Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

Maritza while studying abroad in GreeceThe memories I have from studying abroad in Greece are ones that I love to think back to every now and then. Studying in Greece symbolized my first trip to Europe, and an immense transformation I saw in myself both personally and professionally. Like many, I was bit by the travel bug as soon as I came back from studying in Greece, and today, I honor that as a travel writer and as an avid traveler. Here are some of my memories from studying in Greece. 

Being Away From Family for the First Time

Coming from a first-generation household, where my siblings and I were the first generations in our family to be born outside of Mexico, the concept of studying abroad was a strange one for my parents. But then again, many concepts in the U.S. were strange to my parents. Being the eldest daughter, I had to often maneuver these cultural shifts. I often bounced from one culture to the other. I had to make sense of the American way of life for myself and learn how to explain it to my parents in a way they would understand. Figuring out how to create harmony between these two identities was a challenge I was very familiar with. 

When I told my parents that I wanted to study abroad, they were shocked, scared, and worried. They didn’t want to take that leap with me out of fear. Thankfully after some time, they decided to support me. I don’t know where they grabbed the reassurance that I would be ok, or how they managed their fears over letting me go. However, with their blessing, I was on my way to Greece. While I was studying abroad in Greece, I spoke with them as much as I could through Facetime and text messages.

Discovering Independence While Studying Abroad in Greece

In many ways, I look at this Greek program and think how much it not only helped me grow more independent and sure of myself, but how much it helped my parents in trusting in me, the world, and in themselves to be ok to let their kids do things they never did. I appreciate them not passing down their fears to me. They slowly let go of a protective grip they had always had to keep us safe in the only way they knew how to. Studying abroad in Greece was monumental for me as much as it was for them. 

Maritza looking over a valley while studying abroad in Greece.

My First European City

They say that the European lifestyle is one that is favored by many for its laid-back approach to life. There’s the mix of tranquility and liveliness, quality of life overall, and so much more. Greece was the first-ever European destination that I visited. It left me absolutely enamored. It was around 6 pm when I arrived in Athens to study for the next three months. I took my first steps in the cute and picturesque neighborhood of Plaka where our hotel was. I was met with a sample of the charming aspects of European city life. People of all ages — locals and tourists — walked around leisurely, looking for a dinner spot or sightseeing on an unusually warm March evening. 

Athens, the first city Maritza visited while studying abroad in Greece

Crowds of teenagers hung out at ice-cream shops, waiters outside of the restaurant talking to people about their menu. Police patrolled around making sure everything was ok. Coming from a suburb town in Illinois where everyone drove everywhere, where we all lived in our own little world, and where we were all always busy with something, this was a sight I had never really encountered. People leisurely took their sweet time hanging with friends, enjoying a good meal outside next to a Greek ruin or temple. Super casual, and wonderful at the same time. I knew I would like it here right then and there. 

The Greek Language

As a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish, I wasn’t sure how I would pick up the Greek language. Would the language be too difficult? Would my knowledge of Spanish and English help me in any way with Greek? 

I learned quickly that Greek was not part of the romance languages. Therefore, making sense of Greek with my Spanish-speaking abilities was simply not going to cut it. However, where my Spanish did come in handy was in my pronunciation of Greek words. I may not know how to order a Freddo, but I could at least hear someone say it and, then, pronounce it in a way where Greek people could understand what I was trying to say. 

Once I remember being in a taxi with three of my classmates when we were trying to get to the Acropolis. The taxi driver couldn’t understand when my classmates said “Acropolis” to the driver, but I had remembered the way it was written and pronounced, so I tried using my Spanish pronunciation on the Greek word “Acropoli” — and it worked! He understood and he replied with “efcharistó” — thank you. It was a small but amazing accomplishment that I will never forget. I had made contact with a local! 

Greek Food

The Greek people don’t like spicy food, but I do. For the first time in my life, I was without any kind of salsa or peppers in my food. This was one of my own personal culture shocks. As a Mexican-American, I was shocked and missing a bit of that spiciness in my food. But as a previous culinary arts student, I was super interested in the ingredients and the typical meals that Greeks enjoyed. Everything from gyros to spanakopita, to authentic Feta, which I never liked before until going to Greece, as well as souvlaki and moussaka. 

Some food Maritza ate while studying abroad in Greece

Studying in Greece gave me the opportunity to try new flavors. I experienced an authentic Greek Easter with the spit-roasted lamb, delectable and fresh Greek salad, flatbread with amazing quality olive oil, and observed and engaged with the culture through its food. When I came back home, I experienced reverse culture shock. I sought out the quality olive oil, the gyros, and the tzatziki sauce. Oh, how the tables had changed. 

The People

My study abroad experience in Greece allowed me to meet people from countries that I had never met before. Do you remember the first time you met a Spaniard? A Greek? Or an Australian? 

