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.

by Maritza Chavez

How Athletics Turned Me Onto Travel

Paula winning first place in her athletics competition, the European Junior Cup in Punta Umbria SpainAs a kid full of energy, born in Athens, Greece, I have always been encouraged to train at athletics, study hard, and dream big. At 12, I became a student at a school for young athletes. I chose archery. The Robin Hood tournament for kids brought me my first medal and recognition, after surpassing my peers in shooting balloons and apples in the final. 

Step by step, focusing on training more and more, I made it onto the national team. To become one of the top athletes in the country is already a success. However, to win one of three spots on a team that would represent the country in athletics at an international tournament is a long process. It’s a great challenge for any young athlete who just started competing. Prior to every tournament, our archery association would schedule a tournament. There, the best three athletes from different age categories would be selected. It’s been years, but to this day I still remember the excitement and happiness I felt when my coach informed me that I was going to represent our country at my first international tournament, the European Youth Championships in Algarve, Portugal. If only I knew then that this tournament would completely change my life. 

How Athletics Changed My Life

The first time I competed abroad, I was 15. Together, with my teammates and coaches, we spent a week at the Olympic center for athletes to practice and get ready for the competition. Olympic centers are usually located in small towns where athletes could focus on their training without any distractions. Our center was surrounded by woods and it was a big complex of buildings with swimming pools, stadiums, arenas, and gyms. It had anything and everything athletes needed. Hundreds of athletes from different disciplines would train in this center to prepare for their tournaments. 

Paula at the archery training camp at the Olympic Center, famous for athletics training

The moment we arrived we felt an incredible atmosphere right away. As a young team, we got an opportunity to meet Olympic medalists and famous athletes. This feeling lifted me up, inspired me, and motivated me to train hard. In doing so, I hoped to bring glory to myself and my country. Being part of this unique community of elite athletes, people I had watched growing up, my idols, is where suddenly a dream became more real. As a young team of archers, we created a special bond throughout that week. Together, we took off to Portugal in high spirits with big goals to bring the gold home. 

Arriving as a National Team Member

It was the first time I would travel as a national team member and what an experience it was. Although it was a long day spent at airports, we had nothing but fun and lots of laughs throughout the whole trip because of the great bonds we had. It was the moment when we checked in at our hotel when we realized we were surrounded by hundreds of athletes from all over Europe ready to compete with us in Portugal. It doesn’t happen often that most athletes would stay at one hotel. This was a rare opportunity to see each other quite often and get to know each other better. The athletics tournament would last for a week, starting from official training to qualifications, individual and team eliminations, and all the way to medal matches. 

We usually spent half of the day at the archery field and the rest of the day we enjoyed the time exploring the beautiful Algarve. This lovely town where we stayed was wonderfully picturesque. The first day we arrived in Algarve it was already late, but our coaches decided it would be nice to take a walk after a long day spent at the airports and in the air. 

An Oceanside Athletics Competition

It turned out that our hotel was located only a few minutes from the ocean. When we went, it was a magical starry night. The sky was so clear it looked as if it was right above our heads. Both the place and view felt surreal. Left speechless, we knew the coming week would be one of the best of our lives. Hugging each other from all the excitement, we knew that some unforgettable memories would be made that we would cherish forever. 

At the archery field, every one of us was focused and committed to getting the best results. Although we competed individually, each one of us helped each other and supported one another in order to do our best. Before and during the competition we tried to stay concentrated and calm. It’s a lot of pressure to perform well knowing you’re surrounded by the top athletes in Europe sharing the same goals and desires to win a medal. 

The Opening Ceremony

The first moment I saw all of the participating athletes together was the Opening Ceremony at the stadium. Hundreds of athletes together with coaches, all the volunteers, and the event staff made a huge impression on me. It made me realize that I was part of an incredible event. Seeing all the smiley faces, excited to compete with the unique energy and atmosphere, was exhilarating. This feeling was obvious to each one of the athletes. Although most of the athletes representing different nationalities had never met each other before, everyone was friendly and open to having a conversation whenever the opportunity came. 

We often met in the hotel’s restaurant, at the pool in our hotel, in the lobby, or in places where we could relax a bit after a stressful day competing. During that time we were not athletes but teenagers. We felt happy and excited to meet people from so many different countries. Some of them had never traveled before, nor met a foreigner before. Despite different nationalities, cultures, religions, and languages, after some time we all started talking to each other. We started sharing our stories and eventually made some friendships. 

Going Beyond Athletics

At the end of the day, we were a bunch of kids with the same dreams and goals. As athletes, we would compete against each other. However, out of the field, we enjoyed our time exploring the town together, swimming in the ocean, and experiencing some funny situations. 

The second night after we arrived all the coaches had a meeting. Almost everyone gathered at the hotel’s swimming pool while they met. In the beginning, we only hung out with our teams, but after some time we started talking to each other. We eventually ended up throwing each other into the pool. The casual gathering ended up being a blast. We swam together, played, and got to know each other better. In the end, the security guard informed us we were too loud and the “party’s over”, sending us all to our rooms. 

