When I reflect on my time in Greece, what do I find most memorable? As a Classical Humanities lover, I easily remember the sites I finally saw in person, an opportunity that is not always possible for those who study the ancient cultures. The majesty of the Parthenon and the jeweled tones of the water in Santorini are two images that I treasure because the reality manifested itself after so many times of reading books and seeing pictures online about these places. I also can easily recall the hot days under the Athenian sun, which is more fun to think about when it’s not subzero temperatures in the Midwest. I also loved getting to go to Catholic Mass in Greece, and one time it was even said in English and that was such a treat to me. What would I rather forget? Well, I probably would love to forget how much I spent on souvenirs and trivial trinkets. I would also prefer to forget how overwhelmed I felt at times, when there was so much pressure to soak up every moment that I almost missed out on the weekend ferry to Santorini with the other students, which was one of my most memorable days even though it had not been a part of the official itinerary. I would also like to forget how much time I spent trying to capture the perfect picture, and instead just allow myself to be present in those moments.
I still have a heart for travel, as I did when I was abroad. I was able to travel to Europe once more after graduation, and my trip to Greece had influenced that decision because of the fond memories I had made coupled with the knowledge that I was entering a new phase in my life and such travel opportunities MAY not be as readily available after college (hint: they’re not). Though I still have a desire to travel abroad and would someday love to visit Greece again and pilgrimage to Rome, I chose to set aside some of those dreams for others, such as getting married (in 2012), and raising children with my husband. However, I’ve made my kids watch Disney’s Hercules multiple times, so I can also say I’m doing my part for future Classics majors.
My study abroad experience, like so many of my other college experiences, has formed me in a particular way to be grateful for what I have and always desire to learn more. While I may not be referencing my trip to Greece on a regular basis, it still impacted me when I was wrestling with other decisions, to leave Madison and make my home in Minnesota being one of the biggest. I trusted that I could live in a new town if I loved to travel as much as I had claimed.
To me, Greece is an oasis in my mind and heart, that I can call to mind amid the desert of everyday minutiae. It’s a place with its own culture, history, politics and religions into which I was incredibly lucky to enter for a few weeks during my college years. I don’t really keep up with current events in Greece, and sometimes it feels like a dream that I was able to go there at all, but I will never regret having taken that chance to be abroad and to have such a rare chance to travel with an awesome group of peers and still one of the best and most knowledgeable professors I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from. My current season of life looks very different than it did ten years ago, and in many ways it’s because I got to have these experiences in my “previous life” that I’m able to appreciate and enjoy moments now with a bit more grace and gratitude.
My study abroad trip was one of my favorite times in college. It increased my sense of independence and autonomy, which was wonderful when I was able to make another trip to Europe (Ukraine) and travel within the states during and after college. I learned many things about myself during college, about the kind of person I wanted to be, and my time abroad was integral to that discovery and self-awareness.
My advice to students that will be studying abroad in May 2019: first and foremost, thank everyone who is making this possible for you, and please appreciate how fortunate you are to be able to go abroad. It is easy to feel entitled to have a trip like this, as though it should just be assumed as part of the college experience, but those who are fortunate enough to travel abroad will be much better people if they do not take it for granted. Also, I would suggest that you will have supremely more enjoyable experience if you do your best to get along with everyone in the group. There’s plenty of time to be cliquey and petty once you’re back stateside. Lastly, soak up the moments that take your breath away, and rest in the stillness of those moments. There’s so much to see and do and post about on social media, I would encourage each of you to put down the phones and simply be in the places you get to visit, appreciating it for all the reasons you signed up in the first place.
Thank you for allowing me to reminisce about this amazing trip and all the ways it was (and still is) a blessing in my life. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years already, but I can still remember moments from Greece that I hope to treasure for all the days to come, and one day, perhaps travel there again with my family.