When my College Year in Athens cohort arrived in Greece, none of us realized we would only be living in our new “home away from home” for two months before COVID-19 started spreading like wildfire. In our last few hours, my friends and I gathered in our apartment’s common area to reflect on our unusual experience. It wasn’t until I was sitting on a plane headed for the United States when I really formalized what I would take away from my experience in Greece. Here’s what I learned:
- Try the new food. You’ll regret it if you don’t! You have no clue how many people have gasped in horror when I told them I didn’t eat olives in Kalamata. I try to justify it by saying I don’t like olives, but in all honesty, I should’ve tried them.
- Connect with your program’s professors, faculty, and staff. At CYA, our faculty and staff were overwhelmingly genuine and willing to help with everything from navigating the metro to choosing which classes meet your interests. On my last day, I gave a teary air-hug goodbye to the secretary and a number of my professors. The people on your program want you to have the best experience possible, and it hurt them as much as it hurt us to leave so soon. I’m still in touch with some of my professors today!
- Live in the moment. Yes, I know, that’s super cheesy, but there’s a reason people say it. Take the time you have and run with it. My friends and I really hit the ground running with trips and activities as soon as orientation was over, and I’m glad that we did. Knowing that we filled our time as best we could made it easier to make peace with our early departure.
- Get involved in your host city’s community. Before even stepping on the plane to Athens, I knew I wanted to volunteer with a refugee-focused nonprofit. CYA helped us connect with organizations we wanted to volunteer with, which allowed myself and many others the opportunity to get to know a different side of Athens than just what tourists see. Take advantage of those chances to better understand the place you’re living.
- Consider taking up journaling while abroad. I was never the journaling type until my family gave me a huge notebook for my birthday with the idea that I would record all my travels throughout the semester. Setting aside dedicated times each week to reflect on my experiences, the people I met, and how I was feeling was a really great way to remember all the little details of two months that flew by so quickly. I also used it as a place to store my tickets for museums and metro cards, which was a fun little collection to build over the course of the semester.
Studying abroad at the start of a global pandemic was weird at times. Yet, sitting in a meeting listening to my program staff telling us that there will always be a place for us at CYA was comforting amidst the chaos. The craziness of COVID-19 left me feeling even more grateful I had the opportunity to experience all that I did in the time that I had. So, here’s my wisdom to pass along to anyone looking to study abroad: enjoy every minute that you have abroad, reflect often, and live your semester so that you leave feeling content.
Saying goodbye to Athens on the taxi ride to the airport