In May of 2023, I went to Greece with my Classical Mythology class for a study abroad. It was the most incredible, life-changing trip I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience, thanks in equal measure to the people on the trip and the locations themselves. From the incredibly historic but bustling metropolis of Athens to Apollo’s breathtaking ruins among the mountains of Delphi, every sight in Greece was capable of taking your breath away. The museums were worlds unto their own; you were launched through time with every step you took. I knew I would love Greece, but it was like knowing you would fall in love someday. You may know it, but true understanding only comes through personal experience. This trip taught me in vivid detail why I love Greece.
What I had initially hoped to gain from this trip was a little perspective. I often read historical accounts of Greece that involve countless places I couldn’t even point to on a map, but I hoped if I could visit some important places I would have a better idea of what I was reading. I also looked forward to visiting museums to see in person many of the artifacts I had admired in photographs for years, but I considered this more of a selfish goal than an academic one. However, what I ended up gaining from the trip was even more valuable than I could have dreamed.
I wish I could have recorded my full experience in its entirety, because every person we met was able to teach me something I had never heard before; the tour guides we met possessed extensive knowledge, and the ability to ask them a multitude of questions was invaluable to me as a student of the classics (and hopefully without being overly bothersome). Being a mythology class, I was prepared and excited to learn new things in that arena, and I hoped I would pick up a little more Greek history while I was there as well. Both counts did come to pass, but I had failed to realize what a huge role other aspects would play in my trip!
We saw the Caryatids of the Athenian Acropolis, many museums, temples, and archaeological sites; it was everything that the history nerd I am signed up to see. But as incredible as all of this was, it was somehow only half of it! The real turning point for me on the trip was when I decided to completely immerse myself in modern Greek culture. Before the trip, I never saw it as relevant to my studies whatsoever. While I discovered that I was wrong in many ways, I also realized that there was immense value in Greek culture beyond academia! Of course it sounds obvious now, but all I had known was that it involved a lot of nightlife and food (neither of which I’ve ever cared much for). To some extent, my assumptions were correct, but once I gave up on my preconceived notions of both subjects I found I was able to experience a whole new world of friends, sights, and experiences.
By the time the trip rolled around, I had just completed two years of the Ancient Greek language at UTC, as well as around five months of modern Greek on Duolingo. Everywhere we went, I was able to practice both; from deciphering inscriptions to ordering gyros, I was able to submerge myself into Greek language. One night, my group was walking through the lamp-lit streets of seaside Nafplio. It was quiet other than our quiet laughter echoing through the cobblestone corridors between homes and local businesses, and the sea’s strong, salty smell was broken up occasionally by the delicious scents of grilled meats and vegetables. We ducked into a random restaurant, in large part because there was no English on the signage — a little trick we were figuring out for finding the more authentic places. I greeted the man at the counter with a friendly “Geia sas!” (Hello!), and he responded with rapid-fire Greek. I replied in Greek as best I could, albeit rather meekly, that I was a learner, and did he speak English? He grinned at us and spent the rest of the evening educating/tormenting me with the Greek language! He had me order for everyone at the table completely in Greek, and would frequently come by to casually strike up conversations in advanced Greek. I kept up as well as I could manage, and he praised me for my efforts between bouts of laughter at my expense. It wasn’t something I ever would have done in the US, but I’m so glad I gave it my best shot, learned a bit, and even made a new friend!
The thing that stood out most to me in my experience was the unexpected camaraderie our group gained overseas. Of course we had known each other all semester, but in truth we knew very little of one another. We had formed small, somewhat isolated groups throughout the spring, but when we arrived in Greece we suddenly lived together. Not only that, but we were all experiencing the unparalleled majesty of the birthplace of Western civilization, for the very first time, all together. It was strange at first, but yet again, we found that putting aside our preconceived notions, this time of each other, allowed us to fully enjoy our time abroad; I would consider even the people I spoke least to my friend after the experiences we all shared together.
While there were so many incredible things I learned on this trip, the thing I think is most crucial for other study abroad students to know is that your trip truly is what you make it. The only people I saw who struggled on our trip were the people who resisted what Greece had to offer; it wasn’t like home at all, and sometimes that could be overwhelming. You stayed up later, ate different food, didn’t know the language or anyone around… We all felt that way sometimes, but the people who enjoyed themselves anyway were the people who allowed themselves to experience the culture how and as it came to them. In my experience, once you can do that, the world truly will become your oyster.
Alex Furr (BA History, Classics, and International Studies) spent part of May 2023 participating in a faculty-led trip to Greece with the Classics department. Alex had the following to say about studying abroad, “I know it sounds cliché, but your experience truly is what you make it. The point when I finally let go of my preconceived notions and started going with the flow was the point when I really started getting the most out of my experience.”
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