SARA PLASENCIA
Study Abroad program - College Year in Athens
Extending the Olive Branch
“You’re going to study abroad in Greece?” That’s the question I was almost always asked in response to my decision to spend a whole semester in Athens. The following questions ranged from “Did you apply to other programs?” or “Are you of Greek descent?” as if the only compelling factor to study abroad in Greece had to be to visit family or get acquainted with my Greek culture. However, my favorite question of them all was, “Why Greece?” A question to which today I can’t think of a better response than, “why not?”  All these questions boggled my mind because to me, Greece was always the place I’d imagined studying abroad, always.
 
To be honest, I initially fell in love with the 9,000 miles of coastline that Greece had to offer and the thought of escaping -10 degree winters in the east coast wasn’t exactly holding me back either. I chuckle at just the thought of the time when I was so simple-minded, so naïve. Yes, part of what makes Greece beautiful is its miles and miles of coastline and weather that gives you life with every ray of sunshine, but Greece, the Greece that I’ve come to know and hold in a special place in my heart, is not defined by its heavenly landscape. In fact, I have found that it is far from the best thing that Greece has to offer. And those things that once motivated me to study here don’t even begin to touch the surface of the Greece that I’ve come to know and love -- the Greece that makes the thought of saying goodbye in just a matter of weeks so difficult.
 
However, this is not the Greece that people read about in the media and definitely not what people imagine when discussing the economic crisis. Unfortunately, in light of the current economic crisis, Greece has become seen through the dark picture that is constantly portrayed in the media. Like many conversations regarding Greece these days, the discussion of the economic crisis has simplified the actual condition of not only the economy, but of society as a whole. Everyday there seems to be a new article, editorial, or report that depicts Greece in turmoil, distress, agony, and desperation. The issue at hand is not that there are negative rumors circulating, but that the more and more stories that describe Greece as hopeless, the more its citizens will start to believe it.
 
Is Greece in an economic crisis? The answer is yes, that is not in question. What is in question that shouldn’t be is the dignity of Greece. This seems to be something that has gotten lost in the midst of negative accounts of the current state of Greece.
 
It is important to keep in mind that as much as the media connects the world together, it also has the power to distort the truth. Greece has fallen victim to this problem with the media and now the challenge is not only how to overcome the crisis, but how to redefine Greece. More broadly, the challenge is how to redefine Greece not by its failures, but its achievements.
 
So, why Greece? It is because Greece’s most valuable asset is not its coastline, the beautiful weather or its islands. Greece’s most valuable asset is its people; its the people you meet, the people who become more than just someone you pass every morning to someone that know you by name, the people who inspire you by their easy-going way of life, and the people who still go out of their way to show you the importance of hospitality despite their economic hardships. Ultimately, it’s not the struggles that define Greece, but their people. So, I look forward to the next time someone asks,  “why Greece?”.