This past Maymester, I went abroad with 21 other students to the Greek Island of Corfu to study Western history and tradition. We were taught by some of the most esteemed professors in Greece and we had the opportunity to learn from a professor that came to teach all the way from Oxford, England. Thought this class, we learned about world history from the European perspective.
When I thought about Greece, I thought of the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, meaning I had no real concept of Greek culture. I was terrified to be in a place where I did not know the culture or the language. Due to the economic crisis that at the time was hanging over the people of Greece, I felt that the Greeks also lacked a respect for themselves and their culture. Overall, I was just really uneducated about the Greeks and what they believed. When I arrived in Corfu I was truly shocked. Though the country’s economy and political system were in jeopardy, the people were more than welcoming and were so excited to share their culture and their traditions with our group.
Because I put myself in a position where I was unsure of what to expect, I gained more insight into myself and my abilities than I could ever have expected. I learned that I can communicate through more than language. Laughter is truly universal and charades is understood by almost everyone. I learned that my culture is unique and special, but is not the best or most important culture in the world. I learned that I am capable of taking care of myself in a place where I could not even read the street signs. I became a stronger, more vibrant, and more loving person than I ever thought possible. I went abroad to try and prove to myself that I was strong enough to take care of myself. My experience proved that and so much more, most of which I do not think I will be able to ever put into words.
Events and Interactions
On my first full day in Corfu, several friends and I went out to lunch at a place just down the street from the hotel where we lived called George’s. George was an older man who spoke broken English and showed me some of the most genuine kindness that I have ever experienced. The first few days, I was terrified. Classes had not started yet and I had not had the time to really get out and meet people. George took the time to create a meal for me that evening, giving me my first taste of Greek hospitality. I had never had the food that was on the menu, and being a vegetarian, I had no idea what would be ok to eat within my diet. This small gesture truly made me feel like I was safe.
During my first week of classes, I began to buy my lunches from the same Spinach Pie stand every day. The woman who worked there taught me what it meant to befriend someone with whom there was no true verbal communication. She learned my name, we acted out stories from our day, and she took the time to compliment my extremely broken Greek. This woman taught me what it means to laugh harder than you have ever laughed and what it feels like to smile larger than you have ever smiled. She helped me to see that in my everyday life, I can make someone feel the joy of our interaction. She showed me that even in the darkest and hardest parts of life, it is possible to share joy.
In the middle of the month, we got to celebrate Ionian Independence Day, the day when the 7 Greek Islands in the Ionian Sea were given to Greece by England as a peace offering. It was through this celebration that I got to see the pride that the Greeks have in their culture. As I sat in the town square watching the parade go by, I noticed children running around waving Greek flags and parents fussing over the children as they prepared to do a traditional dance. It was in this moment that I saw my own culture. It reminded me of Independence Day in the United States. There was such an evident pride in their country and their people. I could see that even when their country was in trouble, they still loved and were proud of their country. I realized that this is no different than how I would act if my country was in trouble.
Significancy and Value
Through this experience, I was able to develop skills that will be important to me in my future profession. I am a pre-med student and I want to work in hospital pediatrics. This means that I will not always be dealing with people that are of the same nationality as I am, meaning that we may speak different languages. My experience has allowed me to develop the skills necessary for non-verbal communication as well as how to put a person at ease without words. Putting myself into an uncomfortable situation has pushed me to work harder and to think out of the box.