Head On

My head and heart are both very full now that our Dialogue in Greece has come to a close. Fortunately, I have come to the perfect place to reflect on this experience: the island of Santorini, where I am spending a few days with my parents before heading home this weekend.

IMG_9491
My view as I write this blog post.

The quiet atmosphere of our hotel is very different than the busy, social atmosphere I have been in for the past five weeks, and at first, I found it difficult to adjust. After spending a day in the sun and rereading one of my favorite books, I’ve realized that a little quiet can be nice too, and I think I’ve adjusted to the vacation lifestyle. Still, I keep finding myself wishing that the trip wasn’t over, even though there were times when I longed to get back to a feeling of calm. 

IMG_9493
Adjusting to life in Santorini. It isn’t hard.

This trip is what I’ve termed to be a capsule experience, an adventure with a predetermined beginning and end that gives just enough time to settle into an environment and community but short enough to still be caught off guard when it’s over. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m the first person to use this phrase, but I like it.

Capsule experiences range far and wide over time and place; past examples include my three-year high school education in Cleveland, my six-month science writing internship in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and the two-week trip I took to a sister school in Chiaravalle, Mexico when I was fourteen. 

With capsule experiences, I tend to remember the overall experience the best: the people I met, the work I produced, the places I saw. Sometimes, though, what’s even more important are the little moments that are delightful at the time but easily forgettable. Regarding this trip, I think that my own sentiments echo those of many of my friends that I have already read (Olivia, Hsiang-Yu, and Alexa, to name a few): I’ve taken away some incredible professional experiences, but have also really enjoyed spending time with the people on this trip.

The problem with writing a final reflection is that there are too many things I want to reflect on, so in lieu of a long, philosophical post, here are a few favorite experiences that meant something to me. In no particular order: 

Professionally

  • Learning to use Final Cut – with some help from Ellie and Mike – is an important step in my professional development that I no-doubt will continue to use as I further explore video storytelling.
  • Exploring aspects of reporting that are totally new to me, like interviewing refugee families in apartments and camps, was not something that I initially thought I would be doing on this dialogue. Now, I could not be more thankful for this opportunity.
  • Shooting GoPro footage of a sea turtle being released into the ocean (story and video here) was both an amazing experience and a great continuation of the oceanographic reporting I have done in my previous internship in Cape Cod.
  • Hearing the different perspectives of scientists in another country, who often share many of my views but are operating in a completely different environment, was a fascinating and fun way to network with people in Greece.

Personally

  • Enjoying snacks, walks on the boardwalk, and discussion with my wonderful roommate, Hsiang-Yu, helped me get to know a lovely person in unexpected ways.
  • Sharing both early-morning breakfast and late-night drinks with friends at our hotel in Athens was a fun way to spend time with the group outside of our stressful classroom environment.
  • Swimming in the Aegean Sea on a nearby island – and then having an impromptu photo shoot during the most picture-perfect sunset I have ever seen – is a memory I will treasure forever.
  • Spending a quiet and relaxing day in Meteora, where we spent equal time gawking at the beautiful views and enjoying the pool and town surrounding our hotel, was the perfect way to transition from Thessaloniki to Athens. Not to mention I got nearly unlimited time to gaze out the window and listen to this song – the song I’ve chosen to encapsulate our time in Greece and also the inspiration for this post title – over and over on the bus ride.

I have really enjoyed having this blog as a way to document and reflect on my experiences in Greece, and truth be told, it was much harder than I thought to write this final reflection blog post. Maybe that’s because I do not feel ready to face the fact that the program is over, and maybe it’s because I have so much I want to say that the blog, for the first time, feels like an insufficient outlet.

I am so glad to have been a part of this trip and this experience. I am signing off for now but am excited for the future, both for myself, now an internationally-equipped science writer, and for my talented friends both at home and abroad.

cropped-unnamed.jpg
Here’s that oft-posted group photo. Until we meet again!

Bus Rides are for Sleeping, Reflecting, and Going to a New Place

As I write this, I’m sitting on a bus that’s rapidly leaving Thessaloniki behind. I usually reserve bus rides for staring moodily out the window, but I’ll make an exception in this case.

The past three weeks have been chock-full of stimulating experiences both professionally and personally. I’ve met refugee families, interviewed university professors about recycling and sea turtles, and shot and produced a feature story in video form. I’ve also celebrated birthdays of friends I didn’t have a month ago, tried countless new foods, and hiked Mount Olympus.

Living in Thessaloniki didn’t feel like a whirlwind, though. I think that’s because the city itself isn’t hectic: aside from the daily protests, there’s a certain tranquility I have felt during my quieter moments there. Thessaloniki is active but calm, and its small size makes it easy to navigate. It’s definitely a city I’d consider coming back to.

To that end, I’m a little nervous about Athens. It marks a major transition point in our trip, and I think will require a level of adjustment that we just don’t have time for. I am looking forward to getting to know a new city, but there’s also a lot more work to do. It will be a different kind of international reporting. While Thessaloniki felt like home, I expect to feel like more of a spectator in Athens. I’ll see it, but there may not be time to choose a favorite bakery or a favorite bar. Then again, maybe there will be time.

There are a couple of things that have made my experience in Thessaloniki particularly special. Actually, there are a lot of things, but I’m going to focus on three.

First is the boardwalk. Everyone is writing about the boardwalk on his or her departure blogs (and by everyone I mean Asia and Isabelle) and I promise they’re not overselling it. The boardwalk is different every time I walk – sometimes wavy, sometimes busy, sometimes cloudy – and I think it’s part of the reason we’ve made it through the past few weeks without losing our heads. As Asia put it in her blog, there’s something calming about being in the presence of a big body of water. It’s something I learned when I was living in Woods Hole, Massachusetts last year, and it has been reaffirmed here.

IMG_8451
A cloudy and calm day on the boardwalk.

Second are the people, both my travel companions and the locals I’ve met while reporting. I thought I would find it difficult to navigate this group dynamic, but the reality is that I appreciate and am happy to spend time with every single person here. There’s a certain closeness that comes from being in this environment together, not to mention sharing local food and drink, and I’m really glad to be a part of this supportive group of people.

18765685_1302312593151907_8909318348595042816_n
Our team on our last day of class at the American College of Thessaloniki – that’s our Greek culture instructor, Maria, in the center back.

Furthermore, I’ve been blown away by the kindness of the people I’ve met here in Greece. All three of the refugee families we met last week were so quick to invite us into their home, offer refreshments, and tell their stories. Even the restaurateurs who don’t speak English are always happy to see us and serve us food at the wrong time of day. And our hosts Maria, Kristina, and Theo have been continually sweet and helpful as we have navigated the city these past three weeks, and have made my experience that much easier and more pleasant.

The last part of our stay in Thessaloniki that has been particularly special is our balcony. When I picture living in Europe, I always picture having a balcony to step out onto every morning and mentally prepare for the day. I’ve gotten to do that every morning so far on this trip.

Tsiang-Yu and I were lucky enough to get an apartment on the fifth floor of our building, and our view is literally of a wall, but I have loved it so much. We’ve both spent hours out there working, eating, talking on the phone, and yes, occasionally crying as I mentioned in my earlier post. There are many things I’ll miss about Thessaloniki, but I think I’ll miss the balcony the most.

18835438_10209711752332671_1693967272_n
I took this shot of our balcony as we packed up our things on our last morning in Thessaloniki.

So, here’s hoping there’s a balcony in our room in Athens, the people are equally friendly, and I find a way to walk by the water. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure that there will be moments that are equally special.