My STEP Signature Project entailed a 3 ½ week study abroad trip exploring all of Greece. While there, I learned all about Greek history and culture, as well as the economic and political issues Greece is currently facing. At the same time, this was a new personal experience for me, and I learned a lot about myself along the way.
This trip was my first experience ever overseas, and as a result, my opinion of foreign countries changed drastically. Previously, I thought that outsiders viewed the United States in an overall negative light. People here in the US have a tendency of creating this image where other countries despise America, either because of our government, or personality, or habit of getting involved in international affairs, etc. However, after talking to so many of the locals throughout Greece, the opposite seemed to be true. Whenever someone from the group or I mentioned that we were from the United States, people would get really interested and excited, and ask countless questions about our lives back home. Many told us their dreams to eventually visit America. This took me off guard, as the reaction I was expecting was one of disapproval, or maybe even disgust.
Another way in which my opinion of foreign countries changed was that outside of United States, people would be less friendly, and more introverted and self-centered. Furthermore, I was countlessly warned during my trip about the risk of getting mugged, pick-pocketed or scammed by the locals. I entered Greece expecting the worst. However, once again I was taken aback by how wrong I was. Most were extremely friendly, outgoing and kind. We always got very detailed directions from the locals whenever we were lost. We would constantly receive extra appetizers, drinks or desserts on the house. Not once did I feel in danger of crime, even when in the shadier parts of towns. Overall, the Greek people seemed very interested in showing their own culture, and learning about American culture, and it impressed me greatly.
Over the 3 ½ weeks I spent abroad, I became much more open to the world around me, as it slowly dawned on me how close-minded I originally was. The first time this occurred to me was during our first night of the trip. I had just been on airplanes for the past twenty or so hours. I was exhausted, hungry, and nervous about what the future held. I also had in mind my own opinion about what people from foreign countries were like. However, walking around Athens on that first night was an experience I will never forget. Walking down the road, there were countless stores, food vendors, and talented musicians. Everyone was friendly, and having a good time. The whole thing seemed like a special festival or party, but in reality that was just what Athens is like every night. This night showed me all the rich diversity and culture Greece had to offer, and I started to become more comfortable in a place I would soon fall in love with.
After our first couple of days in Athens, we went on a tour of the Peloponnese. We visited cities/towns including Corinth, Mycenae, Sparta, Mystras, Olympia, and Delphi. All of these areas were beautiful to witness, but also unique in their own way. Aside from the incredible views, each of these areas also had their own rich and unique history relating to Ancient Greek times. It was actually extremely interesting and entertaining to hear stories and presentations on the countless wars, as well as the culture and beliefs, of the Ancient Greek people. This tour through the Peloponnese made me realize that every place, even if seemingly in the middle of nowhere, has a rich history and story to tell. At this point, I spent the rest of the trip craving more knowledge on both ancient and modern Greece.
After our tour the Peloponnese, we spent the next week or so in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. This is where we had most of our interactions with the Greeks. What I found right off the bat was, contrary to my original belief, was that the Greeks were extremely friendly and outgoing, rather than anti-social and selfish. What I remember most vividly is a cafe that we visited with two very nice and friendly waiters. They told us all about their day-to-day lives, and were very excited when we told them we were Americans. We talked all about American and Greek cultures, and their similarities and differences between them. They also told us about their dreams to eventually visit America. At the end of the night, they gave us a couple free desserts, and appetizers, telling us more about Greek food. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget, and made me think more about the false realities that are sometimes created for things we are unfamiliar with.
Overall, this trip definitely gave me more confidence in myself, both with new experiences and things I am uncomfortable with. This trip also taught me to think for myself, as well as to be aware of whether or not something is biased. These personal lessons will also help me exponentially with my professional goals. Eventually, I want to have a job as a sports statistician or analyst. This job will require a lot of travel, as sports events occur at multiple locations, and could also involve international travel. This experience has allowed me to become much more comfortable with travel, and communicating with others with different backgrounds. It is also important for an analyst to think objectively, and to not let bias from a preference for a certain team or something cloud their judgement and analysis. This trip made me realize how much bias and subjective thinking can change an idea. Using this unforgettable experience, I will be sure to be aware of experiencing something myself, and forming my own opinion on it, rather than listening to the biased opinions of others. Lastly, this trip showed me that there is always something else in the world to explore, so I should travel as much as I can. I can’t wait for my next international trip!