Greece is the land between the East and West, not quite conforming to either culture, but instead creating a beautiful blend that results in a place of good food, kind people and history spanning the millennia. Choosing to spend a semester in Athens was one of the best decisions of my college career, allowing me to step outside of Montana, into a place of growth and learning.
For my GLI theme, I am focusing on culture, something very different each place you go, but more specifically of the interactions between cultures and how prejudice and hate from within cultural groups. Athens was a wonderful place to end up with such a theme. I took a Modern Greek History class while there, and gained new insight into the formation of Greece as it is today and the conflict that brought it there. I focused individually, for a class paper on the Greek Jewish Population during the occupation and Holocaust. They faced 87% extermination of their population in just four years, one of the highest in all of Europe, due to hate and prejudice against their religion. It was incredible to learn about a population I had never before encountered.
I had the opportunity to take a few weekend trips while in Greece to places such as Hungary, Austria, Poland, Italy and Israel. I saw beautiful things, ate good food and took away, most of all, that every person you meet has something to teach you. Whether it’s the two, elderly Danish lady next to us at dinner in Krakow sharing Life stories with us young 20 year olds or a Taxi driver in Rome sharing the best hole in the wall place to eat (best pasta EVER!), there is something to take away from every interaction if you only take the time to stop and listen.
Each place I went, I toured museums, I saw the sites and I saw the world from new angles. I am particularly passionate about WWII, and with my challenge focusing on prejudice, I visited many places pertaining to the Holocaust and instances of hate throughout history. I visited the House of Terror in Budapest, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland, and visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I saw the bloody past of mankind because of hatred in order to learn and to remember. We must acknowledge the hate and prejudice in this world in order to combat it and grow into a people better than our past.
Being the type of person who likes a plan and to stick to that plan, my time abroad taught me to be flexible and embrace the blessings that come in the form of the unexpected. Opportunity arises when you take a breath and jump feet first into whatever comes your way and I saw much of that this semester. I got to breath in the island air on my birthday weekend because I said yes and jumped on a plane to Santorini with a friend. Best of all, my roommates and I discovered the best bakery in all of Athens that fed us free treats one night because we got lost and embraced the chance to explore a new neighborhood.
I learned to listen to strangers. I learned to embrace new and unexpected opportunities. I learned to watch the world with both eyes wide open. I learned that to see the world, as much of it as physically possible, is to truly live life to the fullest. You never know what you may find in the next city you explore. I am so thankful for Athens Greece, and for my time spent abroad.