Studying abroad often comes with culture shock, but students who embrace the culture, language and food find their experience to be a dream come true.
I keep waking up every morning and having to remind myself I’m on the other side of the world. It’s really bizarre. Landing in Athens, Greece, I had to convince myself it wasn’t some big hoax and that I wasn’t actually in southern California. For anyone who’s from or been to “The Golden State,” geographically, it looks nigh identical to Greece. Then I started seeing signs and the foreign symbols on everything and knew that the fourteen-hour flight hadn’t been for naught.
World travel has always been one of my dreams and my college search primarily had to do with seeking out small, liberal arts colleges with great study abroad programs. I picked Rollins primarily because of how easy they make such an exotic-sounding dream possible.
Seriously, study abroad. The campy, grinning photos they like to advertise about students abroad aren’t fabricated or staged. I won’t lie—it’s a stressful and scary process, but Rollins makes it as easy as humanly possible for you. One of the hardest parts was simply choosing where to go—initially, London and Australia were the most appealing, but then places like Rome and Japan sounded more exotic and daring and I felt like I had to up the ante. I couldn’t simply go to another country and speak a language and culture I was already comfortable with—that’s like getting taken out to an extravagant, exotic restaurant and only ordering the safest, most American thing on the menu.
Speaking of which, while abroad, eat everything. And I mean everything. I’ve never been a picky eater, but there are certainly things I never really cared for—tomatoes, weird cheeses, unpronounceable mystery items, etc. Going to a new country is like having a brand new palette. Everything you think you know about taste and flavor goes out the window as soon as you live in another country. Above everything else amazing about living in Greece is the utmost pleasure of eating and sharing their food. I can no longer ever eat American French fries after eating the Greek equivalent; their fried cheeses with lemon will have you make that weird moan Adam Richmond does on Man vs. Food every time he eats something out-of-this-world. Tomatoes have an entirely different taste and consistency here, and don’t even get me started on the olive oil (think melted butter, but better tasting and better for you). While abroad, eat everything offered and explore things you might not have. It will drastically enhance your experience.
I cannot stress enough how worth it this leap of
I settled on Greece because I had heard from students who went on the program first-hand that it was one of the best; aside from that, it’s the birthplace of democracy and western philosophy and I was able to complete one of my majors while studying here. It’s the middle ground between east and west and the cultural melting pot of most of civilized history. Parts of Athens look very similar to American cities, that until you turn around the odd corner and come across an ancient marble stadium or temple that has been there since the ancient Greeks presided the lands. I can see the Acropolis from my balcony window—how’s that Sutton sun-pool look now?
The most stressful thing, of course, has been learning the language. You’d be surprised at how appreciative citizens are at foreigners attempting to learn the language. Just by simply saying thank you (efharisto) or good morning (kalimera) in their native tongue, many shop owners or clerks beam, and more often than not give you extra food as a goodbye token of gratitude. Americans take for granted that English is what is expected in the States. In other countries, especially those who are surrounded by drastically different cultures and histories, bilingual skills are essential. To go to someone else’s country and try to speak their language (especially a language that is only relevant in that country) is seen as a great honor and token of global respect. Point is: whether or not you go to a country to learn the language as part of classes (I’m not), try to pick up as much as you can. Your experience will be exponentially better and befriending the locals is the best thing you can do.
I plan on reporting more from abroad over the next few weeks, but I can’t stress enough how worth it this leap of faith is. It isn’t easy leaving home, and it’s terrifying leaving your country and into another where you are the foreigner, the alien, the novice. It’s like being a baby all over again—you don’t know the language, the culture, the people. But experiencing that sensation of growing up again, in another part of the world, no longer as an American citizen but as a global citizen is humbling and empowering beyond easy words. Now if you excuse me, I’m gonna go get a gyro.