#CLCinGreece – Reflecting on Greece – Cameron’s Experience

Today was the last day for a handful of us, as most of our cohort had already left yesterday. I spent the night in a hotel right by the airport, given how my flight was relatively early in the morning and I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting to the airport on time. After waking up in a bed that was finally large enough for me, I walked right across the street to the airport. Going through Greek security was considerably more pleasant than what I’m used to with the TSA, and it felt much less invasive to boot. After that I grabbed the last cheese pie I’d have for the foreseeable future (While I’ll miss many things about Greece, cheese pies for breakfast is definitely in the top five) and went to the lounge to wait for my delayed aircraft.

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While there, I found myself reflecting on the time I’d spent in this country and what a new experience it was for me. I’ve always traveled a lot with my family, but this was the first time that I’d really traveled with a group of my peers and I have to say that it was easily one of my favorite trips that I’ve ever taken. It was fascinating to learn about a foreign country in the morning and then go experience that subject in the afternoon, discussing Greek politics during class and then going to visit the Parliament for example. It wasn’t only one of the best trips I’ve ever had, it was also one of the best learning experiences. Lectures and readings can only teach you so much, experiencing the subject material is a real game changer. And all that’s only talking about the academic side of things, this isn’t even getting started on the social aspect of the trip. Though I’d lived in a dorm for the past year with most of the people on the trip and seen them usually at least once a week, it’s a different feeling than when you’re living together in a foreign country. I hung out with people that I didn’t really interact with during the school year, and overall it was a lot closer feeling than what the CLC was back in Bloomington.

Soon enough though, it was time to board my flight. I, along with Noah & Blaize, got on and flew out Philadelphia where I managed to make a rather tight connection to my final destination of Chicago. Even though this study abroad was amazing, it still felt great to finally be back home (seeing my cats may or may not be most of the reason for that).

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#CLCinGreece – The Long Travel Home – Lilly’s Experience

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Today was our final day in Greece, and needless to say, we are all so sad to go. We had our final class at 7:30 AM to allow many of us to catch afternoon flights, and our final session was filled with sharing the great memories we’ve gained from this trip. I will never forget my time spent in Athens, and I believe that this trip has taught myself and others important life lessons in personal responsibility, confidence, and cultural understanding.

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When I arrived in Athens three short weeks ago, I was conflicted by my desire to see new parts of the world and my desire to remain in my comfort zone. To force myself out of my comfort zone, I decided to try something new everyday. From flying without my family on day one to cliff jumping on day twenty, I can gladly say that the world outside my bubble is full of laughter, adventure, and memories that I’ll never forget. This realization makes going back to Indiana that much harder, as Lake Monroe has a hard time stacking up against the beauty of the Greek islands. But if I am to take one thing back to the States with me, it’s the newfound knowledge of what adventure feels like, something I can enjoy no matter where I am in the world.

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The rest of today was pretty uneventful, as most of my day was spent on an airplane. There was something saddening about lifting off over the deep blue water of Greece, and it was more than just leaving the beautiful city behind. It was the sad realization that I am no longer in the Civic Leaders Center. This trip was our last hurrah as the CLC Class of 2020, and I firmly believe that I got closer to every Civic Leader who went on this trip. After a long day of flights and layovers, I was so happy to see my parents waiting for me at O’Hare Airport. While in Greece, I tried to imagine how Indiana could ever match Greece, and I couldn’t find an answer. But when I got to hug my mom after three weeks of only seeing her via FaceTime, I was reminded that home is truly where the heart is. Greece will always hold a place in my heart, but to quote Dorothy Gale, “There’s no place like home!”.

#CLCinGreece – This Isn’t “Goodbye”, It’s “See You Later” – Blaize’s Experience

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Our last day in Greece together—how is this even possible? It seems like it was only a few days ago that we had our “Welcome Dinner” at Tsi Tsi’s and discovered the best bakery in the world with mountains of decadent pastries, ice cream and anything else you could ever want. We all woke up with heavy hearts for class at 10 AM (Paul finally caved in and pushed class back 30 minutes). In class, as we always do, we discussed random topics and told our stories of what we’ll miss the most. Our final topic of the class was about the welfare state in Greece: victim or villain? There is no concrete answer to this question, because it is both the culprit and the wounded. From what I have read and have observed, the crisis was salient in strengthening the welfare state. Without the economy hitting rock bottom, the Greeks would have continued with their imprudent and careless spending and borrowing with lack of accountability. We had also discussed how the welfare state could be viewed as hurting more than it helped with it being too generous regarding benefits. In Greece, you can retire as early as age 45 and still receive benefits. This is insane compared to America where the earliest age you can receive social security benefits is 62. Every day it becomes more and more prevalent why Greece is in such a disastrous economic state.

