Island Hopping and Soul-Searching

Trip Start Aug 19, 2013
Trip End Dec 13, 2013

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Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hello everyone!
It's hard to believe I've been in Athens for a couple of weeks seems like just yesterday when I arrived. Classes are in full swing and I actually feel like I'm starting a routine, which is really weird.
In Rome, many of our classes were on-site experiential learning. Here it is rare to have class outside of the room. The adjustment has been hard to say the least...we all want some fresh air and to explore the city. Classes have occupied most of my time here. We are in class for about 6 hours of the day (like high school....) with small breaks between to cram in some homework. At the end of the day I come home to make dinner, shower, and work on homework. It's a very limited experience of Athens. We spend most days within a half-mile from home. To be honest, it's a little disappointing. Rome felt like a vacation for two months (even though we did have class and homework) but Athens feels like our experience is completely mediated by class. We simply don't have as much freedom.

But, I really shouldn't compare it to Rome. We still have lots of opportunities for cultural immersion and have been taking advantage of the free time we have to the fullest. The weekend before this past one, our group took an excursion to the Greek Islands of Poros and Hydra. It was wonderful! The islands are very similar with the small town charm and culture, which I really appreciate. We mostly relaxed--going to the beach, walking into town, doing group back massages, and having a group dinner. That night was one of my favorites so far on study abroad. We all went to the beach and sat in a circle (unfortunately we didn't have a bonfire in the middle) looking at the stars, talking, and drinking wine. Our group has bonded so much throughout the trip. I honestly love every single one of them. Hanging out with our group every day will be one of the things I'll miss most about study abroad. I have 30 best friends!

Hydra was an even smaller town than Poros so it didn't take much time to see everything that needed to be seen. It was a lovely day so we found a rocky area next to the sea and lounged in the sun. The water was so beautiful and clear so we jumped in right away! It was nerve-racking!! The water was so clean that we couldn't judge the depth of it. I didn't jump from nearly as high as others did. It was one of those moments that I think "this is what study abroad is about." What an opportunity! We watched the sunset from the perch on that cliff then took a ferry home to Athens. I love having relaxing weekends like that! I had no worries!

Unfortunately I had to come back to reality, and to be honest, had the hardest week of my life. I've had to deal with a lot emotionally and make hard decisions. While the problem hasn't gone away, and will never go away, I'm working on it. Having the support of my study abroad group has never proved more necessary. They support my decisions because they want me to be happy above all, which is a wonderful feeling. Even though the situation sucks, there are bonds formed because of it.

Getting away to my pre-booked treat to myself that weekend came at perfect timing! I needed Santorini!!!! And what a beautiful, wonderful place. I had such a fun time!!! We did lots of fun things: rented ATVs, watched the sunset at Ia, found Lena's house (from Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants!), rode donkeys, went to a lighthouse, and shopped and ate good food. The group I went with was adventurous and fun. Good times!!

My favorite experience that weekend was going to the lighthouse. I had the quintessential study abroad moment. The greatest part about this moment was that it was such a surprise to me. Off all weekends, this was it. I came into it with a burdened heart, and left stronger.

Immediately upon arriving at the lighthouse I could tell there was something magical about the place. There was a steep cliff covered with rocks. The ocean stretched on endlessly--from our high perch we could see the clearness of the water and the rocks underneath. There wasn't much about the scene that screamed "Santorini" but it was so uniquely beautiful. We sat on the perch of the rocks and had deep conversations, soaking in the sun. Our group were the only people there so it seemed like we were the only ones appreciating the beauty. Like it was made for us. In this natural environment, there was the perfect combination of the elements: fluidity of water, toughness of rocks, soothing heat, and cool breeze. I found comfort and refreshment.

My mantra: I am independent. I am free. I am strong.

While much of studying abroad has to do with travelling the world and experiencing culture, I think there's also a very deep emotional purpose for leaving home for 4 months. Of course, not everyone is made for the challenge. I had serious doubts of how much I'd miss home and if it'd hamper my experience. It's certainly been hard at times. I feel like this past weekend, though, provided me with the opportunity to free myself from my ties at home. It wasn't easy by any means, and I'm not completely detached yet--nor will I ever be. I simply feel like there should be nothing holding me back from completely immersing myself in my experience. People can't stop me from having the time of my life. It's my time to be selfish. I need to forget about what's happening at home and focus on what's happening here...and most importantly: what's happening inside of myself.
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