For my STEP project, I participated in a two-week study abroad program in Greece. There, I learned about all of Greece’s most historical sites such as the Parthenon, the Temple of Poseidon, Knossos, etc. As a group, we studied the structures’ historical and engineering importance as well as the country’s breathtaking culture.
This would be the second time that I would be traveling out of the country to study in a foreign environment. The last time was in 2009 when I had traveled to China, and it was an absolutely fantastic experience. However, this time I felt like I was able to experience and learn so much more from my trip than I had when I was younger. Having matured and become more aware of American society and its social intricacies, I could very clearly see the differences between America and Greece. The culture was more laid-back, the people weren’t in a hurry or busy and focused on their work, and everyone seemed open for friendly conversation. No matter where I was in Greece, whether it be an island or the busy capital city, I got the sense of a large community that managed to remain close-knit. The Greeks just had a way of living that was very welcoming and friendly.
The news in America always paints the rest of the world in a negative light. We hear about Greece’s close neighbor, Turkey, constantly being affected by the tumultuous war against terror in the middle east. We hear about the Greek economic crisis and how politically and financially unstable Greece is. We hear about the refugee crisis and how people are being robbed out of their homes and being forced to migrate to Greece in huge waves. But all of this takes away from Greece’s beauty and only shines a negative light on the country. What we don’t hear is how Greece is unearthing more and more of its rich history because of how accustomed we have grown to it. This shouldn’t take away from how amazing these findings are and the knowledge the world gains shouldn’t be simply ignored. The world is not as black and white as I had previously imagined it to be. The rest of the world is not suffering as much as I had previously believed and I think adventuring to Greece despite the warnings I’d heard taught me something I’ll never forget. It gave me hope and optimism for our future and it taught me how to take a chance in doing something despite the warnings or the stigma I hear.
When I’d first arrived in Athens, I was greeted by the loud noises and ruckus of Athens. Our group went on a brief tour to get to know the city since we would be spending about a week there. The environment was very different than the US and the country was clearly still developing. At first glance the city seemed kind of like New York City- people were buzzing about, gypsies would come to greet us and try to sell us flowers, and the streets seemed kind of chaotic and dirty. My first impressions were to be honest a bit repulsive. I was already letting the fears that I’d gained back in America get to me.
It then became apparent that it wasn’t uncommon to walk through the streets and find a relic from the past that was thousands of years old. Athens was a city that had constantly been rebuilt over itself and as a result its ruins and history are everywhere. The native Greeks strolled along without batting an eyelid as I was always in awe of the wonderful sights and history that I encountered. I began to slowly appreciate the city’s character and that slowly extended into my appreciation for the country.
Leaving the Peloponnese was able to help my self-transformation even more. Once I started visiting the islands like Crete and Samos I was able to fully enjoy my experience in Greece and cast all my worries aside. I was interacting with the locals and listening to their stories as well as learning about their opinions on America. It was almost like I got to see the things in American society that I never would’ve imagined or noticed or that I took for granted.
I’ll never forget these two weeks of my life and the humongous impact they had on me. It taught me to get rid of any past stereotypes and opinions I’d have and save it until I’d actually experienced something. I was forced to deal with an environment that was initially uncomfortable due to my presumptions and I let it get the best of me before I let myself gradually accept it. This study abroad has taught me most importantly that as long as I’m willing to try things then I can create an awesome experience for myself. On a personal level, I feel more open and willing to talk to people who I know nothing about. The people I met in Greece were complete strangers, but after overcoming language barriers and social anxieties I felt I could connect to them and find similarities that I’d never imagined. Professionally, I feel more willing to take on new tasks and assume more responsibilities without the fear of failure or my pre-judgement. I’m extremely thankful for this experience, and I hope to travel again in the near future to grow even more as an individual.