Thomas Rice (2019) shares a mid-semester report about his experience in Athens.
Thomas received a Levin Grant to support his studies at the American College in Greece. Read more about the grant here.
Studying abroad has been on my mind since my freshman year. As a Classics major, it sort of comes with the territory. And that was part of my excitement of freshman year: learning that I had the potential for studying abroad in Greece through the SUNY system. And that's all well and good, and you can keep telling yourself that you are "planning to study abroad", but until you take those first steps in applying, getting all the paperwork together, doing the research, and finally packing and making your way there, it can seem sort of mythical. And that's what happened to me. I told myself I was going to study abroad for so long that it just became another humdrum part of my life, and the work required to get here became just another hassle. But then I got here. I will admit I was scared at first. Everyone is. But after getting settled in my living situation, the gravity of what had just happened began to set in. I was in Greece. Me! The 21-year old who had never left the continental United States before, let alone traveled across the globe alone.
I am of course not completely alone. I live with several American students and most of my interactions are with other Americans. But they're clearly not here for the same reasons as I am. They're not here to do what I want to do. While they spend their weekends going to different countries in Europe, essentially using Greece as a springboard to see all of Western Europe, or out partying, I go to as many museums as I can to see what I have studied for several years at Binghamton. The Cycladic art museum, the Acropolis museum, the national archaeological museum, all filled to the brim with artifacts and sculpture that I can't get enough of. I will be honest the first time I went the Acropolis I had difficulty breathing for a moment, I was so overwhelmed by what I was seeing. It's difficult to describe how it is to actually see what you study to another student without having them experience it as well. Hearing professors complain about the pitiful attempt at visual aids projectors and pictures are, how they can never come close to capturing the real thing, and us students nod along saying yeah okay just tell me what I need to know to pass the final. But after seeing some of these things up close, for real, I can finally understand. It's like meeting your childhood hero and having them be everything you'd hoped. I got a taste of this when I went on the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last March with the Classics department, but it's more powerful to understand that these artifacts here are on display in their home country.
But the surprising thing for me is the seeming lack of interest in museums or archaeological sites in the native Greeks. Perhaps it has become a desensitized part of their culture, the almost over-saturation of history doesn't seem important to them, but it's interesting to note the juxtaposition of, say, the archaeological sites of the ancient agora of Athens and the Roman agora with the shops and restaurants of Monastriaki. Hundreds of people who would simply sit and eat, or walk and shop, almost appearing bored, when the remains of buildings and a neighborhood from 2500 years ago or more are directly adjacent. I've noticed that a lot across this country, and it makes me a little sad, but it also makes me appreciate the history of this civilization even more, because someone should.
In the first six weeks here I have traveled to Delphi, Meteora, Nafplio, and the Island of Aegina, toured Athens countless times, seen archaeological sites, visited museums, and been thoroughly amazed by what I've seen, and I have 10 more weeks to go! I'm deeply humbled and appreciative of this opportunity and I do not plan to take it for granted or let it become another hum-drum aspect of my life. It has been, and continues to be, life-changing.