Study Abroad Recap: Greece 2016

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During the summer of 2016 I spent over five weeks traveling around the beautiful country, Greece. During my time I went to six islands and five cities on the mainland. I took three classes: Photography, Women in Ancient Greek Literature, & St. Paul’s Influence on Early Christianity. But believe me when I say I learned far more than what I read out of my textbooks.

“Some people go their whole lives without seeing something like this.”

My classmate, Sabrina, said this to me while we were standing atop the Acropolis in Athens during the first week of the trip, and it stuck with me for the rest of my time here. Everything we saw, I realized how incredible it was that I had the opportunity to study abroad, especially in a country with such a rich history. Greece is unique in so many ways, as you can see in my photos. This trip taught me a lot about the country and the people, but it also taught me a lot about myself. While I was in Olympia one evening I was shopping with my friend David and we struck up a conversation with the shop owner. He had lived in Olympia for his entire life. It’s a city with a population of just about 1,000 people, but he was so happy meeting new people every day as visitors travelled in an out. He said that meeting other people taught him who he was, and so he has had a similar experience that we have being immersed in another culture. It was just reversed. There is so much to learn on a trip like this, and I hope to express it all as best I can through my photographs and this post.

  • Itinerary

I’d like to start out by explaining what my trip consisted of. For the five weeks I was in Greece I did a lot of traveling, both on the mainland and on different islands. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I felt like I was able to experience many different parts of Greece. As a country it is very spread out because it is a peninsula, and there are many islands off its coast. Each aspect of Greece has its own history which has made it what it is today, and all together these different places make up Greek culture. If one part was missing, Greece wouldn’t be the same. While it is all separate, it is uniquely whole at the same time.

So, we flew into Athens and stayed there for a few days before we began island hopping. We travelled to six islands before heading back to Athens for a pit stop before we began mainland hopping. Then we travelled to five different mainland cities before returning to Athens for the few remaining days of our trip. We traveled to many ancient archaeological sites, museums, beaches, agoras (city-centers), and churches. In each, our professors enlightened us on the history of each site, so when we explored we knew what we were seeing. And on the island of Siphnos we had a tour guide take us around, and teach us traditional Greek dancing! Her name was Ronda and she was a hoot.

  • Lessons Learned

I never fully realized how privileged I was until this experience. Of course, I knew how fortunate I was to have the experience to take a study abroad trip, but it goes far beyond that. In Greece, all of the signs and menus, etc., are written in both Greek and English. Everywhere I went people spoke English, even if it was just enough to order Souvlaki and a Coke. It wasn’t until more than halfway through the trip that I had a waitress who was struggling to understand my order. The owner of the restaurant came and helped and we had a delicious meal, but it was in that instant that I realized how lucky I was. I never had trouble in Greece because everyone there could speak my language. I didn’t have to learn Greek, or struggle to pronounce anything, and that is astonishing because I was in a completely different culture. It also made me sad to think how many students in America can not speak another language fluently. I took four years of Spanish, and I could get by, but I couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone. In America it is expected that others learn English, but then other countries don’t expect us to learn their language. It’s a backwards system, and something to consider next time I go abroad.

 I also learned so much from my professors. We had two Classical Culture profs, a Religious Studies prof, and an English prof. Together they answered every question we had, and I was constantly impressed by how much they knew. I was also amazed because anytime one of them had a question they would ask one of the others, and they were always so interested to learn from them. They never took questions as embarrassing for any one of us not knowing. Instead, they used it as an opportunity to teach. It was impressive and I was grateful because I learned many new things every single day.

As for photography, I learned so much from this experience. I was taking photos every day. I was trying out different angles, different camera settings, and my scenery was always changing so I never took repetitive pictures. Each place was a brand new opportunity to explore. In my Christianity class we talked about icons. We went to the Byzantium museum where I got to see in-person many ancient icons of saints, and it reminded me of how lucky we are to have cameras. Because icons of the saints are all different depending on the time period they were created, and the culture that influenced them. Icons from across the globe portray the saints differently, so we will never have an accurate representation of what they looked liked. With journalism as a whole, the best lesson I learned was that there is a story everywhere you go. This is something teachers and professors have been telling me for years, but I was constantly blind to the familiarity of being at home. Here in Greece, we were enlightened of every unique piece of history that belonged to each site we went to. Every city has its own story, as do the people who live there. From talking to people I learned that. I met a man who was an Olympic torch runner in the 1996 Atlanta games. I also talked to a lot of the waiters to learn more about each city we were at, and in Naxos I struck up a conversation with a woman who was making home-made blankets. I learned about her life on Naxos, and I bought a blanket. Every person, even if they’ve lived in the same place their entire life, has a story. Everybody has something to say, I just have to ask them about it.

  • Why Travel?

It’s easy to look at a map or Google images of places around the world, but it’s much more difficult to actually get there. The few months leading up to my trip people kept telling me how lucky I was that I would have this experience, and they were right. Except for the fact that everyone should be having this experience. Traveling isn’t something for those lucky few, it’s for everyone. Whether you’re traveling halfway across the world or just a state away, it’s healthy to travel to a new place. There’s the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and it’s true. We often fall into routine lives in the same town we’ve been living in for years, and we only dream about these far off places. But instead of simply dreaming about it, my advice is to make it a reality. On a trip like this you go to lose yourself: to lose the repetitiveness of daily life, of mundane activities and the same Foldgers coffee every single morning. And it is by losing yourself that you end up finding yourself, and a whole lot more. You learn what it’s like to navigate a foreign city. You learn how to be open to trying new foods. You learn what someone else’s every day routine is, and how it differs from your own. You learn how to accept differences. You learn what it means to pass on kindness to someone else because someone pointed you kindly in the right direction or gave you a discount on your cab fare. You learn the history of a new place. You learn how adaptable you are. You learn how resilient you are to altercations in the itinerary. You learn how to work around these problems. You learn how to handle new situations. You learn what it is to be independent.

Traveling is not just about the things that go right, it’s about running through the airport because you’re about to miss your flight, or finding a new bus when yours doesn’t show up. It’s about snorkeling in new beaches and exploring the ruins of an ancient city. All of the pieces of the past bring us to where we are today, and that’s something to be admired. There’s something extraordinary about hearing the same wind that’s been blowing through the columns of the Parthenon for years. Or hearing you professor speak perfectly from the stage floor of the ancient theater at Delphi. Or growing closer to people who were once strangers, but are now forever friends in your life. Even the post-traveling depression that sets in around the third day you’ve been home is worth it because of everything you’ve experienced. And every single trip is different. You’ll learn more about yourself the more you put yourself in new situations. There are endless cities to travel to, it just takes the motivation to get there.

  • Closing Remarks

It really is hard to put into words all that I experienced and learned on this trip, despite how long this post is. I hope that my photos can give you an idea of what my time in Greece was all about, but I know that they can’t fully do it justice. As I photographer I can humble myself enough to admit that. I have so much respect for photographers and I’m thankful because they allow us to see places we may never have the chance to. But my advice is this: Go out and see the world. Go where you’ve always dreamed, and don’t let anything stop you. Work that extra shift on Saturdays and then go. Because it’s a life-changing experience. It opened my eyes to how much of the world I still need to see, and it taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. Everybody told me I’d be a changed person after studying abroad, and to an extent I assumed they were right, but it was truly an understatement. I’ve grown in more ways than I can even count, and even after returning to the U.S. I kept realizing new things about myself that I hadn’t noticed before. All of my discoveries, and all of the questions I still have, are leading me towards my next adventure.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

All my best,

Kate

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