advice while in the country (Greece study abroad part 3)

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Panorama of the Epidaurus theatre

Speak It. 

Not only is speaking Greek part of your grade if you decided to take Dr. Anderson’s Greek Civilization course, but it is a great opportunity to get outside your comfort zone and immerse yourself into the culture. First things first, get down the basics, they go a long way.  Always know how to say please ‘parakalo’ or thank you ‘efkharisto’ in whatever country you are visiting! And it is beneficial to familiarize yourself with the conditional of ‘to like’ that way you are more polite when asking for something from a street vendor, waiter, or hotel manager. In this case tha-i-the-la… translating to I would like… is perfect!  Your attempt to communicate in Greek is appreciated, that small amount of effort goes a long way.  The people are grateful you are trying to adapt to their culture rather than expecting them to speak to you in English.  And hey, if you have darker features and a good accent people even think you might be Greek! It happened to me!

An important thing to remember with languages is that it is not always about the talking; listening is a huge part of communication.  Listen for where the emphasis is placed on words.  An important word to get the correct emphasis is thank you – ef-kha-ri-sto – emphasis is on the end of the word. Also, listening to your surroundings enables you to pick up on words said on the streets.  For example, while in Athens you’ll ride the metro, the stops are announced first in Greek then English, so you can pick up on the word next and stop.   Something that does not appear in English but is common in other languages is informal vs. formal usage of words to address different groups of people out of politeness or respect.  Geia sas is a formal greeting to one person, or informal to a group, while geia su is informal.  It does matter that you use these correctly.[1]

Document it.

Okay, I’m not saying you have to have a diary to write elaborate entries into every fifteen minutes when something spectacular happens, but to simply write down names of places you’re going, restaurants your eating at, and even what you’re eating is a great souvenir.  I did not really get this memo before I left for the trip, but I purchased a tiny notebook with a penholder that I could easily slip into a pocket or my shoulder bag for quick notes, new words l had learned, or quick sketches.  Several students had Moleskins that have a collapsible pocket in the back, which turns it into a great place to stow I.D. and Euros.   Taking pictures is also a no brainer, but many times students forget to actually get in the pictures! A playful way to document your trip is by shooting videos.  One student accomplished this through a video recording application on her phone, then later compiled and edited the footage to make an outstanding video! Another great souvenir that will be truly memorable!

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Temple of Poseidon, Sounion

Eat it. 

A common question that came up a lot was to tip or not to tip? Well, all in all you don’t have to tip, it is already included into the price of the meal.  But then sometimes with a large group and ordering a lot of food however, the owner will give you a complementary dessert or dessert shot, and it is nice to leave a couple of coins per person.  Think of the desserts as a silent thank you for your patronage, and the coins as a tip of the hat to your appreciation of their gift.

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Complimentary dessert shot at Estia. Plaka, Athens

Be prepared to eat delicious food for a very long time.  Normally we eat dinner around 6-7ish in America, but in Greece dinner really gets going around 9ish. So your dinner group will more than likely be the only people at the restaurant, but this means no waiting and you get the pick of the tables! Dinner will last well over two hours.  It is not like America where the waiter is a pissed of college graduate and the restaurant is more concerned about getting people in and out of the door as quickly as possible to make a profit.  It is a very casual and relaxed atmosphere, and when the waiter walks by with out saying anything to you, he is not ignoring you; he is letting you enjoy your meal, rather than pestering you every 4 minutes about refills.

I know you have sat down and properly budgeted all your money for the next three weeks.  Right? Sure.  Well I want shove this in the back of your mind, keep pushing till it hits the back. Great! Be dualistic with your food money, conserving it during some meals, while splurging on others.  I found it easiest to save my money during breakfast and lunch.  Normally a traditional Greek breakfast consists of a hot cup of milk, tea or coffee with toast and spanakopita, a spinach and feta pastry.[2] All of the hotels during your stay have decently good continental breakfast! This consists usually of coffee, tea, juice, water, Greek yogurt, honey, cereal, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, cheese, bread, and ham. These items were the basics and each hotel had variations of these. But wait till you arrive at Mykonos. Poseidon Hotel had the most amazing continental breakfast! Playing into the stomachs of their predominately Western European and American visitors, they had all the elements of the other hotel’s breakfast, but also spoiled us with bacon, eggs, pancakes, Nutella and a fresh pressed orange juice maker!

Typically, lunch is Greece’s main meal, consisting of a meant and pasta or rice dish,[3] but for Americans it isn’t this way, we hold out until dinner.  For a fast lunch, it is easy to find a shop that sells gyros right on the street, there is no need to walk into the restaurant, it has fantastic ‘walk through’ windows if you will.  To my surprise, I came to find out that a majority of gyros have thick French fries stuffed into them! The tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and tzatziki sauce were no surprise, but French fries? The majority of the days when the group is walking between museums or sites, gyros are Dr. Anderson’s go to meal: quick, easy, cheap, and delicious! Another great way to save money is having a small picnic of sorts. If you are going out later on in the evening and you would rather save some money for drinks or gifts, go to the local market and pick up salami, cheese, bread, almonds, and fruit.  You can easily walk out of the store spending under six euros and have a wonderful tapas dinner! Unbelievable right? Yes, it’s true!

