Today started as most days in Athens start, a bright and early hike to class. My friends were running late so I took off on my own and elected to try out a new route. Despite having significantly more hills than my usual morning commute (is everywhere in Greece uphill?), I enjoyed being able to see more of my neighborhood. In class, we got to hear our TA Savannah give us and overview of Pericles’ Funeral Oration, a reading we had the night before. We discussed the Peloponnesian War and what it meant to the people of Athens. Our guest speaker for the day, Anastasia Kafiris, was a woman who was born in Greece and raised in Indiana. She moved back to Greece when she was 14, then came back to the U.S. to study at IU, and returned to Greece after college. She discussed what it was like to be a young adult when the Greek economy was at its peak and how things changed when the bubble popped.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in my mid-twenties, recently graduated from university, working a well-paying job, travelling often, generally loving life and then the economy collapses. As the speaker described, people were out of jobs, businesses were closing, taxes went way up, and everyone was hurting. Although rampant tax evasion certainly played a role, it wasn’t the average worker’s fault that their government had been understating the deficit, making them look better to lenders, allowing them to widen the debt. Nevertheless, your benefits are still being cut, if you managed to hold on to your job or your company moved to another country that doesn’t have a 65% corporate tax rate and you’re out of a job. The crisis didn’t happen overnight and it lasted twice as long as the American recession. Putting myself in those shoes, I understand why young people have a 50% unemployment rate and any given public space is covered in graffiti. Even though it’s such a different young adulthood here in Greece, I have to empathize with a whole generation being suppressed because of the crisis.
After class, we had the afternoon free so my roommate, Kylie, and I made the day as productive as possible. We made lunch, did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, and went grocery shopping. It’s so interesting going grocery shopping here in Greece because seemingly normal things like grape jelly and dryer sheets are nowhere to be found. We were inspired to make a dinner that was rather ambitious for our tiny kitchen, salmon with green beans. We picked up some fresh veggies and herbs and got cooking. It took a while, but the result was absolutely delicious and there were no leftovers whatsoever! We enjoyed our dinner and the evening from our balcony, which provided a nice view of the neighborhood and the sunset on our lovely Tuesday night.
Today we started class at the American College of Greece (ACG) campus with a simple four-question quiz over readings about the Greek Crisis and the Greek public sector of which were assigned. After, Professor Helmke led the class in dialogue over the readings before our guest speaker arrived. Once class was adjourned, most of us grabbed lunch or made our way back to the residence where we changed and prepared to visit the Parliament building. After touring the Parliament building and discussing current Greek political topics with Parliament member Notis Mitarakis, we had what we call “Free Time” for the rest of the afternoon and evening. My favorite part of today was shopping during Free Time because it’s my nineteenth birthday and I was able to “treat myself” with some new fashionable European clothes!
Our guest speaker during class was Greek economist and politician Louka Katseli. Katseli is a former Minister for the Economy, Competitiveness, and Shipping and a former Minister for Labour and Social Security. She now presides as the non-executive Chair of the Board of the National Bank of Greece. Katseli hosted an open discussion, facilitated by Professor Helmke, about her life experiences and the role she played during the Greek Crisis. The most interesting part of the discussion was her viewpoint on who actually was the catalyst of the Greek Crisis: Katseli pointed to ramifications of hot-button actions like the Glass-Steagall Act of 1993 in connection with Greece.
After touring the Parliament building, Greek politician, Member of Parliament for Chios, former President of the Council of the European Union (Foreign Affairs – Trade) during the Hellenic Presidency, and former Vice Minister for Economic Development and Competitiveness Notis Mitarakis led us in a discussion about current Greek political topics. This discussion took place in an informal, but highly-restricted, lounge for Parliament members where Mitarakis kindly invited us to join him. My favorite part of the discussion with Mitarakis was when he shared the fact that it used to be illegal not vote in Greece, along with his opinion on the subject. I agree with Mitarakis when he says voting is essentially a duty—a political process citizens should bask in having the right to partake in. This, like many topics we have discussed since the first day of class, lead me to wonder about the feasibility of a similar system being implemented in the United States.
During Free Time, classmate Lauren Fleetwood and I took a trip to the nearby Syntagma Square—downtown Athens. Once we reached the square we stopped at one of the only two McDonald’s in Athens where we grabbed some lunch. This, alone, was a unique experience as Lauren had successfully avoided eating McDonald’s for the last seven years! With full bellies, we made our way to the surrounding stores where we did some shopping. I picked up some shoes from the Adidas outlet store and clothes from H&M and a European store known as Bershka. After this, we made our way back to the ACG residence where we watched some Netflix and completed the reading for tomorrow’s class, ending my birthday as calmly as it started.
