ZOE POST
Study Abroad program - College Year in Athens
Not The Media's Greece
“You're going to Greece?” As prepared for my semester abroad, I heard the same question
asked in countless ways. Family members, close friends, and even well-respected professors all
wondered the same thing: why on earth would a young student like myself study in a country
with rampant riots, a bankrupt economy, and danger on every corner? They had read articles
online and seen enough footage from the media to know – or so they assumed – all about the
turmoil that awaited me once my plane landed in Athens.
 
Admittedly, it was not just friends and family that had concerns; I myself wondered if
studying in Greece was the wisest choice. As a student of religion and international studies, I
had intended to journey to Israel to continue my education, but when those plans fell through,
Greece was next on the list. More than once I described my situation as, “Out of the frying pan
(of Israel) and into the fire (of Greece).” Weeks before I departed, I read story after story about
the euro crisis and the resulting panic that I was about to step into. My father gave me a stern
lecture, ensuring that I had sufficient emergency contacts in place and making me promise that I
would not get involved in any demonstration of any kind. As I nervously waved goodbye for
four months, both my parents and I were anxious, unsure of what the semester would bring.
 
My first few weeks in Greece were interesting to say the very least. At first, the
adjustment was difficult, and I endured several mishaps. My first week, as I struggled to learn
the complex Greek language, I accidentally ended up with two entire kilos of tomatoes from the
local market. Not long after, I arrived at a local taverna at my usual dinnertime of 17:00-18:00 to
discover the restaurant did not even open for dinner until 20:00. After getting lost in streets that
do not run east-west or north-south, sweltering in the Mediterranean heat, and tripping over
several neighborhood cats, I concluded rather quickly that Greece was not like my home in
America.
 
Over time, however, I began to experience less of a culture shock and more of a cultural
appreciation. I began to find the beauty in the differences between my permanent and temporary
homes. The pace of life especially stood out to me, and I quickly realized that constantly
hurrying through life is not a priority for many Greeks. Instead, the emphasis is on family,
friends, and relationships. It was not long before I became a regular at local bakeries, cafés, bars,
and tavernas, and I was soon on a first-name basis with many of the employees. In a place where I only barely speak the language, the sense of community I have felt here surpasses that of many
other places where I have lived. The images I had in my head from the media prior to my trip
hardly fit the joy and comfort that I had begun to experience in this amazing country.
 
In the course of the next several months, I was able to explore various parts of Greece. I
had my first taste of the Mediterranean Sea in Andros, toured Knossos and tried raki on Crete,
marveled at the monasteries in Meteora, ran the track at Olympia, soaked up the history of
Corinth, attended a football match in Thessaloniki, and roamed the sacred spaces at Delphi. In
my home-away-from-home of Athens, I climbed to the Acropolis, attended a performance of The
Apology of Socrates, dined on moussaka and saganaki, wandered the shops on Ermou Street,
read St. Paul’s speech on Mars’ Hill in the place where he gave it, and spent countless hours
sipping frappés outside local coffee shops. The pages of my Greek language, religion, and
history textbooks continue to come alive as I am immersed in this incredible place. When I
speak with loved ones back home, I do not tell them tales of a desperate people and a broken
country, but of a vibrant community and stunning land. Many times I have felt unbelievably
lucky, even spoiled, to be able to experience so many rich and beautiful things here.
 
This does not mean I am naïve to Greece’s issues; in fact, I have spent considerable time
studying them. Austerity has been hard on many Greeks, and I know the crisis has brought
difficult times to this country. But my reaction is not despair or gross overreaction, as foreign
media might prefer, but of awe and pride for the Greek people. I have witnessed the strong
familial bonds that allow citizens to rely on one another during hard seasons. I have seen the
bold and active political involvement, particularly from young people, that demands change and
equality. I have been privy to the strong work ethic and ingenuity that has kept shops alive and
will continue to create new businesses. Above all, I have experienced the perseverance and pride
of the Greek people; it is this that has given Greece such a strong history and will continue to
strengthen the country in the future.
 
It has been three months since the day I traded my American home for an Athenian
apartment, and in that time I have had the privilege of getting acquainted with Greek history,
language, culture, places, and people. Not only has my view on Greece’s political and economic
situation changed considerably, but in addition, the time I have spent here has truly shaped my
life. A semester here is priceless, and I am tremendously fortunate to have had this opportunity.
 
The next time someone asks me incredulously, “You went to Greece?” I will answer proudly,
“Yes. And I hope you will too.”