Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program. I traveled throughout Greece through the Writers in Greece program; it was a rewarding and enriching experience. We began in Athens where I visited the Acropolis, the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, and Delphi. Then, I spent the weekend on the island of Hydra where all of my expectations of Greece were met. Boats lined the harbor and beaches along the coast were widely accessible. After, we traveled to Nafplion which encompassed the ideal beach town. Of course, the class I was taking was still a priority but what made each assignment exciting was the fact that it allowed me to write about my own experiences and perspective of Greece. But most importantly, because of my study abroad experience, I developed an even stronger sense of self.
I hadn’t traveled outside of the country prior to the program so that 20-hour flight and struggle against jet lag was a jump straight into the deep end. Eventually, I made my way through the airport and into a taxi headed toward the hotel—and for me, that was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole trip. After that, everything else, from exploring the city to doing solo adventures during the day, was a piece of cake. I would go out once a week on my own to visit the local shops or get coffee and gradually, I could see myself becoming more independent. The rapid pace of the program also challenged me to find a balance between class and fun. I constantly felt the need to do everything all at once because I knew the 4 weeks would be over before I fully felt comfortable in a new environment. Still, choosing to skip some social outings taught me that it’s okay to prioritize yourself and school. There was more time than I thought and not everything had to be done and seen during my first week there.
Not only does studying abroad foster personal growth but it fully immerses you in the culture of the country too. It was more than just the food and the Mediterranean diet but the local Greeks there who welcomed tourists with friendly smiles and hospitality. From the grilled seafood to befriending the local shop owners, it became clear that Greece is a country rooted in family and community. You will also begin to pick up on the language of the country; I often found myself saying hello or thank you in Greek which made me feel more like a traveler than a tourist. By the end of the program, I understood the history of Greece and its importance in cultivating the identity of the modern Greeks. Being in a place that has seen so much taught me more than I ever could have learned from reading a textbook.
Despite the initial apprehension, there are so many benefits to studying abroad. These programs shape who you are and how you view the world. You’ll gain independence, develop resilience, and become more open-minded. This type of personal growth is difficult to achieve without stepping outside your comfort zone. So if you have the opportunity to go overseas, seize the chance and don’t look back. With the friendships, understanding of culture, and personal growth you’ll gain, the experience will be well worth it.