Opportunities to travel abroad abound for students at Transylvania. Everyone on campus seems to have their own exhilarating story of zip-lining atop Panamanian tropical forests, cliff-diving in Italy, surmounting the Great Wall of China. Beyond mere scholastic value, experiences abroad allow for intimate encounters with cultures students would otherwise never come across. Which is all wonderful…albeit less wonderful when you, the recipient of these awesome anecdotes, have never, actually…you know…been out of the country. But that was before I spent a month in Greece, and now I have my very own “Most Interesting Man in the World”-esque stories of cross-continental merry making to add to the already robust canon of such tales.
Of course, I almost didn’t make it to Greece. Upon arriving to the Louisville airport- that is approximately two miles from my home- we discovered that my mothers passport had mysteriously replaced my own. After a total meltdown, my aunt came to the rescue and provided that golden ticket of identificationary documentation. 16 plus hours of travel time is not so bad when your non-refundable plane ticket almost becomes as valuable as a losing scratch off. If my interest and excitement been piqued beforehand, the adventuresome start made me that much more engaged. Upon landing in Athens, my group and I were thrust, quite literally, into a different world.
Similar to New York, the hub-bub of frantic daily business is tinged with an old world feel- a Footlocker displaying the newest array of Nike runners stands next to a dilapidated junk store- that sets a unique and thought-provoking ambiance. Staying in the Hotel Attalos, square in the heart of the city, my group of 28 were rapt, dumbfounded by the view; the Attalos has a completely unimpeded view of the ancient Parthenon, arguably the most famous and beautiful piece of architecture from ancient Greece. Mesmerizing and inspirational, the Parthenon, less ideally, represents a quizzical quandary for many Grecians and international observers alike, namely, how does a nation once resting atop the world’s totem pole, a nation that literally founded democracy, become the owner’s of the most impotent economy outside the developing world?
Our trip was filled with such incongruencies- the beauty and power of the ancient world violently juxtaposed against a backdrop of modern deterioration and poverty- that while difficult to see, helped open my eyes and broaden my understanding of how others live. Those thoughts were intermingled with ruminations on the ancient world, especially the tradition of ancient sport.
While traveling from Athens to Sparta, Siphnos, Milos, Olympia, Thera, Delos, Santorini, and other islands there were no shortage of ancient monuments, ruins, archaeological digs, friezes, sculptures, mosaics, and engravings to inform and entertain tourists from around the world. And not only artifacts from the Greeks themselves; every museum we attended made a strident effort to show the progression of development in respective areas of Greece, areas that were many times lived in by foreign occupants – like an anthropological two for one! The combination of seeing the sites themselves, viewing carefully excavated artifacts with accompanying descriptions in museums, and holding classroom style discussion with our professors ensured no shortage of available information to be gleaned and absorbed.
There was also enough free time that I got to get out and about, co-mingling with locals in and out of the city. Luckily they were kind enough to indulge my American ignorance, and all the stereotypical “In Greece do you…” questions, as well as asking a few of America themselves. Meeting new people, interacting with the ancient world, learning from experts in their field, and all for school credit? I’ll be sharing my study abroad stories for a long time to come.