What about meeting someone from your own country, who even though you shared a similar language and background, seemed like they were more “worldly” and “cultured” because they were travelers? A conversation with them left you in awe and utterly inspired. Studying abroad in Greece expanded my knowledge of people. It taught me that even though we may come from different places in the world, we all have more than we think in common. A conversation with people outside of your culture will show you that. If anything, you can always share your love for travel and meeting new people. That is always something to bond over. 

The Traditions

I felt a sense of comfort in Greece, that to be quite honest, I was not expecting. I guess moving to Greece to me felt like taking a giant leap into the unknown. What would the people be like? What would the culture and traditions be like? Would I like the food? Though I consider myself to be quite an adaptable person, ready to accept any kind of culture shock that I would potentially experience, I realized that it was pleasantly easy to adjust to Greek customs and traditions. 

It reminded me a lot of my Mexican upbringing, such as the way the Greeks that passed near a church would make the sign of the cross, or how religion and church-going was a significant part of life and culture for many Greeks. The massive emphasis on family and looking after the giagiá and the pappoús and the ritual and love for food were comforting. I felt at times like I was in Mexico visiting my own family. It was almost as if I was visiting a village in Mexico when I was really in Greece. The feeling was special and comforting. I realized that it led to me questioning what home is if you can find that feeling outside of the place you were born in. It was one of the many questions that had never occurred to me until living and studying abroad in Greece. 

The Beginning of My Desire to Explore More

I am forever grateful for the structure of this study abroad program I did in Greece. We didn’t have a university campus where we took all our classes. In fact, our time in Greece was divided up into three different subtopics of study. Depending on that subtopic of study, we would physically travel to the part of Greece with the most physical history and study it in person. 

So I studied the ruins and the Greek god Apollo on the island of Delos while walking around archeological sites. We sat on rocks on the sacred site of Delphi to take notes and learn about this mystical oracle that many people traveled from near and far to ask questions. I presented a project on the important documents stored inside Hadrian’s Library, and the importance of this landmark to my classmates, while standing in front of the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. 

On the Move

Because of the constant traveling, we did throughout Greece, from its northernmost tip in Thessaloniki to the southernmost island of Crete, and everywhere in between, my studies in Greece felt like a hybrid between a fun gap year of staying in hostels and doing school assignments throughout our journeys. For three months, it was hostels, hotels, trains, ferries, buses, and metros.

It was incredible and gave me a strong sense of adventure, learning, adapting, and adjusting to what the day held. Each day was different, and each day we learned something new. One cannot possibly deny the sheer excitement in that. It made me feel excited for the moment, and for life. I was hooked. I wanted nothing less than a life of adventure. The bar had been set high for what I wanted to do after this opportunity, and so my thoughts started to brainstorm just how. 

The Transformation

Study abroad programs, whether they’re year-long programs or just a few weeks, for many, are the first opportunities to travel for many young American college students. I know it was for me. The combination of youthful excitement, combined with a desire to learn and travel — it’s the perfect recipe for major transformation.

Travel transforms people from the inside out. From the people you meet, to the new foods you try that end up being what you crave when you get back home, to the observing of and participation in a new culture, and the physical distance and feelings of being in a place so far from home where virtually no one knows you. It’s liberating. It’s euphoric, and it’s unlike any other feeling. You see yourself maneuvering a new culture, becoming more social, taking more risks, and saying yes more often. You learn A LOT along the way. Finally, you see yourself grow, and you learn more about yourself than ever before as you go through a myriad of different situations, emotions, and adventures. 

Travel is a confidence booster and a transformation. You don’t return home the same. My Greece study abroad program inspired me to start writing, and eventually start my own travel blog. It cleared a career path like nothing ever had. My memories of studying abroad in Greece are a constant reminder of why I do what I do.

52 thoughts on “Memories of Studying Abroad in Greece

  1. Excellent article, Maritza. You’ve captured the essence of travel…that it’s not about the destination, but the experience. Cheers!

  2. Yes, studying away from home makes one learn how to be independent. Greece is a beautiful European country with vast history.

    1. It truly is! I loved discovering this beautiful country, while also learning so much about myself at the same time. Thanks for your comment, Caroline!

  3. I so enjoyed reading about your experience in Greece. It has so many parallels to my experience of a student exchange I did in Japan. While completing schooling there, I stayed with a Japanese family, learned to fluently speak, read and write the language as well as study and practice the culture. It was a real highlight of my educative years and have wonderful memories and lessons that I have benefited from when living and traveling in other countries.

    1. Wow, that’s amazing Nicole! You really got the full experience it seems. I agree that these are the memories that begin a solid foundation for future travel experiences and overall life richness.

    1. Thanks Nicz! Yes, you must visit this beautiful country! I’m so happy that this post was informative for you.

  4. I am going to leave home and study abroad this coming year and i am really excited , Reading about your experience has made me more excited. Thanks for sharing!

  5. It sounds like you had an incredible experience. It must have been wonderful to be able to immerse yourself in everything the Greek culture has to offer.

