Clack … clack … clack … goes the suitcase wheels over the tiles at the Paris airport where the 2022 winter in Greece study abroad group waits for their connecting flight to Athens.
Soft music plays through speakers overhead, though drowned out in the sea of noise: announcements; conversations; restaurants preparing orders; and the hussle of hundreds of people bustling to restrooms, restaurants, shops and seats.
Meanwhile, I stood in line at a bakery. It smelled amazing and, after an eight-hour flight crossing the Atlantic, I was eager for something to eat. Yet I ignored the now empty verbal order line and waited to use the electronic menu instead. My stomach’s protest and impatience made it impossible to ignore my reasoning: I was a foreigner, a fact which made me uncomfortable. After all, an electronic menu could not take offense if I made a mistake, right?
It was the first crack in my culturally “egg-shelled” life.
The next were the signs at the Athens airport, where English was the “subtitle” and Greek was the primary language. It made sense, of course, but it was the first time I had seen my native language so clearly marked as other.
As we rode our bus to the hotel and I saw more of Greece and less of America, I looked down at my shoes, my “Schrodinger’s Shoes.” Looking down, I could be anywhere, but I would be incapable of appreciating where I was until I looked up.
I looked up. It didn’t look any different. It was all still Greek to me. But it would become easier with time and leaning on one another.
On one day, the group I stuck with struggled to figure out how to use the tram. On the next, we learned how to pay and tip when the bill is entirely in Greek — Google translate, and never more than 10 percent. Another time, I was nearly pickpocketed: keep everything in your front pockets!
The tours enriched our education.
Athens’ Acropolis taught us about mythology, the Parthenon and the mathematical and psychological considerations that went into subtle architectural refinements, and where Paul likely gave his speech to the Athenians. Traveling to Delphi, we saw incredible rolling hills and learned about the oracle of Delphi and how the site was found. Meteora was the most unique, walking through monasteries sitting atop jutting spires of rock for hundreds of years. We also went to Corinth, saw the ruins of a temple, a church and stood where it is believed Paul may have stood.
The simpler side of life formed memorable moments too.
Attending a church service in Greece. Watching a waterfront sunrise on my own. And whether I did or did not feed or pet them, sometimes a stray dog decided to accompany me through Porto Rafti.
With my friends, I had coffee at A for Athens, a rooftop cafe which overlooked a small plaza and presented a view of the Parthenon lit up at night. I also tried octopus pasta, which was surprisingly good. We also had a great time watching movie after movie together to pass the time on the cross-Atlantic flight back home.
At the end, when we said farewell and drove away from Will Rogers airport, I looked out the window. It didn’t look any different, but I certainly looked at it differently. I am glad I do.
I’d be happy to share more about my experience with anyone who wants to hear about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you to all who made this experience possible and memorable.