Lauren Gross is a student at the Frostburg State University. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and studied abroad with ISA in Athens, Greece.
My life is in ruins. Literally. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in one thing: ancient Greece. Naturally, when I decided to study abroad, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. In my head, I had so many ideas about what my experience might be like and how it would impact me.
My first piece of advice is to throw all of that out the window.
On my first night in the city, I went into town with three other girls on my program. We took the metro, which was nothing new for a Washington D.C. native like me. It all seemed so mundane- I was almost disappointed. Where was the angelic choir singing as I stepped off the platform? For a moment, I was worried that I had made a big mistake.
Then I walked outside of Monistiraki Metro Station into the heart of Athens. The angelic choir took the form of a street performer singing a song by Journey at the top of his lungs, with the gleaming marble face of the ancient library of Hadrian for a backdrop. The monument was lit up in the night, and that’s when it hit me: this country was more than just a place I had dreamed of visiting. There was a vibrancy of the city that had nothing to do with the dusty pages of a book I’d read – it came from real people living lives that I had no prior understanding of.
For the first week, I hit the tourist spots. Pictures in front of the Acropolis? Yes please. But after a few days, I felt as if I had trapped myself in a bubble. I was hanging out with the same people, having the same conversations, and doing everything that I could have done back in the United States. Forget that.
My second piece of advice is to run. Run far and fast from everything you know.
I’ve had a crippling fear of heights since I can remember, but the view from the highest peak of Athens was worth it. The point is- try everything. Even if you’re afraid, or if you don’t think you’ll like it, try it. Understand that your expectations going into the trip will be vastly different from what you’ll find. Most importantly, be open to learning, and be open to change.
I’ve gotten lost looking for museums, I’ve gotten lost in the market district, I even got lost coming down from the highest peak in Athens, but in all that time, looking forward was the only way I got myself back.
There will be times when you will miss home. It happened to me on the back roads of a mountain, when no one spoke my language and the sky was getting dark. But with all frustrations aside, what you find may be far more exciting than what you’ve left behind.
In short: no, study abroad will not be everything you hope it will be. It will be exactly what you make of it, which means if you keep a positive attitude and learn to roll with the punches, it will be far better than you could have ever imagined.
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