Let’s put the “study” in Study Abroad

Now I don’t want to bore anyone with the academic side of my experience, but I do find it incredibly interesting. There are many differences between college-life in Greece compared to back in the states. The college I am attending for the semester is called DEREE – The American College of Greece. This is the first year that Northwest has provided the Missouri-Greece program and, needless to say, I was a little nervous to be its guinea pig. Going by myself to study for a full semester without any prior knowledge of what the school or country is like was both nerve-raking and exhilarating…but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

To help you get a better idea of the academic atmosphere I’ll throw out some interesting facts about the American College of Greece. ACG is home to around 4,000 students from 55 countries. Surprisingly, the student body is about 90% Greek. This has had its benefits and complications. I love feeling fully immersed in the culture when I am on campus, which has allowed me to mamke many Greek friends. Even though the classes are taught in English, most of the students will speak Greek to each other in casual conversations and many times will speak it too me until they notice my blank expression. I have picked up on a few words and phrases and now know the basics of holding a conversation…but I find myself constantly wishing I were fluent in the language. It is easy to get by in Greece by only speaking English because most things are also written in English. Also, all Greek students are now required to know English before they can graduate high school, so communicating with them is pretty simple apart from the strong accent. There are however the traditional Greeks and certain areas that do not speak English very well. My advice is to just use as much Greek as you can (even if you feel silly), because they will appreciate the effort and it will make you look less like an “arrogant American”. My most commonly used expressions are: the formal form of “hello”, which is pronounced “ya sas”; “thank you” is “efharistó”; and of course the all too common “sorry” or “excuse me” is “sygnómi”.

Now back to the campus. DEREE is located on a breathtaking hillside at the edge of Athens. To the right is a picture of the view from the communications building. Definitely not something you will see in the flat lands of the Midwest! The campus is also gated at all times, so all students are required to show an I.D. in order to get in. The reason it’s gated is because when the Olympics were held in Athens, the American team used the DEREE campus as a training facility! Michael Phelps actually swam in the ACG pool and stayed in my apartment building in the room down the hall from me! After the Olympics were over they decided to just keep the gates around campus as an extra security measure.

The structure of the classes is another thing I have had to become accustomed to. I decided to only take  12 credits while I am here so I don’t feel overwhelmed and am left enough time to travel and get the full experience. During orientation at the beginning of the semester my small group of Greek students were shocked that I was taking that many classes. They were only taking 2 or 3 classes this semester! For Greeks, the American College of Greece is very different than what they are used to. This college is set up to be ran the same as an American university with attendance policies, course work, and a structured syllabus. Most secondary schools that are non-private institutions seem to view attendance as optional and as long as you show up for the tests you can pass the class. This is not the case at DEREE. Most of my classes are only graded on the midterm and final, with a few that actually have homework. They have a somewhat strict attendance policy that gives the professors the ability to fail you if you exceed the maximum amount of absences. This worries me a bit considering over half my class wasn’t in my International Business class the first day and only four people showed up for the formative exam last week. My teacher’s response to this was simply, “it’s probably because of the nice weather”.

I find there is much more discussion and argument in my classes. Students are comfortable with yelling out in disagreement with what the teacher is explaining, and in most cases the teacher will yell right back. I have sat through many lectures that have had a religious and philosophical background. I love it when my classes get side-tracked by the current Greek crisis (which happens often), and will spend the rest of the class period talking about why it happened and what they think their future will bring. At these times I am always the awkward American just sitting at my desk observing the conversation and taking it all in.

To give you a better picture of how a typical class may be run I’ll explain how yesterday’s class went. I walked the ten minutes to my only class on Mondays. After hanging out for 15 minutes and not seeing our professor I asked my classmate how long we are supposed to wait before we leave. He said it is typically 15 minutes for a professor, but if they are a doctor you are supposed to wait at least 20 minutes. In America we have the 15 minute rule and then I’m out! We all waited until 12:20 and then decided as a class to ditch. As we walked out of the building we happened to pass by our teacher. I figured our teacher would just cancel the last 20 minutes of class since we had already lost many of the students. Instead, he decided to have the rest of the class underneath the trees outside the church on campus (pictured to the left). We just discussed our different ideas for our project while half the class lit up a cigarette. Since the teacher was late, our class was prolonged an extra 15 minutes. Thank goodness I didn’t have anywhere to be! We definitely are on “Greek time”…even when it comes to classes.

