Greece: Understanding the Past to Understand the Present and Future

As part of the Crossroads of East and West Study Abroad Program, I learned about the history and culture of the ancient world from the time of the classical era to near modern history. We then used the knowledge we learned to analyze how that affects the current nations in the region and the national narratives they currently have. Initially, my fellow students and I were supposed to go to Istanbul and Greece, however due to unforeseen circumstances, the program took place only in Greece. As a result, we used our analytical tools in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Sparta and more to make these connections from past to present.


My assumptions of Greece going into the program was that of the standard Greek stereotype, that the whole country was stuck in the age of the classics. I could not picture in my head any idea of the Greek people as a nation without thinking of Democracy and togas. I had no image of a modern Greek to reference. When thinking of the country layout, my mind was again affected by the classical era. I just assumed that the country was only made up of ancient sites and that was it. And if I had to think of Greece of a modern nation, then I just thought of any other standard modern European Nation. Therefore I imagined Greece to be like France, England or Germany.


All these assumptions were completely changed with my visit to the country. The cities are modern, yet they are unlike any United States cities. Ancient sites do exist and they are everywhere, but so are the people of Greece. Therefore there is a constant conflict of what needs to be preserved and who comes first, a piece of the countries narrative or the people of the country. This conflict directly affects the build and feel of the city. It felt like there were pockets of isolated time in the city. The major cities also felt divided. There were certain districts in the city that were dedicated to race or a group of people, but the interesting part of these sections were that they still seemed Greek.


The people of Greece also felt very different from the people of the United States. Greek people are very hospitable and a result very friendly. However, they are very direct and straight forward. They are a prideful people who are very family centric and rarely ever violent. It is more likely that you will get into a yelling match than an actual fight if ever. I would still think of the Greek people as European, but they are so much more unique than that.


The change in my thinking and determining that my assumptions were incorrect were caused by my interaction with the people Greece and learning about the history and culture of the ancient world. On interaction that stands out in the encounter with a woman in the University of Athens. I was exploring the university and found the geology department. The Geologist at the time, Theodora, could tell that we were not from around the area. So she took time out of her day to show us around the entire collection that the University of Athens had. She even showed us the secret collections that the university had as well. This act showed me how hospitable the Greek people were and also how we could connect with others of completely different cultures.


Learning about the history made me understand nations around the world in a new light. Greek history is highly focused on the times of classical Greece and the Golden Age of Athens, however this was only a couple of hundred years in the whole span of Greek history. By learning of the history of Greece, I indirectly learned about how nations alter what is portrayed in their education and what the project out to the world. This is because the history of a nation as known by other nations is directly how they are perceived. Therefore a country has a lot to gain by carefully selecting what parts of their history to emphasize.


When visiting Greece, I also got an international perspective of the United States from the people of Greece. I learned that not everyone is fond of the United States. There were multiple instances of talking with an older generation of people were they would tell me that I should not be proud to be an American. However on the flip-side, the younger generation loved Americans. Whenever I would get into a conversation with a people more my age and found out that I was American, the question would not stop. The program changed my international perception of the United States.


The program was life changing and gave me exactly what I was looking for, perspective. Our world is getting smaller everyday however our understanding of each other as people has not changed. These misunderstandings cause conflict. As a student studying to become an engineer, I need to interact with people to help solve problems. I cannot do that if I cannot even understand the people I am helping and worse, causing more issues. By seeing more of the world, I am able to understand more of it and that will help me be able to help the world the best I can as a future engineer.


Richie Tran

One thought on “Greece: Understanding the Past to Understand the Present and Future

  1. Hi Richie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections regarding false assumptions and the damage that these stereotypes have on relationships.

    Sounds like you also engaged in some interesting historical and cultural analysis.


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