Today marks one month since I returned from one of the greatest adventures of my life (so far).
One month ago, I flew back into the United States via Philadelphia after studying abroad for a semester in Athens, Greece. From January until the end of April, I studied about, explored, and lived in the city where Western civilization first began. I was fortunate enough to temporarily call Athens - the place where tragedy, philosophy, epic poetry, democracy, and medicine originally flourished - my home, and for that I am eternally grateful.
While in Greece, I studied at The Athens Centre, a small school in the Pangrati area of Athens. It fosters various different programs from American universities throughout the year, as well as teaches Modern Greek to working professionals living in Athens. I took five classes in the Classics field at this school, which included a course about Troy and the Trojan War, one describing the origins and practice of ancient athletics, another about Crete's unique past, and a modern Greek culture class.
I was also fortunate enough to meet and to spend time with many of the wonderful individuals who work at The Athens Centre. The "women of the office," as I often referred to them, were kind and helpful far beyond the scope of what their job positions required. There were countless situations where I was in a bind and they were completely willing to help me in whatever way they could (like when my MacBook broke and I needed to get it repaired, or when I contracted strep throat during finals week and needed to find a good, nearby doctor quickly). Also, whenever I needed to vent about certain issues in my life, whether it surrounded school, professors, my home life, etc., these women were always there to lend a ear and to offer advice when possible.
Beyond classroom activities, my study abroad program had a ton of domestic travel built into the schedule. Nearly every weekend for three months, our thirteen-person program loaded up into a coach bus and toured Greece's beautiful countryside and cities - both ancient and modern.
My favorite program-planned excursion was our five-day visit to Crete (despite being sick at the time, unfortunately). We took a cruise boat to and from the large island, which was my first time on such a boat. Our trip primarily focused on the eastern and central parts of Crete, including Zakros (where we stayed in fabulous little resort houses by the beach), Chania (which seamlessly combines ocean, mountains, and city into one place), and Gournia (where I gave a site report about Harriet Boyd Hawes and her influence on Cretan archaeology whilst standing on the ruins of the ancient town).
However, the best part of this trip, by far, was our visit to a small apiary/farm in the countryside outside of Chania. There, my classmates and I suited up into appropriate beekeeper attire and got to closely examine honey bees in their sanctuaries. I was even brave enough to hold a wooden slat full of buzzing little bees with my own bare hands, which was a really cool, surreal experience! While there, we also took a quick trip to a nearby winery where we sampled several wines and liqueurs, as well as noshed on some bread paired with locally made olive oil. Our nature day concluded by enjoying a large family meal with everyone back at the apiary. All the food was absolutely divine; homemade dakos, roasted lamb, several salads, french fries, and wine were served as our main course. Then, little pots of panda cotta with honey arrived for dessert. Yum! The entire day was absolutely lovely, and I highly recommend such an outing for anyone who ever visits Crete.
Although my coursework and class trips were obviously a huge component of my study abroad experience, there was also so much more that occurred during this time that had profound meaning for me. My study abroad trip to Greece was a window for me to explore other parts of Europe, as well as other parts of myself. By being overseas, I was able to expand my world and to alter my perspectives by traveling to numerous different countries and meeting incredible people in my spare time. I was also able to extend my trip for nearly three weeks after my academic program ended to travel even more throughout the continent.
To illustrate, during my spring break, several classmates and I ventured to Prague, Czech Republic; Copenhagen, Denmark; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Vienna, Austria. Soon afterwards, I traveled to Rome, Italy and Berlin, Germany entirely by myself, which were the first times I had dipped my toes into the joys of solo traveling. This adventure not only broke a travel barrier for me, but also proved just how independent I am/am capable of being. I learned that solo traveling is truly incredible in many different ways. You not only have a ton of time to think and to spend time with yourself/your own thoughts, you further realize just how beautiful alone time can be.
Additionally, each and every time I traveled somewhere distant by myself, I always found myself meeting amazing people along the way. While in Italy, I met a fellow female traveler from Dallas, Texas, and we instantly clicked. We got along so well and had such similar travel goals that we actually ended up spending an entire day traveling together. We explored the city, toured the Vatican, and even drank (an entire bottle of) wine at the Trevi Fountain at night. Likewise, in Germany I was introduced to several solo, female travelers who were all fine examples of human beings. One woman was traveling on EuroRail for 6 months (primarily in Asia), while another had just moved to Berlin from Switzerland, and a third was traveling solo for the first time in her life in her mid-thirties. Moral of the story: solo travel is truly the way to go in many occasions, and don't let anyone (or your own questioning thoughts!) try to tell you otherwise.
My study abroad experience also came at a time in my life when I most needed it. Sadly, many friendships back home had started to sour and to disintegrate, leaving me feeling confused as to who I trusted and even wanted as friends anymore. I knew I needed to make changes in my life for my own wellbeing, and going abroad did just that. Moving to Greece for three months was very much a fresh start for me, one that I desperately needed. I removed myself from toxic situations that had been holding me and my happiness back, and was exposed to new peers who were all thirsty for adventure like me. Although I've always been a skeptic about the positive side of change, altering one's life in ways - permanently or just temporarily - definitely can be a good thing.
I truly cannot express how grateful I am and forever will be for this particular experience in my life. Studying abroad both changed me and helped me find myself again. It also truly allowed me to realize just how enormous, beautiful, and diverse this world is, as well as how small and trivial our "problems" often are. And while I'm now back home in the States, I will still always remind myself just how important and fulfilling it is to stay curious and to seek adventure.
Student @ Penn State. Figure skater. Writer. Traveler. Coffee fanatic. Foodie. Semi-professional people watcher who recently returned home from backpacking around Europe.
All photos taken by me, unless otherwise noted.