Follow this link for more information on the study abroad program at DEREE! http://www.acg.edu/study-abroad

A Day at Illsan Beach

The first week here was a mini vacation due to the fact that classes did not start for a week. It gave the international students a chance to get to know each other and explore Ulsan. So far, I have met people from all over the world. Not only do I get to experience Korean culture, but I am also learning various aspects of European culture because most of the international students here are from different parts of Europe. The main countries are Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Germany.

The third day I was here our Korean buddies informed us that March 1st is Korea’s Independence Day. The day celebrates the movement in 1919 where the Korean people declared their nation’s independence from Japan. Now, they do not celebrate Independence Day like we do in the U.S., they just simply hang Korean flags all over the country.

 

However, my colleagues and I thought we would celebrate by going to Illsan Beach for the day. The beach was absolutely incredible. The clear blue water, the massive rocks surrounding the ocean, and mystic trees made this beach a sight to see.

Right beside the ocean was a beautiful park. There were stairs and paths that led onto rocky peninsulas. My friends and I took about three hours just exploring the different viewpoints. Below are places that we found to be quite peaceful. We stayed here for most of the afternoon just enjoying each other’s company and listening to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks.

 

Daewangam Rock was another location we stumbled upon, which has historical significance. Supposedly one of the early Korean kings wanted his spirit to manifest as a dragon and stay under these rocks, to protect the country against any invaders from the east, like Japan.

Daewangam Rock

After a long exploration of the different peninsulas we walked over to a large lighthouse. We went inside of the information building and read more about Illsan Beach. In addition, we got the chance to stand on top of the roof and view the ocean one last time.

 

 

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels to Korea

 

I will first apologize for not maintaining my blogging but in my defense my first two weeks here in Ulsan have been crazy busy! However, I will make sure to keep up with my blogs from now on.

So I will start from the beginning. I arrived in Seoul (2nd largest city in the world) at about 4 pm on a Sunday. After the four hour delay and one more plane ride we arrived in Busan, Korea’s second largest city. Waiting for me was my “Korean Buddy” with a sign that said my name. Each international student is partnered up with a Korean student to help them accommodate to the Korean culture and settling into their dormitory. As I stepped out of the airport, I could literally feel my world changing. I was in a HUGE city with big neon signs mostly written in a foreign language that I could not comprehend, busses and taxis zooming by me and tons of people. Despite my overwhelming exhaustion, I loved every minute of it. I waited with my buddy at the bus station for about 30 minutes and got to know each other a little bit. There was a little bit of a language barrier but we still could communicate. I noticed though every time she made a mistake she became very flustered and almost even embarrassed, I soon found out that this is how most Koreans act when they are speaking English. They are very intimidated to speak English because they are too afraid to make a mistake

After the hour bus ride I had finally arrived in Ulsan, South Korea. The city I will be residing in for the next 4 months.

The streets of Ulsan

 

 

 

A Night in Athens

We were sitting in our apartment the other night with some of the other study abroad students and we were trying to decide how we wanted to spend our night. My roommate turned to me and said “How about we go have dinner in Athens?”. I still can’t grasp the concept of being able to just go into Athens for the night. A city that is one of the oldest in the world and has been inhabited for thousands of years is just a subway ride away!

Speaking of the subway system…

The Metro Station

I’m guessing this is one of the main reasons Greece is in an economic crisis. It is, by far, the cleanest and best ran subway station I have ever been in (being from Nebraska I haven’t seen many, but I’m also referring to “While You Were Sleeping”). The Metro subway system (pictured above) was newly built for the 2004 Summer Olympics. Not only is this system an extremely efficient way of public transportation, it is also a free museum for all its passengers. The walls leading you out of the tunnels are lined with pictures of how it was constructed (pictured to the right). During its construction, many artifacts of archaeological interest were discovered. They took these historic items and made them for all to see. There are exhibitions of the ancient artifacts and/or their replicas that line the walls at many of the metro stations. You can see anything from pottery to fossils as you follow the tunnels (pictured to the left). There is even a part of the station that is built around an ancient city that was dug up during construction and left in its place (pictured below). Some amazing artwork and sculptures are also placed throughout the system for you to enjoy as you wait for the next subway. The people of Greece really brought a whole new level to public transportation! I found the system very easy to use and am thankful it is in such good shape…even if it did put them in debt for who knows how long!

