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.

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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. 

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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.

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Here’s that oft-posted group photo. Until we meet again!
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Connecting with a Like-Minded Science Communicator

Last week, I took the bus to Chalandri, a suburb of northern Athens, to meet with Theo Anagnostopoulos. Anagnostopoulos is the cofounder of SciCo, a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate communication of scientific topics in a creative and interesting way. After spending more than 10 years developing a background in genetics and cancer biology in the U.K., Anagnostopoulos, who is also the president of the board of the Onassis Scholars’ Association, chose to pursue a career in science communication even though, in his words, “there was no market for it” in Greece.

“How do you survive in a field that has no market?” he said. “You have to open the market.”

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The (somewhat hidden) entrance to the SciCo offices in Chalandri.

At SciCo, Anagnostopoulos helps run various programs that enable science communication in Greek society, though he also hopes to expand internationally. This includes the Athens Science Festival, which was started in 2014 and now draws 30,000 visitors each year, and the Thessaloniki Science Festival, which was instigated shortly after. They also have developed a program called Mind the Lab, which places research demonstrations in Athens metro stations for one day each year in order to integrate science into everyday life. Volunteers are an important part of making these programs a success.

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Theo Anagnostopoulos, general manager of SciCo, at his desk.

Anagnostopoulos says that SciCo has two main pillars: communication and empowerment. “A lot of the issues that drive global attention involve science,” he said. “Once [people] leave the festival, hopefully they will engage with something scientific afterwards.”

This type of work is essential in a world where science research is flourishing but communication and engagement are still lacking.

“We’re trying to create education based on rational steps,” Anagnostopoulos said. He says it’s important to help people navigate the science communication landscape in what’s been called the “infobesity” era. “There’s so much confusion about the masses of information coming out on the same topic. I think the more you have, the more confusion is created. You need someone who is balanced.”

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Employees working at the SciCo office.

Anagnostopoulos is passionate about creating engagement on crucial issues like global climate change. However, he also admits that Greece’s ongoing financial crisis has created a distraction from dealing with these issues firsthand, as have the ongoing antics of the U.S. government.

“You get distracted by the U.S.’s position,” he said. “You feel as though you’ve got an Olympic Stadium full of water and you’re using a coffee cup to empty it, but you have someone throwing buckets of water back in.”

As someone who wants to be a science communicator in the U.S., I found that metaphor to be equal parts accurate and depressing. Still, it was fascinating to hear the perspective of someone who’s observing Trump’s actions from the outside, and I was glad to offer my own opinions on the reasons for what’s happening.

While in Greece, I’ve been able to pursue many different types of reporting, some of which I’m already accustomed to and some of which I definitely am not. In the midst of those different experiences, I’m glad to have found time to meet with someone who is in the thick of the field that I hope to make my own career in someday.

Anagnostopoulos says he enjoys science communication because of the “creativity of how you will express what you learn.”

“Whatever tool you use, you are on a stage,” he said. “Being a researcher is an isolating profession. I like having the chance to talk to and interact with other people outside of my job.”

Anagnostopoulos is working on expanding SciCo internationally and says that he would love to have an office in the U.S. someday, so who knows, maybe we will have a chance to connect again. For now, I am excited to move forward with my own goals of helping create more scientific awareness in society with the knowledge that there are people around the world trying to do the exact same thing.

New Territory

In the past year or so, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a storyteller and to tell a good story. I’ve written about how my organic chemistry professors tell the story of nucleophiles and electrophiles; I’ve researched how to frame the climate change debate in ways that may be more accessible to both sides of the political spectrum; and I’ve watched a lot of really good TV.

There are a lot of different types of storytellers, and a lot of different storytelling roles that I have already experienced, whether that was as a child passionate about creative writing or as an aspiring science writer breaking down complex oceanographic topics during my co-op at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. But there’s one particular role I haven’t tried out at all, and that I’m getting the chance to try out now: that of international storyteller.

In only four days, I’ll be departing Boston with nearly 20 other Northeastern journalism students to spend five weeks as an international reporter in Greece. We’ll be spending three weeks in Thessaloniki and two weeks in Athens, where our job will be to tell stories about the goings-on in those cities for an international audience. This is exciting and scary for a lot of different reasons, from the basic (What if no one speaks English? How do I navigate an unfamiliar city?) to the more complex (How do I frame a local story in a way that speaks to a broader audience? What are the right questions to ask?).

As someone with a double major in journalism and biology, I’m planning to use my combined skill set to report on and write about science and environmental stories in Greece. On the one hand, my background research and knowledge make that seem totally feasible; on the other, I really have no idea how I’m going to do that. But I think that will be part of the uniqueness of this experience: that I have the opportunity to stretch my familiar skills in a completely unfamiliar place. I’m already a storyteller. I’m already a science writer. Now, I’m going to find out how to be an international storyteller. I’m nervous, but I can hardly wait.