As the fall 2021 semester comes to a close, our community of study abroad students in Europe reflects on their semester, the lessons they’ve learned, and the places they’ve traveled.
In our next interview in our series, Jess tells us about her experiences studying in Athens and traveling around Greece and Europe.
1. Let’s start with something interesting you’ve learned about the city where you’re studying.
I’m studying in Athens, and I just found this out from one of my Greek friends. Here in Greece, everybody has a panini press, and they just call it a toaster. The toaster that we use in the U.S. has a different name, and they just call paninis “toast”. The apartment I live in came with a panini press instead of a toaster. I’ve been eating paninis a lot!
2. What was a major culture shock for you coming over from the U.S?
The biggest culture shock was just people speaking different languages. A lot of people speak English, but not everybody. I feel like over time, though, I got so used to it that I talk in a certain way now that is easier for people to understand. You also learn specific words in every language, like thank you, please, hello – words that you need to know. This can get you by, so it was pretty easy to get used to. You never go anywhere expecting to speak English. I’ve seen people traveling that expect everyone to know English, and it’s just rude.
3. What is your favorite part about living in Europe and the lifestyle in Athens?
Definitely the traveling. It’s been so fun going to different countries and seeing different cultures, it’s so interesting. For Greece specifically, the food is the best. It’s so incomparable to any food I’ve ever had. It’s gonna be really hard giving it up. It’s so fresh and different. You even have to take care of it in a different way – it will go bad faster because its fresher. If you buy things in advance they go bad, so a lot of people here buy what they’re going to eat the day of.
4. What’s your major, and how does it relate to what you’re learning in your city?
My major is Biochem, but I have to get core credits for liberal arts, so I ended up taking an art history class and a Middle East history class. To be honest, I’m so glad I took these classes, because even though it has nothing to do with my major, it’s still such a different perspective than the American perspective. Especially the Middle East history class. It’s really interesting to hear the opinion of your teachers, and learn how people here really feel. It’s helped me open my eyes to the real world, and I feel like that’s really important. Any subject here would be really interesting to learn from a new perspective.
5. What is a food or drink you’re glad you tried?
All the foods that they’re known for in Greece! The Greek salad with feta, Greek yogurt with honey, gyros – it’s all so good. You have to try what they’re known for – you’ll understand when you eat it. Ouzo (the aperitif) is interesting, too, so you gotta try it.
6. What is the main difference you’ve noticed between your home university and abroad university?
Here, they only have a midterm and a final grade, and no homework. That’s the biggest thing that has affected everyone I know here who is American. Their grading system is different but actually better. You’ll get a 60 and it’ll be an A. Having no homework and a midterm and a final has its perks but I actually don’t prefer it. It’s a bit intimidating.
7. Do you prefer that kind of system over the American system?
I think it is better having the homework, so I make myself do the assigned reading and study my notes as homework. It’s not too bad, but it is a bit hard to adjust. I thought that the midterms were gonna be a lot harder than the were, but they actually weren’t that bad. The teachers actually want to help you, so if you just study and pay attention in class, you’ll be fine.
8. Tell us one destination that surprised you and why.
Romania, actually. My dad was in the Marines when he was younger so he’s a big reason I wanted to travel, and he always wanted to go to Romania. So it was halloween weekend and I had a free weekend, so I figured, I’m gonna go to Romania. It was so beautiful, the people were so nice, and it was like a halloween paradise. I was in Transylvania and it was so cool. There weren’t a lot of tourists, so it felt like I kinda had the place to myself.
9. What has been your favorite experience you’ve had while studying abroad & traveling so far?
Definitely going to Switzerland. It was my first solo trip so I was doing everything alone but it was so fun. It helped me realize: I’m an adult, I can take care of myself, I can handle tough situations. That sparked me going to all these places alone and not caring if anyone wants to go with me. Now, I feel like I’m a whole different person, and I can just do what I want. As long as you know what you’re doing and it’s not a dangerous destination you’re fine. It’s fun. I went to Romania alone, too, and I didn’t feel unsafe at all. You just have to plan it well and be confident and you’ll be fine.
10. Something you wish you knew before studying abroad that would’ve helped you prepare?
I wish I packed more winter clothes. I figured it’ll be hot since I’m in Greece. It is nice weather, but I only really brought shorts, and nobody in Europe wears shorts! I actually really wish I brought more winter clothes and more basic pieces, rather than just stuff I only wear one time. I’ve worn the same black shirt over and over, because when you travel you wanna be comfortable. Also, I’d suggest to bring a sewing needle and thread. Your clothes get ripped up all the time and it’s so nice to just sew it.
If you’re currently studying abroad and would like to share your insights on your semester with us, or if you’re planning on or thinking about studying abroad in the future and have some questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!