spain in May. 

Organized by SFU’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program (GLS) and SFU Continuing Studies’ Liberal Arts and 55+ Program, the tour will guide more than 40 students from both programs on a journey through Spain’s unusual Islamic past.

Before retiring in 2008, Kidd took more than two dozen courses through the 55+ Program, feeding her passion for history, community cultural development and art. She also completed the GLS program last fall, earning a second master’s degree to add to the MA she received in the 1970s.

“As soon as I retired, I was hungry to do and learn something new. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to undertake next, but in the end, I’ve taken on a lot of stuff,” Kidd laughs.

Aside from pursuing botanical painting and creative writing, volunteering and teaching part-time, she’s an avid traveler who has regularly visited Italy in recent years.

“I’m used to travelling,” she says, “but this study tour offers new experiences and sets of ideas. Doing it within a learning context, with all the books we’re reading, it will be so much richer.”

The tour will focus on an enlightened period in medieval history when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived harmoniously together in Spain, in sharp contrast to today’s ongoing religious conflicts. To prepare, Kidd and her fellow travelers have been assigned readings on Islamic history and culture before meeting regularly to discuss the material.

For Kidd, the readings have opened up a world she knew little about.

“My education was very Eurocentric in a way,” she says. “Learning about Islam and its beginnings is filling in a huge blank in my knowledge.”

The study tour will take the group to Andalusia, the original home of the Muslims in Spain, and to visit historic sites like the famed Moorish palace of Alhambra. Unlike the graduate students on the tour, Kidd and her fellow GLS alumni, along with the 55+ Program students, will have no essays to worry about, and the offered seminars will be optional.

“I just get to enjoy myself without any pressure to produce,” she says. “I’m looking forward to sitting outside in the evening and sipping sherry and eating tapas after a day of visiting.”

Still, she’s given herself her own assignment: documenting her experiences in an illustrated travel blog.

“I’ll never know what will happen until I get there,” she says. “Then, the more I record and write about it the more I will remember it in the future.”

This story originally appeared in SFU News.