The Art of Adventure – Thessaloniki

An interview with Emily Betthauser, a student from Kansas State University who studied abroad with ISA in Thessaloniki, Greece.

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Emily Betthauser and I’m from smack-dab in the middle of America AKA Kansas. I’ve grown up alongside three older brothers with two loving parents. I love ice cream, going on runs, Saturday football games and being with people. I attend Kansas State University and I’m a proud Wildcat. Studying abroad in Thessaloniki this spring was my second time flying and my first time leaving the country. I’m a Family Studies and Human Services major with a minor in Conflict Analysis and Trauma Studies. I hope to one day work with military families and the changes they face with all the transitions military life brings.

IMG_6626Why did you choose Greece? Why ISA?

I don’t have a very textbook answer for choosing Greece because for a long time I didn’t really know why I picked the little country in southern Europe. It sounds silly, I know, to not have a reason. But it’s true: because I didn’t have a reason I found that it has given me more opportunity to find those reasons while living here. I love living by the sea. I love the genuine kindness of the people who live here. I love how family-orientated they are. I love their “stop and enjoy life” attitude. I love Greece and I’m thankful every day that I chose Greece because living in Thessaloniki is an incredibly unique experience.

I was introduced to ISA through my advisor at school. I also had friends who studied abroad through them and they all spoke highly of the program. With this trip being my first experience leaving the United States, I wanted to be sure that I was with a program. I’m so glad that I choose ISA because I met some of my best friends in those first few days with ISA. With all the extra excursions I felt as though I was able to see a side of Greece that I otherwise would not have.

Καταφύγιο Ολύμπου | Olympus Refuge
Καταφύγιο Ολύμπου | Olympus Refuge

What were some stigmas or stereotypes about Greece that you’ve seen busted since you’ve been there?

Every stereotype I had about Greece came from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. So to answer the burning questions of anyone who has seen that movie; no they don’t use Windex for everything. Yes, they do think just about every word comes from the Greek language. No, they don’t all have the Parthenon in their front yards. But yes, they do have huge families and care deeply for them.
Aside from the movie, a few people had told me that Greeks are lazy. Which isn’t necessarily true. They just find it important to enjoy themselves and the life we’ve been given. They love spending time talking over coffee. They value relationships and making people feel loved and special. So many times when I told someone I was a study abroad student they immediately told me to sit down and brought out free food to share with me. They are selfless by nature. Coming from a culture in the United States where we work 9:00-5:00, always running, always staying so busy we sometimes forget to breathe, this is practically a foreign language to us. Greeks aren’t lazy; they understand how fleeting and short our life is and how important it is to spend it with the people we love. I think the hustle and bustle of the American culture could learn a thing or two from the Greeks.

Can you tell us something that you’ve discovered about Greek culture that we wouldn’t know to ask?

A big difference for me coming to Greece was the time difference. Not just being eight hours ahead, but eating and doing things later. A Greek day doesn’t start until later morning and they don’t grab lunch until about 2:00pm. They don’t sit down for dinner until around 9:00pm. Also, everything from events and classes all run later than in the United States. I’ve never stayed up and slept in more consistently in my life than when living in Greece.

Can you tell us more about your travels in Europe this semester?

Besides being able to call one place home, becoming a local and learning to navigate the city like it’s your backyard; traveling around is the best part of studying abroad. In the past four months I’ve been to over 10 countries. One of my absolute favorites was Norway. My friends and I stayed with a friend of mine up in the mountains. Everything about the experience was beautiful and I plan to head back there someday in the summer time and explore more of their national parks.

Some Spring 2015 ISA Thessaloniki students with our Resident Director, Spilios!
Some Spring 2015 ISA Thessaloniki students with our Resident Director, Spilios!

Could you tell us about 2 different friends that you’ve made abroad?

1. My roommate, Alex, is my exact opposite. The Yin to my Yang. She is a San Francisco Giants fan, I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. She loves cats, I love dogs. She hates tomatoes, I could eat them for every meal. Next to her book on meditation sits my Bible. She likes being cold, I’d rather be hot. She reads her horoscope, I’m still not sure what that even is. The list could go on and on. If we stood side by side, you’d never pair us as friends. We are as opposite in appearance as we are in personality. With all of this being said; Alex is one of my best friends. We spent countless hours laughing with and at each other in our apartment. She has taught me more about the world than I ever expected. She doesn’t see things for as they are. She’s always asking questions like “Well, maybe today at work was hard for them?” or “Maybe they think that way because of this…” We traveled all over Europe together and every new place she showed me how to see it differently than what meets the eye. Through Alex, I’ve learned to be more understanding of other people, to assume the best in them and that I can be really, really wrong about things. She has shown me how to see the world in a lens I would have never put on myself.

Emily (left) and her roommate Alex (right).

2. Lis is another friend I made while living in Thessaloniki. Lis is from Kosovo and attends the American College of Thessaloniki with me. I met him when I, on a whim, decided to try out for the men’s basketball team. He befriended me right away and every day after those tryouts, whether it was in the hallway or at practice said hi to me and came to talk with me. His friendship was special because he was one of the few students from other countries that I was able to get to know really well because he continually reached out to me. And when I was really homesick one day grocery shopping, I ran into him at the store. I was overwhelmed with the comforting feeling of “I just ran into someone I know at the local store. I belong here.” That feeling goes miles when you’re on the other side of the world away from home.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetWhat advice do you have for students who want to go to Thessaloniki?

My best advice would be to take advantage of your location. Thessaloniki isn’t a huge tourist city and so the locals don’t expect to run into Americans often. When you talk to them, and they find out that you are studying there, they light up! They are absolutely thrilled to find out that Americans want to live in Greece and learn their language and more about their culture. So get out and walk around, speak Greek (even if it’s a little, they love when you try!) and watch the sunset on the boardwalk as often as you can. (Check out more here.)

Sunset on the boardwalk
Sunset on the boardwalk

How have you grown as a person during your semester abroad?

There are so many different ways that I’ve grown as a person this semester. One way I’ve grown the most would be the way I view other people’s perspectives. I’ve grown up in a fairly conservative home and that has shaped the way I view the world. It hasn’t changed my core values but studying abroad has shown me how to see others points of view and how to handle those differences with respect.


To check out Emily’s personal blog, click here.

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