Today marks two weeks since my arrival in Athens! Even though the first week was set aside for quarantining as a COVID-19 precaution, it has been an engaging and eventful experience so far nonetheless. I was eager to get out and start exploring as soon as I arrived, but the down time was valuable as I got to know my four roommates well and slept away the jet lag. We prepared a lot of meals together and talked through our anxieties surrounding adapting to a new culture which was really reassuring.
Our first challenges came early on as we attempted to navigate a few Greek grocery and food delivery services. I was surprised by how difficult understanding the local address and phone number format was. Overlooking the importance of something so simple made me realize how profound culture shock can be not just for study abroad students, but immigrants globally. Though I’d like to think of myself as a patient and understanding person, encountering this particular hurdle will definitely inform the way I help others through things that I take for granted as obvious.
Once I was given clearance to leave the apartment, I hardly came back for anything other than rest. I had a lot of fun learning how to navigate the public transit system and seeing all the different places it could take me. My roommates and I took the metro to Monastiraki Square where we walked around for hours in awe of the ancient ruins. Being able to see the Acropolis in person was an incredible and surreal experience. We were also able to shop around to see what the local street vendors were selling. Deree also took us on a downtown bus tour of Athens later in the week which allowed us to see even more sights including the Panathenaic Stadium.
I feel like everything has come at such a fast pace and while it has been exciting, I’ve also felt conflicted about how to best spend my time going forward. There is an immense amount of privilege that comes with being able to participate in a foreign exchange program and I feel a responsibility to engage with the local culture as much as I can. Tourist attractions and nightlife are not necessarily a bad use of time, but I think everything is best in moderation. Some of the most fulfilling experiences I have had thus far have been things as simple as a conversation with someone who has been able to teach me a new Greek word or phrase. When this experience is over, I want to be able to look back and say that I did my best to respect Greek culture. In order to make that happen, I will definitely be more conscious of how and where I use my time going forward.
With all that has happened in one short week, it’s hard to believe classes start on Monday. I’m definitely nervous about how I will adapt to a new learning environment but I’m hopeful it will all go smoothly. Until next week :)