Stories that Shaped Us: Finding Community through Mindful Living

Morgan Doherty is an ISA Athens alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at University of Massachusetts Amhurst whose experience abroad during 2022 led her to discover a love of travel and opened doors to new communities and friends.

We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Greece and how she found community through mindful living abroad. Check out this unique story below.

What is mindfulness to you? How did you learn to apply mindfulness to your life?

To me, mindfulness is being fully aware of the current moment. Being human, we can over analyze our environment. Mindfulness is certainly a skill that needs to be learned with a lot of practice. In our everyday lives, there is so much hustle and bustle. I find myself constantly thinking of what comes next. The next travel experience, my next meal, my next assignment, my next career move; the list goes on. When we are living life constantly thinking in terms of next steps, we are not being mindful of the current moment.

On occasion, I can also find myself thinking about my past. What my time abroad was like, what I would have changed, what I wish I was able to do if I could relive the experience. But I cannot relive my study abroad experience or any experience for that matter. The only thing we have control over in our lives is the current moment and allowing thoughts of the past or future to infiltrate our brain space hinders our ability to be mindful of the here and now. To bring more mindfulness into my own life I love to practice yoga. Being in a flow allows my brain to focus on the movements I am practicing and the rest of my thoughts drift away. Days I start with a yoga practice are days I feel most at home in my mind and body. Another way I like to practice mindfulness is journaling. Writing down my thoughts on paper allows me to best analyze my thoughts and feelings that may get jumbled up and misconstrued in my mind.

Watching the sunset at the top of the Cathedral in Milan
Riding camels in Cairo

What benefits have you seen from this mindset? How did mindfulness aid you throughout your study abroad program?

Some benefits that I have personally experienced when I am intentionally mindful include thinking more clearly, making more rational decisions, feeling more at ease, and feeling boosts of happiness throughout my day. When I am struggling to be mindful, and I feel my thoughts racing, it is helpful to notice what is stimulating my senses in the current moment. To consider what I am seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and hearing helps me center myself. Mindful practices like the ones I have mentioned were key in acclimating to a new environment abroad. The first 2 weeks were quarantine days meaning my roommates and I stayed in our apartment unit before testing to ensure none of us had COVID before we were allowed to start exploring and meeting the other students in our program. During this time period we did group yoga practices, journaled, and spoke to how grateful we were to have the opportunity to be in Greece in the current moment. When we were allowed out to explore the downtown after testing negative, it was extremely overwhelming to navigate the crowded streets, ask questions to native Greek speakers, and adopt a new routine that was more easy going during the day time and adventurous at night. Noticing my surroundings, focusing on the sights I was seeing, smells I was smelling, and sounds I was hearing made me more aware of the moment.

Taking a selfie with the Mona Lisa

What was a memorable experience from your time in Greece that has had an impact on who you are today?

This day was totally unplanned yet stands out in my mind as one of my favorite trips to the downtown because I was fully present at that moment. Having so much fun on a day that was completely unplanned has made me say yes to more spontaneous experiences that I may have otherwise turned down.

Visiting the Archaeological site of Delphi
Riding around Santorini
St Patrick’s day celebration!

One experience I will forever and always remember while I was in Greece was a very random day that might seem mundane in comparison to the other adventures my friends and I embarked on in Athens, but one day, while we were taking in our surroundings, we noticed a sign advertising $10 piercings at a tattoo parlor in Syntagma. Very spontaneously, a few of us girls decided to go to the parlor to get our ears pierced. We spent the remainder of the day walking the streets, window shopping in any store that caught our eyes, trying out new food vendors that were serving meals that smelt divine, and listened to the live music being performed at the subway station.

Posing in front of the Olympic Stadium

What aspects of the culture did you connect with? How did you find community while abroad?

Some aspects of Greek culture that did not necessarily resonate with me, but I have attempted to adopt into my life since, is the laid back way Greeks choose to spend their days. Much of their time is spent with very little stress, no hustling, and doing activities  they enjoy rather than feel forced to complete. This concept of living life centered around human connection rather than work was foreign to me, but I have attempted to bring this mindset shift back with me to the United States. Another aspect of the culture that I connected with is the Greek hospitality. I try to make people around me feel loved and valued, a quality I saw in a lot of the friends I made in Greece.

rooftop view of the pyramid of Giza

I found community with my boyfriend, my UNREAL roommates, my friend Patrick from my home University, the friends Patrick had going into the program (Izzy and Mairin) and their roommates, the friends my boyfriend Matt made in Greece, and my amazing RAs. I stay in contact with just about all of these individuals through social media, text conversations, and phone calls. I have a deep love for all of these friends and am so thankful this experience brought into my life some of the most incredible individuals I have ever met. My community of friends fostered naturally and I know these people will be by my side (figuratively) for the rest of my life. I love these friends more than I can even express and miss them dearly every day, but know our paths will eventually cross again!

Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from Greece Alumni or explore more about the experiences others have had adjusting to life abroad.

Inspired by Morgan’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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