Museums, History, and the US Elections

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Well, it’s been a long and busy two weeks here in Greece! After an entire week in The Peloponnese my program and I came back to Athens for about 4 days of classes and then were soon off again to a place called Delphi in northern Greece. Throughout this time I have visited countless museums and archeological sites. My knowledge of Greek history and mythology is much deeper than when I first arrived in Athens. While I am not a classics or history major, I would be able to tell you almost everything about the renowned Byzantine Empire, for instance, from its beginning to its end.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that I was fascinated by the Peloponnese. I specifically enjoyed our visit to the town of Naplio in the Peloponnese. Naplio’s Italian and Greek influences truly make it a unique place. At times I felt as if I were in Italy rather than Greece! There were gelaterias at almost every corner and restaurants and stores with Italian names. After learning more about the town by visiting museums and listening to professors lecture, I became knowledgeable to the Venetian influence of Naplio. The Venetians of Italy attempted to conquer this part of Greece long ago, thus explaining why everything was in Italian. Additionally, as an Italian myself I would say I felt as if I were home. In fact, I remember our first night in Naplio I spotted a gelateria right around the corner from our hotel. I decided to check out the gelateria and buy myself something sweet. As soon as I entered the store, the employee immediately said “Ciao Bella!” “Ciao?” I thought to myself. “He speaks Italian?” I was surprised. I then responded in Italian and asked the employee how he knew the language if we are in Greece. He further explained to me the Italian-Greco history and noted that in this particular part of Greece there are a significant number of Italian people. I really enjoyed talking to this employee and practicing my Italian. I missed speaking a language I was comfortable with as Greek is still a language I am getting used to.

Another part of the Peloponnese that was very interesting was our quick visit to Olympia, where the Olympic games started! This was incredible. The site was full of great history and very well preserved. I can now say I have stepped foot onto the birthplace of the first Olympic games.

More recently however, since coming back from our last trip to Delphi, the major of us American students along with the local Greeks, have been keeping up with the US elections. My study abroad facilities actually stayed open all night the day of the elections where we all anxiously watched and waited for the election results. Yet, by the end of the elections there were many mixed reactions by both students and professors. It has been quite hard for all of us American as we try to process such new and unexpected information while being abroad.

On a lighter note, today President Barack Obama will be visiting Athens! Many of the students plan to go see him speak about the US relations with Greece. While many people are expected to attend this event, we all hope to at least have a glance and listen to at least part of Obama’s last speech as president of the Unite States.

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Off To The Peloponnese!

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Midterms are over! Well, almost. Tomorrow I will take my last midterm on the History of Byzantine, and then celebrate all of my hard work by going on a week-long trip to The Peloponnese. Before beginning the second half of my semester, my study abroad program has organized a trip to The Peloponnese to both help everyone refresh their minds and learn more about Greek history and culture. I am really looking forward to this trip. I remember learning about The Peloponnese in my freshman year Ancient Greek History class, all the way back in high school! Greek history is so rich, complex and overall very unique. I would have never thought I would have the opportunity to visit such a renowned sight that I had thoroughly studied. I have heard The Peloponnese is truly beautiful. The views from the many mountaintops overlooking the deep blue sea have left many in awe. I definitely will make sure to take pictures!

Nevertheless, the past week and a half has frankly consisted of much hard work and studying. I would say the midterm I prepared the most for was for my Modern Greek Language course. Greek is not easy. It takes time and practice to memorize only the alphabet along with the sounds of each symbol (which not actually considered letters). While the Greek accent is not too difficult to grasp, memorizing countless words and knowing when to use certain phrases takes skill. I try to practice my Greek often outside the classroom when ordering coffee at the nearby café or by meeting locals at the market. These social interactions have really helped me learn the language better as well as navigate my way around the city.

On a separate note, I cannot believe there are about 5 more weeks left in the semester! Time has truly flown by. I remember my first day in Athens, not knowing what to expect. I was nervous, excited and now soon I will be preparing for finals and then celebrating the end of my entire semester abroad. How incredible. I have learned so much in the number of weeks I have been here in Athens. From my trip to the Greek island of Crete at the beginning of the semester to the many museum visits with nearly all of my courses, I can truly say that I have felt culturally immersed.

Lastly, before my time in Greece is up, there are a few things on my list I have yet to do. One of these things includes visiting the Acropolis! The Acropolis is one of the most popular attractions for all tourists to Greece and the view is said to be absolutely amazing. I need to make my way up there very soon. I have also heard that the beaches in Athens are quite nice. While not as beautiful as the beaches in Santorini or Mykonos, the beaches in Athens are still worth a visit. However, before then I must prepare and get through this last midterm and then enjoy The Peloponnese. I’ll be back soon!

My Birthday, Italy, and Midterms.