Note: Each Sunday, students participating in the #CLCinGreece program have a free day. Students can choose to adventure around Athens or to Greek Islands or anything in between.
Oh my oh my today was so fun. Brittany, Becca, and I woke up bright and early to catch our plane to the island of Crete. When we got there, we explored the old town Chania and took some pictures with and of the old buildings and beautiful flowers. The town was not crowded and had a great rustic vibe. I kind of wish we had more time to look around there, but we still had a great time. Maybe on the next trip!
Then, we took a taxi to Elafonisi, which is a famous pink sand beach about an hour and a half west of Chania. I was a bit worried that the drive would be too long and not worth it, but we got to the beach with plenty of time and had a beautiful (if winding and nauseating) drive.
The beach was simply amazing, I can’t even put into words how beautiful and peaceful it was. The sand wasn’t that pink everywhere, but mostly right on the edge of the water. It was stunning. The water was so blue, but up close it was clearer than glass. It was an amazing time and I would definitely go again, even though I got sunburned. We took so many pictures, relaxed in the sand, and explored the beach.
There was even an island separated by water about waist height, so we could walk to the island and relax there. After a few hours of bliss, we ate dinner then took the winding mountain road back to the airport with time to spare. At the airport, we saw a football team that we couldn’t tell if they were famous or important or not (probably not but maybe). We were all very sleepy on the plane and taxi back, but we made it in one piece. It was a paradox of a day, exhausting yet relaxing, and I had an amazing time. In conclusion, Crete was yeet.
Today I woke up in one of the most amazing hotels I’ve stayed at, with immensely gorgeous views and a wonderful pool. At around 9:30 our bus proceeded to leave for the short journey down the road to the archaeological site of Olympia. At Olympia we were at a wide open space with lots of ruins all around it. This is the site of the ancient olympics. Our tour guide Dafni, did a wonderful job, as always, explaining to us the different ruins we were observing. These included Zeus’s temple, which was an incredible size and we learned about the different rituals performed here. Dafni also informed us about the prizes winners received after winning the the Olympic games and the immense amount of training the athletes endured. What was the most interesting was that the games were performed naked as a way to show off the beauty of the human body as well as the results and hard work of the athletes. Other interesting pieces seen were the baths where the athletes and the different houses where guests would have stayed as well as the big field where most of the events where held. We then went into the museum were able to see some more statues and other original art pieces found at the site.
After Olympia we drove to a beach of the Ionian sea and were able to go swimming for a while in the amazing clear blue water. It was relaxing floating and playing in the water with other people on the trip. After we went swimming, we ate some delicious traditional greek food on the shore side. After the amazing visit to the beach, we drove back to the city of Athens – a short three and half hour bus ride. When we got home I cooked some dinner with friends and relaxed to end the perfect day.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the beautiful Olympia site and spending wonderful time at the shore with gorgeous views and amazing water. The best part was that it was my birthday – I was so happy to have spent it the way I did.
Friday was all about driving to Mycenae and Nafplio and arriving in Olympia. We were going to the Peloponnese Peninsula, so we crossed over the Corinth Canal after about an hour after leaving Athens. It was impressive – but the café right next to the canal was crawling with young students on a class trip. There were so many of the students, it was hard to get a good look at the canal and the lines were long in the café.
We drove for a few more hours and got to Mycenae, an ancient city that was thought to be a myth until it was discovered by a German archaeologist who also found the city of Troy. The two cities were thought to simply be legends from the epic Homer wrote. What remains of the city is the upper town and the castile. The walls were huge and were speculated to be twice as tall as what remained standing. We walked all around the ruins of the old city and around the top was a tunnel that they used as a water reserve. Most of us walked down the stairs, which were pitch black other than our flashlights on our phones. It was really amazing. We then walked through the museum. We got some freshly squeezed orange juice and headed over to the tomb of Agamemnon. There wasn’t much to see inside, but the fact that it exists is amazing.
We had a short bus ride to the town of Nafplio and had an amazing lunch and had a little bit of free time to walk around. I wish we had more time so that I could have gone and seen the local castles. There is one in the middle of the bay, one right on top of the town, and a tall one that is 800 steps up to the top of a large, nearby hill. I meandered around the town that consisted mostly of pedestrian streets that had flowering trees that arched over. All too soon our time was up and we got back on the bus and headed for Olympia.
When we got to our hotel in Olympia, I was amazed at how nice it was. Everything was so high end. My room had two small beds and a large one, two bathrooms, and two balconies just for me and my roommate. We went to the pool where some people chose to take a little swim. Dinner was the best meal we have had on this entire trip. After dinner, some people attempted to do yoga, a few were actually successful. Then we played charades and mafia for the rest of the evening.