Our first order of business when we arrived in Athens that night was to find somewhere to eat. The streets are lined with adorable cafes that each have an employee whose only task is to convince people to choose their restaurant over the others. We were quickly persuaded to stop at a pleasant cafe with garden seating and amazing seafood…not to mention the free shots of ouzo. We decided to be adventurous and try the seafood sampler platter (pictured to the right).This is where I first tried octopus and anchovies, and quickly came to the conclusion that I am obsessed with octopus but don’t particularly like anchovies.

We sat eating, drinking, and talking about anything and everything for close to five hours. We were never rushed or bombarded with waiters. This is one of the things I like most about the culture in Greece. Everything is so relaxed and simple. People enjoy each other’s company and make the most out of every occasion. People actually spend more time conversing with each other than they do looking down at their cell phone…I find this extremely refreshing. I have experienced some of the best hospitality while in Greece and it still amazes me that you aren’t even expected to leave a tip. They let you enjoy your meal and when you are ready for your check five hours later you just wave down the closest worker.

As we stepped out of the cafe we were greeted with the most beautiful sight. I looked up and saw the Acropolis glowing on top of the hill (pictured below). The sight was truly breathtaking. Time had flown by during dinner and we didn’t even think it would be dark out. Seeing this ancient monument lit up in the night sky for the first time will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.

 

Clearing the Air…

Hello from Greece!…or should I say yia sas! (Greek word for hello)

This is just my first of many blog posts to come! I feel like I have so much to share already but I will start by attempting to answer a commonly asked question of what the economic and political situation is like in Greece. I obviously don’t know everything about what the country is currently dealing with, but I can give a foreigner’s opinion of what effects I have seen of this economic crisis in the first two weeks I have been here.

Before I left for Greece I had many preconceptions of what the country was like and the kind of people who lived there. In America, we are limited to only what we hear in the media about what is going on in Greece. I was warned several times about all the “dangers” of going to Greece. I had waves of concerns coming in from my friends, teachers, family, co-workers, and even fellow study abroad students. The school in Greece did a great job of reassuring the study abroad coordinators and my parents that it would be a safe and enjoyable place for them to send me for four months. I never doubted my decision and kept reminding myself that whatever is happening in Greece is all part of their culture and what makes living in a different country so interesting. Greece is run under a democracy which allows its people the right to protest. Yes, it was unfortunate that an intense riot broke out in the main square of Athens just two weeks before I left…but as long as you are smart and don’t attend these protests, you will hardly notice the effects of the economic crisis. Many Greeks are mad at their government right now and having to change the way they are living. I’m predicting that the same types of decisions are going to have to be made in America soon and there are bound to be people who are not happy with the results. Getting engulfed in the country’s customs, both good and bad, is all part of the experience. My parents were extremely supportive, even though I could tell they were nervous to send their youngest daughter to a country that is economically unstable at the moment.

I have seen some visible effects of the economic crisis in the two weeks I have been here. A few days after we arrived we decided to venture into Athens. Shortly after arriving in the center of Athens, Syntagma Square, we learned the Metro Subway Station was going to be closed for a few hours because of a scheduled protest happening around the Parliament building (showed to the right). Luckily we were with someone who has been living in Greece for a couple of years and reassured us that we would be safe and able to get back home. We did not see any protest or anything even close to violent acts while we were there. The Parliament building was gated off and there were police vans stationed all around Athens, but this was just a precautionary act. From what I have experienced, the people of Greece are never violent. They are never trying to hurt anyone…they just want to express their opinions, which can sometimes get out of hand.

Talking to people close to my age in Greece has always proved to be interesting. They clearly know I am not Greek, hence the red hair, and will proceed to ask where I am from. I say I’m from America (I don’t even bother saying Nebraska because most don’t know where it’s at), and majority of the time they ask me why I decided to come to Greece to study abroad. My only thought at this point is “why wouldn’t I want to come study in this amazing country?!” I did not expect to meet so many people who are trying to leave Greece. The unemployment rate, especially for people my age, is disturbingly high in Greece. For an American student who is only staying in Greece for four months, it is easy to get excited about everything this country has to offer. I do not have to live her permanently, get a job, pay taxes, and follow under their political system. A large amount of the people I have talked to on campus are getting their degree in Greece in hopes of finding a job in America and moving there permanently. I found this interesting because I absolutely in love with all the culture, people, and scenery I am surrounded with in Greece. I guess the saying is true that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”