Why Study Abroad?

I’m back home in California now, and while it’s easy to answer the “how was Greece?” question with a “great,” it’s much hard to put into words exactly how inspiring, fun, exhausting, and any other number of adjectives it was.

Studying abroad was not an option I ever thought I could have. I’m a late start (read: old) transfer student from a community college, and this summer program was the very last opportunity for me to study abroad via UC Riverside, as this fall is my final quarter. It was summer or never.

And it was tough. It was stressful getting money together, it was stressful attending meetings, filling out paperwork, dealing with any number of issues with getting my passport. But I did it. I had the support of friends and family, I had the support of UCR’s Study Abroad office, and I had the support of my fiance.

(That was the hardest part, by the way. Leaving my fiance for a month, the longest separation we’ve ever had in the 6.5 years we’ve been together.)

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Tough, but worth it. (Me at the Acrocorinth.)

You can come up with any number of doubts and roadblocks for why study abroad won’t work — and I’m not going to sit here and tell you those roadblocks don’t matter if you just try hard enough. No, I know what it’s like to face your problems and know what you can and can’t do.

What I will do is tell you that study abroad is possible. More than you think.

So, why study abroad?

There are so many things studying abroad can do for you, and while that experience is going to be subjective and personal, there’s always something you can get out of it.

Travel
This one is pretty obvious, right? Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to travel to a different city or country, to experience the world in a whole new light. Being in Athens was like being on a whole different planet, but it still felt familiar somehow. I found myself relaxing from 12pm-3pm like the natives did. I walked everywhere. I started reading Greek letters in my head (okay, out loud) as I saw them, even if I didn’t know what the words were. I enjoyed the food. I loved the sights and sites. Simply being in a different country did more for my views of the world and myself than watching a documentary on YouTube could have done. (And I did. Watch plenty of documentaries about Athens & Ancient Greece on YouTube.)

Culture
Food. THE FOOD. You learn a lot about a culture by their food, I think. And it’s delicious. I had no trouble adapting to Greek food. It felt healthier compared to American food (less preservatives, less sugar, more local food, I think?), and it was delicious. Some of the flavors were definitely something to get used to, but once you’ve had your first proper pork gyro from the souvlaki place down the street from your apartment, you won’t turn back.

I was also incredibly interested in people watching. I find it fascinating, seeing how people interact with each other — and how Greeks would interact with other Greeks vs tourists.

Education
Sure, it’s all fun and games, but when you’re studying abroad you’re still getting an education. Our program, which focused on Ancient Greek life, had us walking all over Athens, visiting various sites and museums. We took day trips to Corinth, Delphi, and Marathon (among other places). We visited a ceramic workshop and a leather workshop. We had an olive oil tasting. We learned about Greek life in the ancient world and had a taste of modern Greek history. Learning while in another country gives education a different quality; it makes it kind of exciting again, which is important if you’re like me and have been going to school full time (summers included) for four years and are close to burning out.

Personal Growth
This is where it gets incredibly subjective for everyone. I will say that I learned a few things about myself in Greece, and keep it at that. How you take to studying abroad is up to you — but it can give you so much if you can make it happen.

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View of Corinth from the Acrocorinth.

 

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Yia sas! (Hello!)

I write this on Saturday, my second morning in Athens! Though our study abroad program activities don’t start until Sunday, a classmate and I arrived a few days early to take advantage of cheaper airfare, and to explore the city a little bit before the program started.

My first night was spent in a little hostel in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens, only a couple of kilometers away from the Acropolis. Our apartments were ready the next day (had been ready my first night, but a miscommunication meant I didn’t know they were, and I worried quite a few people because I never checked in with the Athens Centre!), and I met up with my classmate. We’ve got a cute little studio apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the Mets neighborhood. Our apartment looks east over the city, and is built in such a way that we can see all the way to the port of Piraeus from our windows.

A Panorama from our balcony. The Acropolis is all the way to the right.

We’re also right across the street from the First Athens Cemetary, which is that nice dark green landscape in the photo. We can see the Acropolis from our balcony window to the north, which is a sight I still can’t believe we have. The Athens Centre’s building is only a couple minute walk away from our apartment (everything is a walk here!), and they have an even better view of the Acropolis from their rooftop.

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View from the rooftop of the Athens Centre.

We’ve already immersed ourselves in the city a bit, walking through the streets, figuring out street names and trying to read what little Greek we can. We’ve ordered gyros and did some grocery shopping, and started our very early morning with a breakfast of pita bread and tzatziki. All little things, but they seem so much huger and more intimidating when we can’t speak the language. Luckily, many signs and labels here include some English. Considering Greece gets 16 million tourists – higher than their 11 million population – every year, it’s not surprising, and a big help.

Today is another day of exploring, though I hope to take it easy because I ended yesterday with an absolutely killer headache – probably from the heat. It’s exactly like California, only about 10% more humid. That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re walking everywhere in a city as hilly as Athens is, it’ll get to you. I’m going to lose so much weight and my legs are going to be rock hard by the end of the month, I bet.

Please check out my Instagram for more often pictoral updates!

Helpful Greek phrase of the day:
Milate angglika?  = Do you speak English?

Info of the Day:
Greeks don’t flush toilet paper, because the pipe system gets clogged very easily. Instead, all toilet paper is thrown away in a regular garbage can.