College of the Mainland professor Bernie Smiley tours Petra, Jordan.Bernie Smiley and his wife, Trish McIntosh, in Egypt.

Like any great storyteller, English professor Bernie Smiley sets the stage.

“There is a building in Spain - Torre Del Oro (Tower of Gold) - that is octagonal. You can’t miss it. It’s been around since the 13th century. It’s right down from the bullfighting rink,” said Smiley.

For students in his composition and literature classes, Smiley draws on his pictures of his more than 60 trips to countries around the world – the places where literature was written and set through the ages.

“The pictures help me set the scene. When we do British literature, so much happens in London. It’s the center of government, culture and finance,” explained Smiley.

Smiley teaches Composition 1 and 2, British Literature and the Undead in Literature, which delves into zombies, monsters and other creatures of the night in film and movies. His travels make it come alive for students.

“I have a list 100 most influential people in last 1,000 years. We talk about why these people are important. We talk about Louis Armstrong and I will show pictures of the park named for him and his statue in New Orleans. We discuss Suleiman the Magnificent, and I will show pictures of his grave and what he built,” said Smiley.

“When you can talk about something you’ve seen with your eyes, you can make it more real. If you talk about William the Conqueror and you can not only say the White Tower he built is still standing but what it looks like, it’s a true experience not just dates and facts. You can talk about what the pyramids feel like.”

He urges all students to take opportunities to explore the world.

“My father said travel makes you a citizen of the world.  You understand cultures and politics better if you visit,” said Smiley. “Students get a worldview beyond what they’d get in evening news.”

Smiley has toured much of Europe, Asia and Central America on his travels, sometimes with students in study abroad courses.

“Nothing is like learning through doing. When you’re studying ‘Hamlet’ at Elsinore Castle where they say it took place and you realize they are putting on ‘Hamlet’ at the castle in Japanese kabuki theatre style, that’s a cross-culturalism you’d never get in a classroom,” said Smiley.

COM is part of the Texas Gulf Coast International Education Consortium Study Abroad Program. Learn more at

“There’s so many opportunities,” said Smiley. “Why wouldn’t you travel?”

Travel Tips

1. If you don't care about where you travel, it’s cheaper. You can find deals to less-traveled cities in Europe or Asia.

2. Book hotel and travel together can save money. Compare sites such as Travelocity and other package fares.

3. Spring break is a great time to travel in Europe. Christmas and summer are peak travel seasons.