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Another two weeks have past here in Athens and at CYA, my specific study abroad program. The past two weeks have been very exciting and busy. In fact, just last week was my 20th birthday! One of the best things about my birthday this year was that it actually fell on the first day of my study abroad program’s fall break dates. Therefore, I celebrated by taking a quick trip to Italy with some friends. Italy is relatively close to Greece and flight tickets are surprisingly very cheap! Before I knew it, I was on my way to Bologna, one of the oldest cities in the Northern part of Italy also known as the country’s capital of gastronomy.

As I exited the plane on the day of my birthday and stepped foot onto Bologna for the first time, I was immediately mesmerized by Italy’s beauty. Great green fields and hills surrounded the airport, and I think I could smell the delicious pasta cooking from the distance! I also felt more at home being in Italy. My family is Italian and I can speak the language. Unlike in Greece, where it can be difficult to communicate with locals or understand what even common street signs mean, I had no problem at all in Italy. In fact, I had a full on conversation with a woman who worked at the nearby gelateria about where would be the best place to dine in Bologna. She gave me a list of restaurants to consider and strongly suggested that I try the spaghetti or lasagna with pomodoro while I am here as both pastas are two of city’s specialties. I took her recommendations and decided to have my birthday dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Bologna’s city square. My friends and I decided to start off the dinner with a traditional Italian cheese platter. The dish included different types of locally produced cheeses such as mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta and more. Another interesting fact about Bologna is that the city is located just outside of Italy’s renowned cheese region. Emiglia-Romagna and Parma, for instance, are two regions/cities only quick train rides away from Bologna. Therefore, the cheese in general is bound to be fresh and very authentic. After we finished our cheesy appetizer, our main courses soon followed. I ended up ordering the spaghetti al pomodoro e basilica, and honestly it was the best spaghetti I had ever tried in my life! “WOW,” I said out loud after taking the first bite. The spaghetti was truly cooked “al dente” and the tomato sauce was perfectly seasoned. I must admit this was one of the best birthdays I have had thus far.

After an amazing two days in Bologna, I set off for Florence, or “Firenze,” as the Italians call it, and then ended my birthday trip with a quick stop in Pisa and Roma! Celebrating such a special occasion in a country with great food, great people and a beautiful culture overall was one of the most memorable experiences I have had while studying abroad this semester.

I am now back in Greece where things are beginning to get quite busy as Midterms are just right around the corner. This weekend I have worked on many essays that count as my midterms and I have been preparing for upcoming exams. I would say my hardest course in the program is Modern Greek. I have been doing my best to prepare for this test and presentations by doing many practice exercises in my workbook and making flashcards to memorize more terms. Wish me good luck!

And It Begins

fullsizerender-3It’s officially been two weeks since my arrival in here in Greece for my fall semester abroad. While I am slowly starting to get used to living in Athens, I must say it has truly been a culturally immersive experience. My time thus far is Greece has been very different from my entire summer in France for an internship. The greatest challenge has been the language. Greek is certainly not an easy language. From the Greek alphabet to the specific accent, it takes effort to read common signs in the streets or communicate with locals, for instance. Nevertheless, since beginning at CYA, my study abroad program, I immediately began my Survival Greek classes and later my formal Modern Greek class, which has helped to.

Before coming to Greece, I did not even know how to say “Hello” or “How are you?” in Greek. However, after two weeks of being here and attending classes at CYA, I know far beyond those two common phrases. I am able to order coffee in Greek at the café down the street or casually greet locals on my way to class from my apartment in the surrounding area, for instance. That being said, allow me now further discuss an important aspect of Greek culture, of which I was previously unaware of.

Coffee. The Greeks take their coffee quite seriously. It is nearly impossible for a true Greek to go about his or her day without first having a Frappe, Cappuccino, or simple Greek coffee. After becoming known to this fact, I began to more carefully observe the locals and quickly realized it was true! It is very common to see any Greek person, including the professors at CYA, carry with them their “Freddo Cappuccino,” as they call it. What’s even more interesting though is that these specific drinks, Frappe or Cappuccino, are not what you would expect from an American’s perspective. When I first heard the word “Frappe,” I immediately imagined a typical Frappuccino one could get at Starbucks. Yet, that is not the case here in Greece. A Frappe, instead, is a drink made with instant coffee and with a great amount of foamed milk and some sugar, if preferred. There is no blender used in the process of making this drink, like how one would if making a typical Starbucks Frappuccino. Overall, Greek coffee is very good. It is definitely something I did not expect to be a big part of the culture.

Furthermore, it has also been interesting being in Greece during the great economic crisis. Although the country is going through a difficult time, it is truly not too apparent in the society. The majority of the Greeks appear as friendly and genuinely happy people, despite the crisis. The only thing I will say is that businesses in the country have surely gone downhill. Many shops have closed due to the crisis and store hours are not the usual. On a good note, however, groceries, clothes, and other commodities are very affordable!

I am eager to continue learning about Greek culture. In the next two weeks I hope to learn more Greek, continue learning about the crisis, and maybe even plan a trip up to the Acropolis!