When Anne Wilson and Mike Samide led a group of 31 Butler community members on a trip to Europe this past summer, it was about more than just tourism. By focusing on food—as well as the science, cultures, and history behind it—the Chemistry professors aimed to reconnect participants with the classroom experience.
“It was travel for a purpose,” Wilson says about the tour, which included Butler alumni, faculty, staff, and their families. “We wanted to bring people together and be traveling for a reason. It was exactly what we were hoping it would be.”
That hope began more than four years ago. The inaugural Alumni Travel Tour was planned for summer 2020, incorporating topics with mass appeal: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate. Wilson and Samide launched their Science of Food event series in 2018 to give guests a taste of the concept.
But following the sold-out gatherings at local businesses like Metazoa Brewing and Tulip Tree Creamery, they had to shift along with the rest of the world. Restaurants closed. Events moved online. And the European tour was rescheduled— twice.
Wilson and Samide used the extra time to deliver some of the curriculum they had planned to cover while abroad, sending out videos and research prompts to keep the would-be-travelers engaged. After two years of backyard meet-ups and online content, the group set out for their 10-day trip in early June.
They began in Paris, where a sommelier demonstrated how swirling wine can show its sugar content, and how holding the glass up to light reveals acidity. They learned that wines can vary based on where they are produced. At another shop, an artisan chocolatier served pumpkin praline candy made with responsibly sourced cacao.
Travelers also spent time exploring on their own. There was less structure than on student trips, but they came back together each day to share their experiences.
“I have been to Paris several times now, so it was the people that made this trip special to me,” says Mary Shaw ’93, a Business Marketing grad who attended Butler on a full basketball scholarship before launching her career as an entrepreneur. “I wear a lot of different hats for Butler: I’m on the Board of Visitors, I’ve served in the Central Indiana Alumni Community, and I’m part of the Giving Circle. I also have season tickets to Butler Basketball. So my husband and I already knew a lot of the people going, but it felt like we all became a closer family.”
Traveling as part of a large, faculty-led group also gave participants a richer experience of their surroundings. They had lively conversations after dinner or on the bus between cities. They shared written reflections in a WhatsApp chat that is still active months later. And of course, they learned from the residents in the places they visited.
“We wanted the travelers to engage on a deeper level with the culture and the people,” Samide says. “When you travel as a tourist, you go see the tourist spots, and you go to your hotel. You might interact with people when you order a coffee, but you are really doing it on your own. Here we wanted to direct some conversation between locals who have expertise and our group who wanted to learn. A deeper connection was the goal. And when I come back, I’m different because I now understand someone else and their perspective a little better.”
Next up was a cheese tasting in Trier, Germany. Sampling from a plate of regional varieties, they discussed the history and economics of the area’s dairy production. The presenter also shared how using either goat’s milk or cow’s milk changes the end product. Wilson says the smallest details can make a huge difference in flavor and mouthfeel.
“The cheese tray was mind blowing,” Shaw recalls. “And I had never been to Germany before. It was absolutely beautiful.”
When Noah Cross ’18 first heard that Wilson and Samide would be leading a study abroad tour for alumni, he signed up right away. A graduate of Butler’s Science, Technology & Society and Chemistry programs, Cross remembers both professors as major influences during his time as a student.
“The trip was an amazing experience,” he says. “Mike and Anne put together a really great itinerary. I also enjoyed traveling with other members of the Butler community. I was the youngest person on the trip, and it was interesting to hear from other alumni about the similarities and differences between our experiences at Butler.”
Cross works at a brewery part-time in addition to his job as a patient care technician, so he was most intrigued by all things beer. The group spent a full day in Heidelberg, enjoying brewery tours across the city. Then there were beer tastings in Munich and Ettal, plus a stop at the German Hop Museum in Wolnzach, where he learned that only female plants produce the hops used in beer.
“From the way I brew beer in my driveway, to a small brewery in the Alps, to the giant Brewery in Munich,” Samide says, “the process is all the same. It’s just scale. These travelers walked away understanding that science and food can be a universal language.”
Wilson and Samide plan to continue hosting local Science of Food events, and the next travel tour is slated to visit Italy in 2024.