I will miss you, Greece
Now that I have been home for a much deserved Christmas break, I can’t stop thinking about how much I actually miss Greece. I immediately had reverse culture shock when I got home, and I didn’t even know that was possible. The good shock was going home and throwing oodles amount of toilet paper down the toilet! In Greece, the plumbing is too bad to put toilet paper down the toilet, so American plumbing quickly became a much appreciated part of life. It was amazing to see my friends and family again. I spent the majority of my time at home: playing with my baby nephew Anthony, talking with my parents about Greece, and hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law Will, who I have not seen in a year since he left for Afghanistan last January. I indulged in eating Chipotle with my high school friends on a daily basis, and even had the chance to volunteer at Bryn Mawr Rehab hospital, the same place I worked at last summer in their Neuro-rehab unit. However, there were some less desirable parts of my reverse culture shock, such as not being able to stumble upon fresh octopus at the super market and the weather not being 70 and perfect all the time. As I reflected on my four months in Greece, I came up with a list of things that I loved the most in Greece, and now miss, and why.
My neighborhood. I now like to think of Athens as a city of mini towns. Although it is a sprawling city with 5 million people, it is composed of small and close-knit neighborhoods, where everyone knows each other. My neighborhood was called Pangrati, and it was a safe residential neighborhood. I had the pleasure of really getting to know the residents.
First there is Αγυρω, a lady who owns a sweet bread store up the street. I first met her because she was my neighbor in the apartment and one day offered me to come over and have a coffee. We were friends ever since. Around three days a week I would stop over and have a cappuccino with her. She would stop work to sit down with me and have a conversation; it made my day and looked like it made hers too. I would stop over just to say hello, or to pick up some cheesy bread sticks that I loved. She eventually called me her American son, which is fitting because to me she was my Greek mom.
Next are the workers at a brand new coffee place near campus. I quickly became good friends with Alex, Gregory, and Jim by just stopping by and getting coffee. Only Alex knew English, so it was a good way to practice my newly acquired Greek language. Every single Tuesday and Thursday I had the same routine with them. I had class from 3 to 7 with a ten minute break in between, where I would always go to them and get a croissant stuffed with Nutella. Eventually they knew my schedule and always made sure they had one for me on those days. One day, I told them that I was from Philadelphia. Jim, who doesn’t know any English, gets all excited and screams, “PHILADELPHIA 76ERS!!!”. I was laughing so hard! Apparently, he and a bunch of Greeks LOVE the 76ers, because they have a lot of Greeks on the team. Who would have thought? He cares more about the team than half of Philadelphia does. Ever since then, I became known as “Haris” the man from Philadelphia, home of the 76ers.
Perhaps my favorite person to run into was Sula. On most Tuesday and Thursday nights as I would walk home from school, I would pass a lady walking a gorgeous King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniel, the exact same dog I have at home. Naturally, I made a fuss over the dog, and became friends with its owner, Sula, and the dog itself, Liza. Sula only spoke Greek, so our conversations were brief, but meaningful none the less. Whenever I would see Sula she would tell her dog to go up and greet me too, it was so nice. It was great having a representation of my own dog, Boone, in Greece with me.
And there are countless others. One was the butcher in the central market who tried to sell me lamb heads when I clearly expressed that I did not want one. Another was Mrs. Kokkinaki who was in charge of my English tutoring volunteering, who was around 80 but could out walk most 50 year olds I know. My personal favorites were the instructors at the Marble Art Studio, who always insisted we have a twenty-minute break to eat grapes, cheese, and homemade wine with them. And finally, Sophie, a Greek lady who I became friends with by sitting next to her in the local Catholic Church. She would always comment, “lovely holy mass!,” after church; it always put me in a good mood.
The Food Culture: Almost more impressive than the actual fresh food I indulged in all semester was the culture of eating around it. I so enjoyed the long dinners where if you stayed an extra half an hour, they would bring out complimentary drinks or desserts. Above all else though, I absolutely fell in love with Greek cafes. Cafes were all over the place: each unique and pleasant. These cafes were not packed, and you could stay at a table for hours drinking coffee and doing work. So, I quickly developed a routine. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I would go to a different café, order a cappuccino, and do my work. It was the perfect way to experience more of the culture while being productive! I also got to see more of the city; I would ride the metro to somewhere I have not been yet, find a café, and sit there for hours. Because of this, I suddenly became a coffee person, and always looked forward to my morning cappuccino with a complimentary piece of cake or cookie. I made cafes into my personal study and social zone, and mostly a place for me to relax and breathe a little.
The Warm Culture: I always felt at home in Athens. People were always smiling, and even strangers made positive impressions on me. I still remember one of my first dinners during orientation week, one of the staff members said something along the lines of, “We Greeks might be going through a lot, but we can always remain happy with smiles and food.” That is so true, because every smile and plate of food I had was worth so much more because of how genuine it was. Nothing can take that heart away from Greece, and now I am happy to say I have really benefited from it.
My Faculty and Staff: I can talk about the CYA program forever. Just covering logistics first: The academic building was right next to the first ever modern day Olympic Stadium, ten minute walk from the Parliament building, and a fifteen minute walk from the Acropolis. So, life was extremely convenient. I could just walk to the Acropolis whenever I wanted, show my student card, and stay all day next to the Parthenon reading, drawing, or just taking it all in…all for free. I couldn’t feel more blessed to have this experience. And even though I certainly think I took advantage of it, I still don’t think I got enough of it.
Beyond this, I could not have been happier with my academic experience over there. Contrary to popular belief from both my family and friends back at home…I DID in fact do work!! I surprised myself by really improving my Latin, and formed good bonds with both my Latin and Ancient Greek professors. My modern Greek class actually left me with decent language skills to communicate with Greeks and to get around easily. I really miss speaking Greek, the language is fascinating and super fun to write! My Aegean Art and Archaeology class was onsite, which meant that I spent class in the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeology Museum, and most importantly, the Acropolis itself. The instructor was amazing, and by the end of his class I really felt like I knew Ancient Greek archaeology and the important sites really well (…kinda the reason why I went over there in the first place). However, most surprisingly was my love for the Economic class on the Crisis in Greece and Europe. I learned about modern Greek history, the economics behind the current recession, the logistics behind the euro and the European Union, and possible scenarios for the future. I even got to attend the 25th Annual Greek Economics Conference and hear current economic proposals and evaluations. Through this class, I felt like I became a modern Greek and not only an Ancient one; for now I can better understand what the people were going through now, and could relate to current events and politics instead of just the ones that happened in the 8th to 5th century BC. Academically, I got a lot more of out my experience than I thought I would, and I couldn’t be happier.
And then there is the staff. I have never met a group of people that cared about their students so much. I loved going up to the 3rd floor and chatting with them all, they always without a doubt made my day better. People such as Nadia, Vasso, Theoni, Lida, and Joanna quickly became my Greek mothers. I absolutely fell in love with the chefs in the cafeteria, especially Meni. I would look forward to seeing them everyday. And even though they only spoke Greek, I still managed to connect with them and tell them how good their food was.
The last Thursday was a Farewell party. All the staff, faculty, and students were there. It was one of my favorite nights the whole semester. We laughed, we danced, we cried…and suddenly it became harder than I thought to leave Greece. I am so blessed to meet everyone that I did. The friends I made, both young and old, will hold a very special place in my heart. I am writing this with such a big smile, because I can’t imagine my semester going any other way. I am so lucky to have had this chance, and I definitely am a better person because of it.
Good bye for now Greece, I will be back soon!