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After class, a few of us had lunch at The Big Spoon and reminisced over our favorite memories from our three weeks in Athens. We had planned to go to the beach afterward, but the weather had other plans, so we had a chance to relax before our “Farewell Dinner” downtown. I decided to go to the gym and work out for an hour and while I was running, I replayed all of my favorite memories from the trip in my head: discovering our beach in Artemida, all of us dancing with Paul at one in the morning, Skylar getting locked in her room in Olympia, gazing in awe of the views that the mountains in Greece have to offer… I could go on and on. We then all took our last bus and metro ride downtown to meet the group for dinner. We might have gotten a little lost on the way to dinner, but we eventually made it and wow, the restaurant was gorgeous and, of course, it had one of Greece’s famous breathtaking views. We were showered with traditional Greek appetizers, bread and hospitality. The food was decadent. The best part of the dinner was when Marshall told the waiter that it was Paul’s birthday, and when they brought out a celebratory slice of cake, Paul was so confused. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of his face! Priceless.

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A group of us then left from dinner to my favorite spot in all of Athens: Mar’s Hill. Everyone has their happy place, where all their cares in the world flee and everything seems perfect in the time that you spend at that place; Mar’s Hill is that spot for me and I’m sure I can speak for some other Civics when I say that. The view left me speechless. I started to tear up thinking about how much I’d miss all the beautiful aspects of Greece, and especially the stray cats (I’m not joking about this, I love cats). We took a cab home and everyone in my apartment made a pact that we would come back to our happy place together in the future. Saying goodbye to Greece won’t be easy, but I know that I’ll be back one day.

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#CLCinGreece – Guarding the Parliament – Ryan’s Experience

An hour after waking up, I found myself cold, wet, and huddled under an umbrella with hundreds of other people doing the same thing. Why would someone go through this, you may ask? I came to see the changing of the guards, a 300-soldier parade that takes place every Sunday in front of the Parliament Building in Athens.  I woke up exhausted from the night before, since we had just gotten back from our exciting and beautiful 3-island cruise. In fact, I was so tired the night before, that I fell asleep before I could plug my phone in, and had to go the whole day without it.

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This was my last Sunday in Greece, so I wanted to see the famous changing of the guards, which I hadn’t seen yet. Usually, at the top of every hour, the two guards who have been standing still get up, do some stretches while walking, and switch out with new guards who do the same stretches. The whole ordeal of the kick-stretching combined with the uniforms consisting of pom-pom shoes, leggings, a skirt, and several tassels leads to an experience that is a bit goofy to watch at first. However, it is also very interesting since it holds rich culture and demonstrates Turkey’s influence on Greece.

The special Sunday procession is an extended version of the guard change, with hundreds of soldiers clad in the traditional white uniforms. I was excited to see it, and endured the unpleasant weather and weariness to take the metro downtown with Aditya. We stood under our umbrellas and awaited the ceremony, which was to begin at 11 a.m. After a few minutes, I was joined under my umbrella by an elderly gentleman who I soon found out didn’t speak English, but wanted to seek refuge from the rain. The three of us, along with hundreds of other tourists, eagerly awaited the changing of the guards.

To our surprise, when 11 a.m. rolled around, nothing happened. We kept waiting. The pitter-patter of the rain grew louder as the rain started to increase. 11:10. Still nothing. One of the guards confusedly checked his watch. It was 11:15. By 11:30, a lot of tourists were getting impatient, and were upset that there was no explanation. Five minutes later, two new guards walked out huddled under umbrellas, and relieved the other guards by handing them the umbrellas. There was no procession.

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Aditya and I were disappointed that we had come all this way in the rain for no parade, but we were in the city of Athens, so we decided to make the most of it. We walked around the base of the Parthenon, and climbed Mars Hill, where Paul the Apostle once preached to the Athenians. We were amazed by the beauty of the city, even in the dreary weather. Since my phone was dead, I have no pictures, but will include some pictures from the hill I took a couple weeks before.

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At night, about 20 of us went to Ginger Ale, a café in Athens. We love the spot because the owner is a woman named Millie, a kind woman from Long Island. Everyone bonded in one of the last nights we will spend together in Greece, and I really appreciated getting to see everyone and have fun before we leave. I talked to Millie about her time in the U.S., how she feels about Greek politics, and what it’s like to be a business owner in the country. It seems really difficult to be working in the private sector in Greece, which has led many citizens to seek jobs in the government. I hope that the private sector can be developed in the future, along with government reform and tax restructuring to fix the economic problems.

We came back on the metro, and I even found a vending machine with different dairy products, and bought some feta cheese. I am very excited to try it. While it is a bit sad to be leaving Greece soon, I am excited that I can spend my final nights like this having fun with good friends while still learning a lot about this beautiful country.

#CLCinGreece – 3 Islands Cruise – Skylar’s Experience

Our last Saturday in Athens began bright and early this morning as we boarded the bus at 6:30 AM and got ready to head to the seaside for a three islands cruise. A lot of the girls in my apartment bought Greek flowy-style pants from the farmer’s market earlier this week (for only 5€!), so we all decided to wear them today to the islands. We arrived at our four story boat, complete with dining halls and shopping areas, and settled in to set sail.

