Living in the Heart of Civilization

Greetings from Athens! I have been here for just over 2 weeks now and life is starting to reach some sense of normalcy again. Classes start in a week and the group of American students I’m here with has really started to bond. All in all, things are going very well.

Athens is a city cloaked in white. Buildings rarely seem to be less than 4 stories tall so many of the streets are blessed with shade except for around noon. Everywhere you look there are balconies and plants and cars and motorcycles and kiosks. Walking out onto the street, you are surrounded by constant noise, movement, and smells. There seems to be a little cafe, bakery, or take-away souvlaki place every 20 feet and you quickly learn which are the best and which aren’t.

Walking around the city, it isn’t hard to get lost since much of it looks largely the same. In the monotony of the streets glows the occasional landmark, a welcome relief. Parliament marks the center of life in Athens, the place where demonstrations and negotiations occur. If you find Parliament and Syntagma Square, you can get anywhere. Not far away is the Acropolis which overlooks the new center for government from its ancient home. It’s almost as if it’s watching over present-day Greece, judging both things good and bad.

The city is a mash of old and new, traditional and foreign, global and local. One can wander around some neighborhoods, completely surrounded by a developed life, and suddenly be upon some ancient ruin or another. Everyone speaks the complex Greek language as well as a few other languages, usually with English among them. Natural-born Greeks make off-hand comments about immigrants coming from the Middle East and northern Africa, reminding one of similar sentiments back in the U.S. and that no country is immune to xenophobia.

Life is extremely fast but slow at the same time. At all times of day, there are people lounging around outdoor cafes drinking espresso for hours on end all the while watching hurried motorcyclists fly by in the street 5 feet away. Everyone wants to be where they want to be but stop moving the second you want to. It’s trying on one’s patience.

Leaving the city is a breath of fresh air, literally. The air constantly smells of car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and body odor. Leaving is also a welcome relief to the ears; no more honking horns or shouting shopkeepers. Leaving is nice, but coming back is good, too.

Athens is a city that just when you think you have it figured out something chances leaving you out of the loop. Every achievement, regardless of simplicity, is earned. As challenging as life can be in a new country, it’s more satisfying than anything. In my two weeks here, I am already more certain of my ability to go back to the U.S. and do anything then I was when I left. I’ve learned to appreciate home, for the familiar language, transportation, and customs. I’ve realized how nice it is to go to Bethel, to have a real college campus (for my university here it is just a building on a street), an administration that is put together, and a slew of extracurricular activities to partake in. Overall, I’ve learned how lucky I am to have the life back home that I do. I love it here, but I love it back in the states, too.

I’ve only been here 2 weeks and I know studying abroad has changed me for the better and it still has so much left to offer. I look forward to the academic and social challenges. I look forward to exploring a new part of the world. But most of all, I look forward to going back to Bethel and putting my experience to use. And what more could I really ask for?