    1. Thanks Talya! It really was and I did! The beauty of travel, I’ve found, is that we are not as different as we think we are from others! There were so many times I felt so far from home, but then I interacted with a local and felt like I was visiting my family in their village in Mexico. It’s truly beautiful. I can’t wait to go back soon.

  6. Your story and journey is so inspirational! I love how you even made an effort to learn the language (I wish I spoke spanish fluently like you!). Looking forward to see what your next adventures are!

    1. Thanks Ebony! I tried to at least learn please, thank you, yes/no, hi, but Greek is definitely so different! I’m grateful my Spanish did come in handy in some way.

    1. Thanks Amber! I made sure to take all the photos because everything was just so beautiful and different to me! I hope you can make it out to Greece one day to experience it yourself.

  7. Nice…I love reading and hearing testimony like this, by people who have lived or studied abroad. They always come back different and wiser, if I may say….which is a great thing if you ask me. Much of my writing too, is motivated by what I have seen in other countries.

    1. Thanks, Ntensibe! I humbly agree with your comment, study abroad is such an amazing opportunity for students. I could listen to people’s experiences for hours. I love how your travels have also inspired your writing!

  8. I loved reading your story. Studying abroad opens a lot of opportunities to meet new people and make friends. I remember mine. It’s always fascinating to meet new people and I was always happy to meet people from my country.

    1. Thanks Beth! It really does open so many doors to opportunities that one cannot even imagine. Where did you study abroad?

  9. This is inspirational. I have never traveled to parts of Europe nor studied abroad so let me just live vicariously through your experiences and your blog. Studying abroad really changes people inside and out.

    1. Thank you, Alita! I hope you visit Europe and enjoy it yourself one day! It’s the kind of experience you can’t stop thinking and learning about years after.

  10. This sounds like such an amazing opportunity with lots of great memories. I would love to visit Greece, and studying there is really an immersive experience.

    1. Thanks Marysa! It was incredibly immersive and special, indeed. I hope you can make it out to Greece soon!

  11. After community college, I traveled the far east for one year. It was the first time I was on my own and at first it was so frightening. I had no clue how to take care of myself, and in a foreign surrounding it was even scarier….but the lessons I learned during that time on my own were priceless. I learned so many things about myself that I didn’t know were in me.

    1. Wow, Danni that’s amazing! Isn’t it the best feeling in the world, though? To be in such a place of foreignness, and see yourself maneuver it, learn it, and just be happy to have experienced it? The amount of confidence boost and personal growth in these experiences are priceless. So happy to hear that you had an amazing time experiencing this yourself.

  12. I cannot wait to travel to my first European city too. This was really inspiring. I’d love to be able to study abroad

    1. Thanks Claudia! It’s one of the absolute best decisions I ever made, and I truly hope you have an experience of personal transformation on your travels as well. I am excited for you!

  13. I’d love to visit Greece some day. I’m glad you learned a lot and enjoyed your time studying abroad.

  14. What a wonderful and incredible country! That was a really amazing and perfect opportunity! We are planning on visiting Greece Next year!

  15. Studying abroad can be such an amazing experience. It sounds like you had a great time exploring the historical places. Greek olive oil is really good.

    1. I never knew how amazing Greek food was until I was in Greece. Never liked feta until I had in Greece, and never really understood the obsession with the oil, until I tried it in Greece. I now include these and more Greek ingredients in most of my meals. Thanks for your comment, Melanie!

    1. Thanks, Samantha! Yes, it was so amazing, and I hope you get to experience your own Greek adventures one day soon!

    1. It’s never too late to take a historical/cultural trip to a country you’ve wanted to learn about! It’s truly an amazing experience that goes beyond just taking classes in a different country.

  16. I tried studying abroad before and can totally understand how exciting it would be! It’s like you are discovering the other side of the globe and experiencing a new way of life. It must be an unforgettable experience for you.

    1. Yes, that’s exactly how it feels like Bauhinia! It’s truly unforgettable and exciting. Especially while you’re a student, and you’re in that mindset of learning. Thanks for your comment!

  17. You are so lucky to have traveled abroad 😉 What beautiful pictures and memories to last a lifetime… amazing and I have to get there for myself 😉

  18. I’m European and, since I moved to the US (more specifically Puerto Rico), I’m fascinated with stories like yours. I love reading and hearing about how Americans feel when living or visiting different European countries. I always nod my head and say “yes, this is how we do it, this is what we’re used to, this is typical for us.” Although we are all human, the way of life and cultural background are very different between Europe and the States. As much as I’m glad to experience life in America as a European, I’m very happy for you that you had a chance to spend so much time in Greece. Thumbs up for baclava, gyros and tzatziki.

  19. Hi Dreams Abroad!
    I related so much to your “reverse culture shock” comment. I have traveled to Greece throughout my childhood; it was the first place I had ever been to outside my home. From there on out, I have been love-struck and in awe of Greece ever since! I will be studying abroad in Greece on my own this summer and what you shared about your experience really inspired me to take that independent leap. Thank you!

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