On my program last semester, I had the opportunity to live and study in three different countries. We started out in Greece, then went on to the Czech Republic, and ended in Ireland. When I speak about my time abroad, I am often asked which country was my favorite. Although every country had its own unique experiences to offer, my answer has consistently been Greece. I fell in love with the beauty of Paros, and was further enamored by the people I met in Athens.
We spent the first two weeks of the program on the Greek island of Paros. It was a beautiful and homey place to begin our semester abroad, and a great way to get to know the other students on the program. We went on hikes and excursions to nearby islands. My favorite one was when we hiked up the cliffs on Antiparos. I remember sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with the sun hitting my face and the perfect amount of sea breeze brushing over me. I could hear the water slapping the rocks below, and I could see other islands far out across the water. That spot was unencumbered by ships or buildings or any man-made structures. It was the most serene I had ever felt in my life.
We also climbed on top of a monastery on Paros one day, where we had views of the whole one side of the island. The rolling hills and green grass were a gripping sight. Another weekend, we took a trip to Santorini. Because it was January, there were very few people on the island and it felt like we had it all to ourselves. Pictures don’t do that island justice; it is breathtakingly beautiful.
After two lovely weeks in the islands, we ferried over to Athens for the remaining three weeks. Athens is a city with a rich ancient history, and a strong sense of identity among the people. We were immediately welcomed with open arms by the locals. Everywhere we went, people were friendly and eager to share their culture with American students. The food was exceptional; by the end of the five weeks, we were all stuffed with gyros and tzatziki.
While we were there, we learned a lot about the refugee crisis going on in Greece right now. We visited many NGOs and non-profits that were working hard to help integrate refugees into the community and provide them with the resources they needed. We talked to Greek people as well as volunteers from around the world who were on the ground helping refugees find food, shelter, jobs, and education. We even got to volunteer ourselves, at the Pampiraiki Elinkio Warehouse. Today, the basketball stadium used in the 2004 Olympics is used to hold donations of clothes, shoes, books, blankets, and dry goods. Various individuals, groups, and corporations from around the world send in donations, and volunteers organize and give out these donations to the refugees who need them.
The work we did and the people we met in Greece humbled me. It was incredible to see the resilience and capacity for hope in the Greek people. In the face of adversity, they smiled and welcomed us. Greece was my favorite country in the trip, and I would encourage everyone to visit one day if they have the chance to!