One day I highly recommend you splurging on lunch is in Santorini!  It is just a short 20 minute bus ride to Kamari Beach, but once your there you will find the most amazing pizza place Bella Napoli, where the owner is a descendent of the decadent pizza gods from Italy.  If Dr. Anderson says it is the best place to get pizza in Greece, then it is the best place in Greece to get pizza. The restaurant sits on the shore of a beautiful pebble beach and where two other students and I had front row seats.  Tha-i-the-la margarita pizza parakalo!! Yum.  Also, definite splurge moments, the infamous lamb in a clay pot at Estia, a lovely restaurant in the Plaka in Athens.  We frequented dinner here so often that the waiters began to fight over serving us!

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Yum!

Explore It. 

Just walk away.  If there is an opportunity to venture off from the larger group, whether by yourself or with one or two others, DO IT!! Unless you become horribly, horribly lost, you will not regret this.  I have too many great stories to share in this tiny space, but I will tell you one of the things I learned about venturing out on my own.  It allowed for pertinent ‘me’ time.  Spending three weeks with a large group can become draining, and desolate of time to recharge.  So, get out there and explore! You don’t have to become the ‘loner’ of the group but simply having that curiosity will lead to great rewards!

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My findings on Delos. House of Hermes.

My experiences and advice to you was compiled through pure and simple observations and interactions with peers, teachers, tour guides, locals, the book Eat, Pray, Love, and a little Greek phrase book required for a class.  Though I am not a world-renowned travel writer, I did study abroad for three weeks, giving me the validation I need.  The stories I give to you are authentic and the advice I tell is sincere.  I want you to have an amazing time, and me sharing this with you is the only way I know how to help! So, Enjoy!


[1] People will indicate whether to use the informal form of the word.  If people you meet are more willing for you to address them in the informal they might say something along the lines, “mi-la mu ston e-ni-ko” roughly translating to ‘speak to me in the singular.’ Lonely Planet: Greek Phrasebook, ed. Meladel Mistica (Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2012), 109.

[2] Lonely Planet: Greek Phrasebook, 157.

[3] Lonely Planet: Greek Phrasebook, 157.

A travel (suggestion) guide for future Greece study abroad students

This advice was originally written as an eleven page paper, but realizing that nobody would ever read such a long and boring post, I broke it up into smaller sections!  I tried my hand at a different style of writing, keep my thoughts and points crisp and at my best attempt, witty.  It’s different for me so I hope you enjoy!

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Me drinking espresso at a cafe near our hotel in Athens.

Three words to remember Indulge, Appreciate,  and Relax

I want this advice to be casual and personal with my best attempt to be witty and entertaining, and though I don’t have a good history with either, I will try my utmost effort!  There are many times when I simply wished to talk with a former Greece study abroad student, but never found the means to do so.

Understanding through the eyes of a peer is drastically different than asking a teacher or doing personal research, both are still very helpful, but knowing what to wear and what to expect was a challenge.  So, here in this travel guide, my hopes are to pass the knowledge I gained on to the next group of students.  I will share my knowledge about the pre-stages of traveling on a study abroad trip, and advice when you finally arrive, all while tangling in my own experiences and stories from Greece.

First, let me explain the three words I attached to the title of my advice; one I learned to do while there, one I still can’t understand fully, and one that is critical for fully enjoying the experience. All of these culminate together to recognize the value of the journey.

I wish for all study abroad students to indulge, for this is a once and a lifetime opportunity, whether you have traveled abroad before or this is your first time. Each experience is unique and invaluable.  Now, I said indulge, not be immature or obnoxious. You are American and judgment will inevitably be passed on you, but that is his or her problem and not everyone you meet.  You are over the age of 18 and should know how to conduct yourself with composure and humility, while still having a wildly great time!

While abroad, do not forget to appreciate your surroundings and the people who enabled you to be there.  For someone who had not traveled abroad before the Greece trip in 2012, I was naïve in my expectations for I had nothing to base them on.  Once there, I was like a little kid glued to the TV, completely stuck, captivated by the pure joy of being in Greece.  I was grateful for every little reaction to the breathtaking views, interaction with the locals, the knowledge I gained from ancient sites, the incredible art I saw (both ancient and contemporary), etc.

Finally, and most importantly, you must relax, so you can fully enjoy your abroad experience. If you are uptight, worrying, and stressing out over everything you’re vision will become clouded and you won’t be able to see all the potential opportunities for an amazing experience.  I will also admit, that this advice is coming from someone who assumes that you have all the technical things already figured out, such as budget, passport, paperwork, etc.