I’m not going to lie: I was really worried about going to Greece for a semester. Not because of the riots or the economic situation — the American media actually makes it seem a lot worse than it actually is. As far as the riots are concerned, Athens is one of the safest cities in Europe.
Anyone who’s been around me knows that I’m a shy person in the beginning. That coupled with the idea of going to a country with a completely different culture and language was a little intimidating. These thoughts didn’t last as my plane entered Athenian airspace.
One moment I was staring at these little ice crystals forming outside the plane on my window as we descended into a cloud. All of a sudden, I saw the vast expanse of mountainous faces reaching with all their might towards the sky as if they were all Titans struggling to free themselves from their prison beneath the Earth’s crust.
Outside, the warm sun had begun to slowly melt the ice crystals, turning them into happy little beads of water. In the same way, the worries that had been running through my head the entire day also began to melt into happy little beads of anticipation, wonder and hope.
As I looked down, every ounce of homesickness coursing through my veins dissolved into brief shards of memories from the last time I was in Greece. I then began to look forward to all that would happen in the months to come.
My first week here was strictly orientation: learning what to do and what not to do. I’ve only gotten lost once, which is a feat for someone as directionally impaired as I am. I have mastered the metro, the trolley, and the bus systems (more or less). My apartment is on a street with several amazing bakeries and shops. I’m even a few minutes away from the lovely Kallimamaro Stadium, and you can see the Acropolis from the classrooms.
I took a weekend trip to the island of Andros. The wind there was insane; I was almost blown off several times from a cliff and into the raging ocean. I also saw Bronze Age archaeological remains in the town of Ypsili, including several broken down houses with fire pits, a temple and an altar. There was also a 19th century olive mill that had been restored to its former glory, complete with a video of how olive oil was made back in the day — a lot of hard work!
I also saw a monastery on top of a mountain that was built in the 1000s! The story goes that two hermit monks were trying to find a place to worship where they would be close to God. They found an idol of the Virgin Mary and carried it to their camp. In the middle of the night, the idol began to glow and walked its way back to its original spot, the place where the monastery was later built.
The beaches here are gorgeous, if not a little deadly when the wind picks up sand and tosses it in your face. Getting to these beaches, however, involves many flights of stairs and steep inclines. At least I’ll stay fit! I also took a trip to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio located on a cliff with the most beautiful seascape behind it.
The people in Athens are an interesting bunch. A good portion knows at least some English and can spot an American a kilometer away. Sometimes it’s difficult to engage them in Greek because they think it is easier to simply answer in English. There are some people who will let loose a small, pleased smile when you thank them or attempt to ask a question in their native tongue. For that smile, the mental agony of remembering words and the fear of saying something completely wrong is most definitely worth it.
I am looking forward to all the amazing things I will experience this term. Any worry or fear has settled down after my plane landed in Athens nearly two weeks ago. I can only wonder what treasures I will find in this city. Yeia sou!