I can still vividly remember our whole group, huddled up, meeting for the first time. We asked Professor Beneker if there was something we ought to know about Greek people, some last minute tidbit before we entered into the unknown. I think that most of us were expecting some run-of-the-mill answer such as “family is above all,” “Greeks are super friendly,” etc. But Professor Beneker’s answer was, “Greeks don’t do lines.”
What? They don’t do lines? What an odd response I thought. But he continued, “I know that seems random. But to our orderly American senses, it can be very infuriating.”
This turned out to be true. I found myself getting unreasonably upset that no one wanted to wait their turn. Lines were a much more efficient way of functioning; mobbing was chaotic. But, I’ve found that much of the world doesn’t “do lines,” and you’ve got to learn to embrace the chaos.
My trip to Greece was my first time traveling abroad, outside of one family trip to Costa Rica, where we didn’t really leave the resort. I loved Greece – the food, the people, the sights, the food (one more time for good measure), and yes, the chaos. Traveling with Professor Beneker was a joy because he knew the cultural mannerisms, and he wanted us to experience more than just seeing the historical sights (which were magnificent) – he wanted us to experience how Greeks live, and immerse ourselves as fully as we could during our month there.
Throughout my college tenure, I didn’t travel much more, except for a Spring Break trip to Ireland, to visit friends studying abroad there. After graduating in 2011, I moved to Colorado to participate in the federal service program, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps for 2 years. I met my husband in this program, and now, nearly 10 years after my trip to Greece, my husband and I are serving together in the Peace Corps as Environmental Volunteers in Paraguay.
Turns out Paraguayans don’t like lines either. Also, like Greeks, Paraguayans have a lot of pride in their culture. The country is bilingual – Spanish and Guarani are both officially recognized by the government. Guarani is the indigenous language, and is spoken/understood by nearly 90% of the population. Greece taught me that even if people speak English, they like when you put in the effort to learn some of their native language – to show you care, and that you are not just another rude tourist. Paraguayans are similar – they all speak Spanish, but they really appreciate when you speak a little bit Guarani, which is central to their identity as Paraguayans.
Greece was such a special trip – my first time traveling alone, my first time trying to form friendships with people from a completely different culture, and the first time I ate a TRUE Greek salad (the huge block of feta! The stuff dreams are made of). I hope to one day return – to see the incredible beaches and white-washed buildings of Santorini, the lush hills outside of Sparta, and the bustling center of Athens.
Greece was also a jumping off point for me. The country and its people showed me that I don’t have to love every single part of a different culture – I certainly don’t love every part of the United States’ culture. But, I did need to have conversations, and learn from others about their experience. I can’t assume to know what their life is like because I read something in a book or the newspaper. I would like to think that I am continuing this learning process in Paraguay – learn from the people, and have patience. Living in a different culture is difficult, but the experience is worth all the line-free and mobbed frustrating moments.