The three weeks I spent studying in Greece gave me a new perspective on life and learning. Before visiting Greece, my professors and peers warned me about the differences between Greek culture and American culture. I did not believe that two cultures could be so different. Based on the differences I discovered, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the American way of life. In addition, my admiration for ancient and modem Greeks has increased.
I traveled from Indiana University with five other students. We all met in Chicago and traveled from there to Zurich and on to Athens. Thankfully, the flight was uneventful. We arrived safely in Athens on a Monday. From the Athens airport, we had our first adventure. The Taxi Ride! The College Year in Athens program gave us a sheet of paper with directions written in Greek to give to our taxi driver. You would think this would help with the language barrier issues. However, our taxi driver was unable to understand the directions. He had to enlist the help of two different guards in order to have the directions translated. Hoping the two guards gave our driver clear instructions, we hopped in the cab... for the ride of our lives. The three of us girls, who dared to ride in this particular cab, clutched our bags and each other! The traffic in Athens was beyond words. There were little motorcycles whizzing past us, and little cars that did not seem to have a concept of what a lane is. Sometimes, we would be sandwiched between five or six cars in a two-lane road. We decided that if we survived this taxi ride, we could survive anything else Athens had in store for us.
The realization of how different Greek and American culture is evolved over time. First, I had to get over the initial shock of finding my way around the city and figuring out how to order food in the taverns. Once I was comfortable getting around the city, I felt at ease
immersing myself into traditional and modem Greek culture. I tried new foods and wines. I really liked a dish called Souvlaki. This dish is a grilled 'skewer' of chicken and green peppers and is served with white rice and unique sauce. I have no idea what the sauce was made of, but it was good. Another cultural difference that appealed to me was how dressy the Greek people are. These people take pride in their outward appearance, dressing formally during the day and night hours. This led to some great shopping opportunities.
Our studies began right away. The first day, Tuesday, Professor Glowacki and Professor Klein took us on a neighborhood walk. This walk entailed touring the apartment surroundings on foot and a nice, long walk up Mount Lykabettos. Once we reached the top of Mount Lykabettos, we had our first glimpse of the Acropolis; in addition, we could see the layout of the city, which helped us get our bearings.
Over the next three weeks, we visited many archaeological sites. Two sites were most memorable for me. First, seeing the Parthenon up close was an amazing experience. I spent so much time studying this building from books that seeing the real thing for the first time was almost emotional. As you climb up the ramp, through the Propylaia, the Parthenon emerges into full view. The size of this building is extraordinary. It amazes me that the Ancient Greeks were able to create this monument without the use of modern day machinery. I really enjoyed walking around this building, picking out all the things I could remember learning from books.
The second most memorable site we visited was the Agora. Professors Glowacki and Klein arranged for an unexpected treat. We received a tour of newly excavated areas in the Agora. Our "tour guide", John Camp, is the author of three of our textbooks and the lead archaeologist for the Agora excavations. Professor Camp showed us the Royal Stoa and the State Prison where Socrates was (we think) held before drinking the Hemlock. Being able to stand in the same areas as Socrates and other great ancient people is a memory I will never forget.
Walking around Athens, I discovered how intertwined ancient and modem Greece is. I found it fascinating that modem buildings are built around and sometimes with materials from ancient buildings. For example, one church we toured utilized an ancient limestone carved calendar to build and provide decoration in it walls. Because the ancient and modem city of Athens is woven together, you are constantly reminded of its deep history. Experiencing the tapestry of old and new helped me to understand and appreciate how Greeks identify themselves through their heritage and modem accomplishments.
The experience of traveling and studying in Greece has changed my perspective on how we identify ourselves through our past. I have gained a new appreciation for how important history is in order to grasp ideas for the future. While Greek and American cultures are different from one another, understanding and valuing those differences go along way to expanding our knowledge of the past and pursuing an intertwined future.