It’s All Greek to Me

Welcome to my so far life of roaming Athens for hours, writing down all my random babbling and shooting photos of unsuspecting subjects as best I can. I’ve ventured on the metro (which is like a five minute bus ride from my apartment) almost everyday this week in search of yummy lunch, a tour of the city, nights out on the town and a peaceful beach day in the super duper salty Mediterranean (who knew??).

IMG_6355At first the Metro was ‘alright lets kinda just guess that that Greek word was something tangible and follow the voice of the intercom to see where we end up.’ For being English speaking newbies trying to find a location our friends said to meet at… we did pretty darn well. The tour of Athens in the school bus was the pretty touristy next excursion out of Aghia Paraskevi and man was that interesting to go see the old part of the city and small cobblestone streets! It was similar to a picturesque Parisian street cafe.

beachOk let’s focus on the beach now. First, consider where I’m from (15 minutes from Pacific Coast Highway in southern California where the surfs totally gnarly brah!). Now reflecting on that… the coast of the Mediterranean is more my kind of beach! No waves to annihilate your hopes and dreams, no sand getting stuck in your bottoms and really given you a comfy drive home, and lastly… no crazy seaweed that decides to make you a model for its new dress line. As I swam out to the buoys, I could see my feet and the floor of the ocean at every moment. Talk about confidence in the water my ocean squeamish friends.

The structure of Athens is reminding me quite a bit of Seattle actually. You arrive thinking its all contained in one central area that is the epitome of the city. In reality its spread out quite vastly into smaller little pockets of one lifestyle. For example, I live up on capitol hill but I guarantee those are a different lifestyle set than Queen Anne or Downtown. Just like now, I live in Aghia Paraskevi that highly contrasts from the vibe down in Gazi or Plaka. I’m interested to find each little pocket little by little.

Later alligators!

Kat

P.S. title coined from young scholar Michael McDonnell himself (as he made very clear)

What it takes to check off the “bucket list”…

I really do promise that I will get better at this technology concept and learn that blogging, really is not that difficult to work with as a medium. In the near future, I predict posts coming on a semi-normal basis with a less scattered-brain style, as I am sure this will turn out. Anyway, that is my informal apology for what is about to come. 

I will start by giving a bit of background of what the heck I have even been doing during my time abroad thus far. Well I began my journey in early August, flying into not Italy, but Amsterdam. I have family scattered throughout the Netherlands as my father was born and raised in Zutphen for the beginning of his life. As a lovely result, I have family to visit and lean on in the beautiful country of Holland. Once in Zutphen, I was able to leave my big suitcase (yes, only ONE big suitcase) with the family and took my backpack and hopped on the train for part one of Justine’s adventure. Although it gave my parents a slight heart attack, I spent a couple weeks backpacking through Holland, Belgium, and France, only really staying in each place a couple of days. In the end though, they understood how rewarding this experience would be for me, and luckily supported my independent streak. I am going to say it once – traveling by yourself is the number one way to figure out who you are as a person. I spent some serious time reflecting on what I want out of this experience and learning how to be flexible. 

On top of the Eiffel Tower
On top of the Eiffel Tower

I am a self- proclaimed control freak who needs an organized plan at all times. Missing trains, having the wrong address, getting lost, living in dirty spaces are all different chapters of my nightmares yet was my reality for those few weeks traveling solo. I am sure I will touch on this throughout my time here, but knowing when to accept the things I cannot change has been, and will be, the struggle I explore daily. 

Fast forward to the end of August – my mother was lucky enough to come visit me and help me move into my apartment in Florence after my backpacking stunt. My clear piece of advice I can pass on to prospective travelers: though it will seem like a good idea in prospect, saying goodbye abroad is harder than doing so at home. Granted, my mother and I are as close as the Gilmore girls, seeing her walk away down the narrow avenues of Florence while still adjusting to life in this new country was more difficult than I ever imagined. For future reference, I think the way to go is to invite a visit from the family mid-program or near the end; something to look forward to, not fondly think of in the past tense.

Well this brings me to my ‘home away from home’… the apartment.  Another way to learn to be flexible; when there are three rooms, six girls, and only two rooms with a view, perspective is what you need to keep in mind. Due to timing, my gentile way of thinking, and general attitude towards confrontation, my roommate and I are sharing a small bedroom in the back of the house that faces a wall and does not get any airflow. Usually, the girl I am back home, would let that ruin a perfectly unrelated experience. Justine in Florence is a different story, I know that I am fortunate to even be here and know that this is a place that will not define my stay here. I feel the need to share that little anecdote because so many people I know have let the small things affect their attitude in the long run, and I personally think that is a waste of time and energy. Being appreciative can be a ‘hard’ job sometimes, but it is the active perspective that will help you make the most of every day abroad (and in general). 

It could be that I was traveling beforehand and have been here a month longer than my counterparts, or that it finally sunk in that this is my new home, but the couple weeks of life in Florence was difficult for me. I did not adjust right away, and I was very home sick. Everything seemed to be building up and my emotion clouded my judgment. I am not going to sugarcoat it, I really did think of ways to come there for bit. What got me through was planning something to look forward to. My ultimate dream when even planning to come over here was my bucket list goal of getting to Croatia. Croatia is in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world. If there had been an option to study abroad there, I would have with no doubt made it my final destination. So when I happened upon a student trip to Croatia, I jumped on the opportunity. Between the island hopping, rafting, and hiking, I accomplished this life-long goal in a matter of a whirlwind weekend. It was such a beautiful four days, it feels surreal that I was even there. It was this trip that also saved me from myself and my tendency to ‘over-think’ while abroad. I am happy to report that I am doing well here now, life is becoming more routine, and beside the amazingly large groups of tourists (ironic I know), I would not change anything about where I am. 

Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia
Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia

So overall, these first weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. There are somehow only about three months left. How it is the end of September, I do not know. Moving forward, I again will be more on top of this posting business and will do my best to follow a bit more coherent trains of thought. But for now, arrivaderla! 

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

-Justine

Calimera or good morning!

Finally getting the ball rolling, my name is Kathryn Bishop (Kat) and I am a sophomore International Studies and Photography major this year. As of now I am a student at the American College of Greece exchange program. Long story short I’m living in Athens this quarter and diving into the Greek culture headfirst!

I’ve officially completed my first week of hectic study abroadness (there will be a lot of ‘wordsmithing’ involved in excursions) and all that is entailed with international travel. I must say the airport is a solid give and take through the entire process. Yes, you get to fly to an incredible place and have an adventure all your own but on the other hand… lets just throw you in a line of people who have no idea what’s going on but wouldn’t dare ask the person right in front of them in the fear that the Canadian family isn’t as well tempered as we think… Past that, after dad snuck a few goodbye photos of me turning into the security line, I headed off.

One Chaco in front of the other, naturally.

Arriving is one thing but feeling like I’m here to stay is still sinking in. ‘Welcome to Europe and now you must fend for yourself’ is the initial thought I had. Luckily, as soon as I walked into the Aghia Paraskevi neighborhood I knew I was in a place that would break in like a new pair of shoes… the more I walk around and explore the less initial blisters and hesitation I’ll feel.

The first few days of moving in and orienting myself to the neighborhood and campus were a buzz of overwhelming hours met with impromptu naps that lasted two hours longer than intended… but as soon as I wake up I’ve been greeted with friendly faces and many Greek conversations I can’t decipher. I know it’ll take some time to get used to the operations and new environment, especially with my lovely Seattle friends fleeing back to the city we all hold so dear. No matter how much I love Seattle and the joy it brings me, I know it’s my time to be entirely here and to fulfill my travel bug that inevitably sneaks up on me! As of now the tingles of wanting to travel to every surrounding country and list of endless Greek traditions to take part of are growing. Most importantly, as my grandfather told me on my way to Seattle and now here in Athens, “focus on those three things, grades, relationships, and (as I’m sure will be impossible surrounded by these Grecian feasts) weight.” Thanks for all who gave me words of wisdom. Now I just need to roll with the punches and eat lots of souvlaki!

Cheers and yiasou!

Kat

Actually in London and pretending like I’m not as awkward as I was at the beginning of high school

Sitting on a plane bound for Reykjavik, I am trying to focus on this blog post while also listening to some podcasts my sister recommended for me. How this will turn out will be interesting.  In any case after much distress and frantic emails, my course schedule is finally nailed down.  I’ll just say I’m taking some social science and humanities courses because I don’t think writing about my future classwork is particularly interesting, for you or for me. I’ll be sure to relay anything particularly interesting or vaguely entertaining here if and when it comes up.  Moving on!

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Alright with a more articulate, less confused, and non-jetlagged head on my shoulders, I’m continuing this post about six days after those flights. We’ve already done a lot, mainly touristy things so far, like a London bus tour, London Eye ride, and a trip out to Hampton Court. And that has only lent more evidence to this blatantly obvious but crucially important fact: London is MASSIVE. Like big. Really big. I’ve been to New York City a few times, LA two times, and other ‘big’ cities but this is a whole different level of huge.  At the top of the London Eye I couldn’t see the end of the city in any direction, there is at least 4 stories of buildings on every block, and every street is packed with people-whether that be on the sidewalk, on the road, in the tube or on the bus. London is BIG. However the real news of the last few days: we’re all awkward freshman. Remember that time at the beginning of a new school when you didn’t know anybody around you and you also knew that nobody else knew anyone else either? And I don’t mean freshman year I mean those first two weeks of school of freshmen year. That’s essentially what’s happening all over again here which is both fantastic, hilarious, and obnoxious (just like those high school freshman days right? Good ole’ days). Fantastic because it forces people to open up, hilarious because we’re all painfully aware how much like high school this is, and obnoxious because…I mean, do any of you want to relive those first two weeks of freshman year of high school? If your answer to that is a “yes” please comment below so we all can figure out your secret to navigating such awkwardness for the future. This is also an interesting happening because for me this is the third time in as many years that I’m starting school in a new place with a new group of students. First it was to the University of Portland, then to Seattle U, and now here with IES in London. So that’s been some interesting food for thought…Well! because of all of this, and all of this orientation stuff (yeah, like freshman year…seeing a pattern?) time has been very sparse; we’ll see about how much time I can carve out for blogging so sorry for the sporadic posts!

In any case our classes are actually starting tomorrow which will be a weird back-to-the-real-world check. We’ve been on summer break for a while and now being in London this almost feels like a continuation of that vacation-that’s a fantasy that needs to be broken quickly in the next few days honestly. There’s still much to do in the meantime (like planning more adventures!) so I’ll have to leave this for now. And with the sun setting over the horizon and the spires of St. Pancras taking center stage in the picture frame that is my window, Ian is getting back to it all!

Until next time

Cheers

-Ian