Paula and some friends at an archery competition.

Hotel Shenanigans

If that wasn’t enough, on our way back we found a lot of feathers in the corridor. While some of us were playing at the pool, a few other teams started a pillow fight, leaving traces throughout the corridors. Eventually, the official coach meeting was interrupted by the hotel staff informing coaches that the athletes were having too much fun during their free time. Although it wasn’t anything serious it also doesn’t happen often. The information caught our coaches off guard, making them laugh. They had to remind us we should find different opportunities to have fun together. 

In the future, these memories and stories were brought up multiple times making us all laugh once again. My first European Championships would not only bring me and my team our first gold medal but also some great friends I still stay in touch with after many years. One of my best friends was an archer representing the Netherlands; our friendship started in Portugal. Since then we motivated and inspired each other to train even harder in order to compete internationally and see each other again. We were lucky to meet again at the tournaments in the States, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Georgia. After we both retired, we continued to travel together.

How Athletics Inspired Me to Travel

The reason why I decided to write about this particular tournament is that my adventure with sports and traveling started in Portugal. Since that competition, I have competed at the World and European Championships as well as the European and World Cups. I traveled the world chasing my dream, having the best time in my life. I visited Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, Morocco, Armenia, Georgia, China, the USA, and many more. As an athlete, I won five medals at the World Championships, four at the European Championships, and multiple medals at several European Cups. Most of all, I won a chance to travel the world while doing what I love. I made unforgettable memories with some wonderful people. 

by Paula Wyczechowska

The Adventure Continues of my Summer in Greece

by Justin Hughes-Coleman

Ifigenia and I

After a month on Skyros, I was ready for the next stop in my summer adventure in Greece: Rhodes!

Rhodes is a totally different experience from Skyros. Where Skyros had a population of about 3,000 people, Rhodes is a much bigger island with 115,000 residents.  On Skyros there were more goats than people but Rhodes has miles upon miles of hotels and resorts on the coasts. It was definitely a lot to take in at first. I had done some research on Rhodes but I didn’t expect it to be that much of a bustling vacation island.

Yoga Club Rhodes

I began my next adventure; helping out in a yoga retreat. Luckily, my new workaway was tucked away on the west side of the island, away from all the bad quad drivers and screaming children (honestly how is that a vacation?)

My duties included helping plant new trees and flowers, (which is actually harder than it looks), helping clean the facilities, setting up tents and assisting with events. On one occasion, I was asked to help with getting a guest to pay for their stay. It is odd, Greek people can be very direct except when it comes to asking for money for goods and services rendered. As an American, I have no problem with it. Time to pay up!


If there is one thing I will never get sick of it’s picturesque towns in Greece, and Theologos is no exception! I had to walk through through town everyday to get to and from the beach (Remember: Goal #2 of this whole summer!) and the villagers were always so friendly and would offer up a “kalimera” and “yassu” every time I would walk by.

Another beautiful Greek restaurant, closed during the day.
This church sits at the entrance of Theologos and welcomes you into the beautiful town.


One of the best things about walking to and from the property was these three angels greeting me each time. They would run up to me and I would play with them for about 10 minutes! If I was trying to catch the bus into Rhodes City, I would actually leave an additional 10 minutes early just so I could play with them! I would then spend the rest of the walk to the bus stop thinking of ways to smuggle them back to Spain.


They would lay on my feet and make those adorable faces.


Rhodes wasn’t all strollers and luggage running over my feet, there were some truly stunning natural landscapes. The Valley of the Butterflies was only three kilometers from the yoga retreat. This lush environment is home to only one species of butterfly and it is nocturnal. I bring this up because while there I ran into a lady who was throwing large rocks at the sleeping butterflies in order to get pictures of them flying around, never mind that she killed a dozen or so in her effort for the perfect Instagram picture. See, tourists ruining everything!

Hundreds of butterflies PEACEFULLY sleeping.


There was a sad moment when my travel buddy of two months had to leave. Even though we were going to see each other again in about a month back in Spain, we were still super emotional! We had been on some wild adventures together. Something about camping and doing deep breathing exercises just tears down all the emotional walls!

A month is too long!


Although I was here longer than I had been on Skyros, my time in Rhodes seemed to almost fly by. Almost. Fun Fact: did you know that about 20% of people are more prone to mosquito bites than other? Guess who is a lucky member of that 20%? There I go again, being exceptional!

Mythical Greece

The end of my time in Greece almost felt surreal. One has to take ferries to get around to the different islands and each island feels like a world on its own. When I made it back to Athens, it felt as if I were already back in Madrid in my normal daily routine. Greece will always have a place in my heart; the people are strong-willed and generous, Greece’s natural beauty definitely lives up to the wonder that has inspired millennia of writings, and don’t even get me started on how great the food is! I will miss Greece with all my heart, but I’m lucky enough to leave one amazing place for another. Time to head back to Spain!

A beach within a stone bay!
Olive Groves for miles