Stepping outside my comfort zone: My decision to study abroad in Greece
By: Bianca Almada, University of Notre Dame January 7, 2015 2:52 pm
In a matter of days, I will be traveling with eight other students from my university to spend a semester studying in Athens, Greece. Our group will join about 80 other students from different North American universities to live in the residential neighborhood of Pangrati, learn “survival Greek” and volunteer with local organizations.
I am of the camp that believes study abroad is a time for immersion. It is a time to break out of your comfort zone, surround yourself with new people and genuinely try to understand a different culture. My intentions in Athens are to purchase my groceries at the weekly neighborhood farmer’s market, to take a class about and attend a Greek Orthodox church and to branch out beyond tourist destinations to find local haunts.
Not everyone views study abroad in this way. For many, semesters abroad are a time to travel to as many places as possible and to vacation with friends, not that there is anything wrong with that. I have never been to Europe before, so I hope to squeeze in my fair share of travelling, and making memories with friends is a large part of what makes studying abroad so rewarding.
But I have other goals, too — this is why.
The University of Notre Dame, my home institution, is ranked ninth in the country in percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad. As of 2011, 59.7% of Notre Dame students partake in international study with the university offering 39 programs in 19 different countries.
And yet, it often seems that most everyone wants to go to the same place: London.
Do not get me wrong, Notre Dame’s London program is exceptional and very competitive. Students are housed at Trafalgar Square, right in the middle of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. The available course listings cater to a variety of majors, the faculty includes some of Notre Dame’s best professors and there is obviously no foreign language requirement, facets that are appealing to a wide variety of students.
However, word on the street is that the environment in the London program is just like Notre Dame. With the university’s largest sponsored program, roughly 100 students are transplanted from Indiana to the U.K. each semester. Living in flats exclusively for Notre Dame students, they take classes only with each other . This set-up is comforting and helpful, since familiarity can be ease the transition of being in a new country.
But I knew that this program could not offer everything I, personally, wanted out of my study abroad experience. I thought, “Why am I going to travel halfway around the world just to be at Notre Dame again?” I will be the first to say that I love my university, and attending it for the past two and a half years has been a dream come true. However, I thought going abroad called for a big, if only temporary, change.
When settling on a different location, I chose Athens because I remembered falling in love with Greek art, history and culture during my senior year of high school. In an art appreciation class, I spent an entire unit studying Greek pottery, mythology and architecture. The experience encouraged my passion for the fine arts and inspired me to personally experience the art that had seen in books.
Greece is a crucial linking point between the east and the west. At the crux of the split between the eastern and western churches, as well as an interesting balance of eastern and western, ancient and modern cultures, I find the country fascinating and different from the typical American hot spot.
As an English and Journalism student, I will be taking a plethora of humanities courses while abroad. What better place to study philosophy, theology and politics than in the birthplace of so many facets of these disciplines? What better way to study them than on-site at the Acropolis and the National Archaeological Museum?
College Year in Athens, the program in which I am participating, promises me a new environment with dozens of new students, as well as sponsored trips to different areas in Greece, opportunities for involvement with the local community and the chance to learn everything I can about a different country.
My hope is that my semester abroad will bring new worldviews, new cultural understanding and new academic knowledge. Wish me luck, and until next time, αντίο!