Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Ευχαριστώ-"Epharisto, epharisto, epharisto". The word for thank you is one of the few Greek words I know (as of yet!), but it has already helped me discover so much about Athenian culture. From the moment I deplaned and stepped onto the tarmac at Athens' Eleftherios Venizelos airport I have felt the need to say thank you to those around me. Sure, I'm polite in the United States (depending on who you ask haha), but in Athens I haven't been thanking people out of social convention. I have the urge to express my gratitude because I've been treated with such kindness, such Xenia.

Xenia, the deeply ingrained Greek cultural concept of hospitality, has its roots in Ancient Greece. In fact, I remember discussing the practice quite often when analyzing the Odyssey with Professor Merzlak as a freshman. In Book VI Odysseus is washed up onto the Phaeacian shore where he encounters Princess Nausicaa. Odysseus, wearing nothing, approaches her and begs for her help. The Princess's maids run away in terror, but Nausicaa gladly helps him, clothing him in the linens she had just painstakingly washed. With her hospitality she demonstrates that her people are civilized.
I felt just like Odysseus today on my first day in Athens. When out exploring the neighborhood that we will live and study in my apartment mates and I were stopped by an older gentleman. He must have heard us speaking to each other in English, as he said "You're American?". As a New Yorker, and having read Tufts' information on study abroad safety, I was reluctant to reply, but my friends nodded their heads. Everything turned out for the better! The man was incredibly nice and hospitable. He clearly had somewhere to go, but he paused to tell us which super market had the best fruit prices. "Don't go to the one on the right" he said, pointing to his right hand to ensure that he was referring to the correct English directional word. He even took the time to explain the pros and cons of each of the local markets. I thanked him with a smile and an epharisto, but I wish I could have shown him even more thanks for his incredibly considerate behavior.
Just this evening I experienced xenia again at the taverna dinner that Coleen mentioned below. Students were split into small groups led by professors and administrators. My group went to a small taverna a block away from my apartment! According to our leaders the family owned restaurant had just suffered a fire. Yet the young waitress was so kind! She brought us a smorgasbord, anything that could be prepared in the parts of the kitchen left untouched by the fire. We didn't just receive a plate of unfamiliar food either. The waitress took time to explain the dishes, mentioning the name in both Greek and English and the old family recipes. Again I could not stop offering up repeated epharistos for her kindness.
I haven't experienced nearly enough Greek culture yet to make a judgement about how pervasive xenia is. I've heard, for example, that the Greeks love a good, but harmless, argument and perhaps that can interfere with hospitality. For now, though, the ancient geniality seems alive and well. It's important to me that I observe institutions like xenia. I am a classics major and international leadership through journalism minor. I study how the development of ancient democracy informs the modern development of French speaking African countries. I'm also exploring a specific aspect of development, the impact of journalists on developing societies. This semster I would like to identify some key aspects of successful democracy. I believe that absorbing the Greek culture, learning about ancient Greece, speaking to Greeks about the experiences of their ancestors, and comparing Ancient Greece to Modern (and, as I'm sure you've all heard in the past few months, often tumultuous) Greece. I'll then spend next semester in Africa, gathering information about history and culture there while also thinking about applying some of the facets of successful democracy that I will learn about here in Athens. Perhaps those facets could lead to effective and lasting political and social institutions in some developing nations. Or perhaps government and other institutions are not the right thing for these countries, a possibility that often comes up in my studies. Either way, I'm happy and grateful to have this opportunity to apply what I've been learning, to explore a new country and culture, and to grow!

Entering Athens

I arrived in Athens on the morning of Tuesday August 30,2011, one day later than expected due to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene cancelling my original flight. The ride was smooth and we arrived a good 45 minutes early. I was met at the airport by a representative of CYA and given my address and keys. I shared a taxi with another girl living in my building, which is in Pangrati about 2 minutes from the school. After struggling with the locks on the door, my roommates came to my rescue and let me in. I have three who all seem very nice.

So far, we have had plenty of free time. With the storm messing up people’s original flight plans, CYA has pushed back the start of classes until next week. Also orientation has been more spread out giving us plenty of time to get settled in and explore. Last night I was exhausted from my overnight flight, so I stayed in with two of my roommates and cooked dinner before going to bed early. Today we picked up our books from the library and spent the afternoon walking about Athens and getting some supplies. We went up to the Honda Center, a large department store in Omonoia. We then stopped by the central market. Unfortunately, we were there in the afternoon, so we only caught the very end of the meat market. Next time we will have to go in the morning to get some vegetables. The meat market was quite the experience; there were entire pigs hanging by their feet, rabbits with fur still on their tails and back legs, and full racks of ribs. We just got some chicken breasts, which the merchant cut for us. The merchants understood English (most Greeks seem to) and would stop and stare as we, three American girls, walked through. On our journey back to Pangrati, we stopped at a café to cool down with some refreshments and a light snack. It gets very hot in the afternoon in Athens, and I totally understand why many Athenians take a siesta.

There is so much more I want to explore and experience in Greece. Tonight we are going out with some professors to a taverna. There seem to be plenty of activities, such as hiking Mt. Olympus or taking a cooking class, that we can participate in to maximize our cultural experience here. I cannot wait to get started. I am expecting my classes to be fascinating and useful; once I start learning some modern Greek, I hope to be able to use it with the locals. Until then, I plan to take advantage of this free time to become better acquainted with the city.