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!

19,534 Words

That’s how many words I’ve written since coming to Greece.

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Outside a bookstore I visited today. I feel like I’ve written enough words to fill all of these books, but my math tells me that’s not the case. 

Forgive me if the number’s not exact. I copied and pasted the text from every blog post, then added up the words for my two published stories and two yet-to-be-published. I’m accounting for about half of the story Paxtyn and I are writing together, the first draft of which clocks in around 3,500 words. I estimated 1,000 words for rewrites and 1,000 for emails, though both of those estimates are conservative.

Handwritten notes, of course, don’t make up part of this number, though I’ve nearly filled three reporter’s notebooks taking down observations and logging interviews. Nor do Facebook messages, though my friends and I have conferred many times about where to go to dinner. I’m not counting the words I wrote in my journal, since most of those were either posted on this blog or said aloud. And I’m obviously not counting  the words I’m typing now.

We’ve been in Greece for approximately 30 days now, so my estimate suggests about 650 words per day. Honestly, that number seems low. I feel like aside from eating and reporting, all I do is write here. Fortunately, I usually enjoy all three of those activities, so it’s not a bad lifestyle.

I’m the kind of person who goes over the word count. It’s not hard for me to come up with a lot of words to tell a story or describe a situation. Of course, using more words doesn’t always mean I’m using the right words. Nor are words necessarily the most effective tool for telling a story, as many of our resident videographers will attest to.

I think that for me, words will always be the medium in which I feel most comfortable expressing myself. However, I’m getting better at shooting video every time I pick up a camera, and my photography skills are also improving. These tools are essential in an era where our collective attention span is becoming increasingly shorter, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to continue to develop them over the past few weeks.

Still, there’s something to be said for having words to document this experience. In a way, it’s like an uber-overachieving version of writing “Gwen was here” on a random street corner.

Hopefully, though, it’s also something bigger. I know the words I have written on this trip will be valuable to me. But I also hope they will provide value to others who read them. The ongoing ethical question we have dealt with on this trip is whether it is worth it to write about something, and especially to force people to relive difficult experiences, if the result may not reach a large audience or have a long-term impact.

As journalists, it is necessary to believe that what we are doing is inherently worthwhile. I think that I have managed to keep up that belief throughout the trip, but I am not entirely certain that it is valid. I really hope the words I have written will mean something to someone other than myself, whether that’s my family, one of the many volunteers at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, a bookseller in Thessaloniki, or a refugee family whose story has not yet been fully told.

I have no way of knowing the impact my work will have. But I hope that these 19,534 words create something beyond personal documentation. I hope that they create dialogue, or news, or evoke emotion. I hope that they have been worthwhile.

My First Story is Up!

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Evangelia Avloniti and Socrates Kabouropoulos, photographed at Thessaloniki’s Book Fair in May. Photo by Suma Hussien

My first story was published today on our team site! It took three days of interviews, a couple of late nights writing, some all-caps edits from Carlene, and a little help from Suma with last-minute visuals, but I’ve ultimately put together an article on how Greece’s publishing industry has been and will continue to be affected by the economic crisis.

Over the course of my reporting, I was continually struck by the dedication and resilience of those who work in the literary industry in Greece. These people truly love books, and no language barrier could prevent their passion from shining through in our conversations.

As Socrates Kabouropoulos said when I interviewed him on Friday, “It can have such value to read a book. If you go to a film, you enjoy it for two hours and that’s it….When you read a book, it can change your life, it can change your mentality, your relationships. It can have such an impact.”

When it comes to the future of the literary industry in Greece, literary agent Evangelia Avloniti is “cautiously optimistic.”

“I am completely in love with this job and that keeps me going,” she said.

Intrigued? Read more here.