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Despite the ominous gray skies at the beginning of day, there was nothing but sunshine when we landed at the first island – Hydra. This island was absolutely breathtaking and made me feel like I was living in a movie scene. The white-roofed houses overlooking the seaside were exactly how I had originally pictured Greece and the ample tourism made it hard to believe that the Greek economy was suffering at all. Everyone found something different to do on this island. We shopped in the local boutiques, explored the picturesque streets, took donkey rides up the hills, and dove off rocks into the Aegean Sea. Once our time at this island was up, we boarded the boat again, where we were all served a delicious buffet-style lunch.

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It wasn’t much longer after finishing lunch that we landed at the second island of the day – Poros. Poros is the smallest of the three islands and has been made famous by its clock tower. We all raced each other to the top of the rocks by the tower, which gave us a stunning panoramic view of the island. As always, this meant that Professor Helmke would call for one of his signature class selfies. We captured the picture, finished soaking up the view, and boarded the boat to the last island of the day – Aegina.

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Aegina is famous for its naturally grown pistachios, so you can imagine that we tried everything from pistachio ice cream to pistachio hand lotion to pistachio drinks. It was all so good that we decided to buy some pistachios to bring back to the states for our families to taste. With full bags, we hit the beach. In Aegina, going to the beach does not just mean relaxing on the shore, but instead swimming out to far-off rocks, trying to ride a four-person bike, and renting ATVs (which, of course, we got Professor Helmke to ride on the back of). Once we had soaked up enough fun and sun for the time being, we went back to the shops where a group of us met a Greek store-owner who was originally from California. She talked about the economic crisis and how the culture of the islands has changed over the years, which was interesting to be able to compare to what we’ve been learning in class. We thanked her for her time and set sail for one last ride back to Athens.

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However, the fun did not stop with the last island, as we managed to see two dolphins jumping alongside our boat and, later on, made it our personal mission to get every single guest on the cruise ship to join our top-floor dance party. Although this may not have been very successful, there’s something about dancing with all of your friends in the middle of the sea that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. We landed back on shore safely and made plans to nap, get dinner, return to our favorite bakery, and spend time with some of the Greek friends we have made. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to make such great memories today, and I can’t wait to sea (ha, get it?) what our last few days here have in store!

#CLCinGreece – Taking a Step Back – Lauren J’s Experience

FullSizeRender.jpgSomehow we have already reached our final Friday in Greece and I cannot believe we only have a few days left. After three weeks of immersion in Greek life, I almost forget that this adventure has an expiration date. This morning in class we discussed the meaning of slavery in ancient Greece and Professor Helmke asked for our observations of ways that slavery persists in the world today. We also reflected on the treatment and rights of women, trying to compare historical expectations with our observations of women in Greece throughout our time here. We have definitely noticed a discrepancy between the number of women and men in roles of position and power. Female members of our class reflected on the way they feel in public here compared to the United States.

After a busy week of afternoon trips and speakers, we had the rest of the day to ourselves. Some went to the beach and a few visited the Temple of Poseidon, but I joined those who stayed on campus. I put in a load of laundry and sat on the apartment balcony to work on my journal entries for class. I spent more time talking with friends than being productive, but I think I needed those conversations as well. Our reflections covered the trip, freshman year, how we’ve changed in the past year, and more. We all expressed our amazement at the way time has opened more doors and changed our perspectives.

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The evening was quiet around the residence, but some of us went to Tsi Tsi for dinner. We went our separate ways earlier than usual tonight in order to prepare for an early departure for the island cruise tomorrow. Although today might appear uneventful, it’s the kind of day that places us alongside everyday Athenians and reminds me that even the greatest adventure requires a little recovery.

#CLCinGreece – The Benaki Museum – Noah’s Experience

Today we woke up to another beautiful day in Athens. We had a great class discussion and an even greater set of speakers. The two speakers were from a group called SynAthina, which is an organization that works tirelessly to improve the city of Athens and empower people to make big, meaningful change. After our speakers, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria in the college, and rushed to the bus to get to our next destination.

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It was a 45-minute bus ride, and I fell asleep like I usually do, but after a while we arrived at the Benaki Museum. The Benaki Museum is a museum that has priceless artifacts such as weapons and art from the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire time period. It was very interesting to hear from our tour guide all of the stories behind the items in the museum. It was also interesting for me to think about how some of these items aren’t really that old compared to the rest of Greece’s artifacts .

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After our tour was over we heard from the great grandson of the museum’s founder, Pavlos Yeroulanos. He talked about the current state of things in Greece and shared his thoughts on how we can help solve this crisis. After visiting this beautiful museum and hearing from Mr. Yeroulanos, we all split up and further explored downtown Athens.

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We looked in some cool shops, I probably spent too much money, and then we headed back to our residence. After a long day in Athens, I was ready to rest and end the day with a relaxing dinner with everyone on the trip in our residence. It was a good way to end the day, and I look forward to the rest of the trip.