Today we were lucky enough to have a 10:15 start time, 45 minutes later than our usual class starting time and an extra half an hour of sleep. The plan was to meet at the 406/407/B5 bus stop in the “little square” of our neighborhood of Aghia Paraskevi, just a short five-minute walk from our residence. We made our way downtown to the American College of Greece’s downtown campus on the blue metro line. I feel just as comfortable riding the Athenian metro system as I do the A route back in Bloomington.
Once we got downtown we heard from Professor Prodromos Yannas on the Greek education system and how deliberation takes place in the modern day. The modern-day education system in Greece is structurally drastically different from the United States system. He discussed how in Greece your career path is based on your tests scores and high school grades. Public Greek higher education is entirely free and students spend their entire lives preparing for the entry exam, but it is the ministry of education who decides where you go and what an individual studies. If a student decides that they do not like what the government placed them in, then they can opt to go to a private university like the American College of Greece and get a degree that would be accredited from a different European country because Greece does not recognize any degrees that are not from their own schools. If you were to get your degree from ACG or decide to study in a foreign country, you would be ineligible for a job in Greece public sector, which represents 50% of workplace opportunities. This lack of freedom to decide where to go and what to study has been one of the most interesting topics of discussion during our time in Athens.
Following our discussion with Professor Yannas, with a much-needed snack break in between topics, we made our way to Syntagma square for lunch and the changing of the guard. Syntagma square is the location of Greece’s parliament as well as being filled with high-quality local restaurants and shops. After getting off the blue line again, by far our favorite line of Athens subways system, a group of us went to grab lunch at the first restaurant we saw, McDonalds. It was the only McDonalds in the whole city of Athens. We had always heard that European McDonalds were better than their American counterparts and felt the need to try it.
After discovering that the two restaurants really do taste the same, we crossed the street to watch the changing of the guard outside Greece’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We reunited with our class and made our way through the national gardens (only getting slightly lost for a second) to the Panathenaic Stadium the site of the first modern Olympic games. This site is still incredibly well preserved and used by athletes for personal training. There was actually a group on a personal training trip running the stairs together. When I first walked into the stadium I was in awe of the pure size of the stands and thought of all the public gatherings that took place in the stadium even before the 1896 Olympics. The arts and sports were a vital part of the education system for the ancient Greeks. I know the impact that the arts and sports can have on an individual especially for early childhood development and seeing the stadium only reaffirmed how much this was appreciated.
After a jam-packed day of traveling throughout Athens, we all made our way back to the residences and had a potluck style dinner in our room with almost the entire group. After nights of eating out, exploring the different restaurants in Athens having a home cooked a family-style meal was really the perfect way to celebrate reaching our halfway point of what has already been an incredible experience.
– Dan Baumstein
Today we started class at 9:30 at the American College of Greece, where we discussed the causes and effects of the Greek Economic Crisis. We started off class with a debate – a classic way to start a class with Professor Helmke—over whether it was Greece or the United States that was culpable for the collapse of the Greek economy. Energized by the discussion, we were ready to listen to our guest speaker of the day: Constantine Arvanitopolous, who was the former Minister of Education and member of the Greek Parliament. Our speaker walked us through a modern history of Greece, from the dictatorship of 1967 onward. He taught us about the modernization project the Greek Government undertook after their dictatorship, and explained to us how failure to continue those efforts contributed to the magnitude of the economic crisis.
After class, we were able to go home to the residence for a bit, where one of my suitemates made an amazing lunch in our kitchen. Recharged from lunch, we all boarded the bus and went to the National Archaeological Museum in downtown Athens, where we were able to take two hours to wander around and take in the artifacts on our own time. I was fascinated by the bronze sculpture of either Zeus or Poseidon that was located there, perfectly preserved by the ocean. It was lost in a shipwreck and the salt water was able to preserve it much better than any other bronze pieces in the museum; and historians still debate over whether it’s a depiction of Zeus or Poseidon because there was either a lightning bolt or trident in his hands. The detail of the statue is remarkable, up close I noticed the tendons in his hands and the veins in his feet. At over 10 feet tall, the statue was very imposing, but it captivated me more than any other piece in the museum.
After the trip to the museum was over, a big group of us walked from Syntagma square to Monasitraki- another area within the city of Athens. We discovered a rooftop coffee bar and restaurant that had a breathtaking view of the Parthenon and decided to stay a while and rest. It always amazes me how the modern city of Athens today can coexist with so many ancient ruins that are thousands of years old. Every time I catch a glimpse of the Parthenon in the distance, it almost seems like it’s fake, like a prop for a movie set. But there it is, low and behold, always watching over the city of Athens.