While most Union students were bundling up for the crisp fall weather and rushing around campus from class to class, some students were in other countries participating in Union’s many study abroad programs.
Edythe Malara ’16 embarked on a journey to Greece that would end up having a huge impact on her life. Malara is a Classics major and chose to go to Greece because she had heard from friends that it was an amazing experience and it related to her major.
When applying to Greece, Malara expected she would “make friends, have a good time, and see not only Athens but also all of Greece.
However, it went above and beyond her expectations. “It was a more amazing experience than I even expected. It was the best four months of my life,” explained Malara.
Malara lived in a community called Pagrati in an apartment on a busy street on top of what would come to be her favorite café and next door to a salon.
The apartment was in a central meeting point and was conveniently near both her school and the Pantheletic stadium. “I would never had known there was an economic crisis talking to the people in Athens.
They were very happy that people wanted to study there. I feel like while I was there I saw more than a tourist would have. My classes, professors and the school made sure to enrich us in and outside the classroom too, which really made my experience even better than I could have imagined,” elaborated Malara.
While in Greece, one of Malara’s memories was getting to pet a lot of dogs and cats. In Greece the “stray” cats and dogs are protected by the government, but they are all spayed, neutered, registered and wear collars.
“The dogs and cats are of the people of Athens and the people feel a responsibility to take care of the animals,” explained Malara.
A favorite memory Malara had about Greece was sitting at the café talking to Union students, Americans and people from Greece.
“In Greece, people go to a café not just to drink coffee, but to socialize and catch up for hours. It was quite a culture shock not just running to grab coffee on my way to class, but to stop and slow down.
When I tried to explain the significance of coffee in America to people in Greece, they couldn’t conceptualize that. In Greece, getting coffee is an activity and a more of a bonding community experience as a opposed to what it is in America.
I really learned to take a step back and think about how great life is while I was there. Instead of thinking about a schedule, I thought about what I was going to do that day.
Spending time at my favorite café was one of my favorite parts of being in Greece. It was great because that was the base of my sense of feeling at home and I would go there no matter how I was because it was my sense of comfort, “ explained Malara.
In Malara’s sports class, they were taken to Olympia. While they were at Olympia, she visited the ancient sports grounds.
“While at the ancient sports grounds, I was able to use what we learned about sports and run the same track barefoot that the ancient Olympians had run. We also had an actual audience too, people from other schools came to come watch us ran the track,” described Malara.
Another area Malara went to was Crete, which is a more rugged area of Greece. “The food was the best food I had in Greece, probably because their portions were so big.
My favorite food was a gyro, a pork one, which is shaved pork, lettuce, tomato, tazaziki sauce and paprika all wrapped in a warm, soft pita,” Malara reminisced.
One of Malara’s favorite things to do was to go to the Syntagma section of Athens. “I loved to explore the different sections of Athens in my free time.
I also loved to go shopping and every time I walked around there I would hear the song ‘Downtown’ playing in my head. I feel like I updated my wardrobe and look to a more European wardrobe and overall look.
By halfway through my time there I was mistaken for being actually from Greece. I got my haircut and wore more city style wardrobe. I really embraced the culture in all ways.
I also tried to learn the language so that I could talk to people from Greece. People felt so respected when I tried to speak Greek because it connected me in an even more local way.
It allowed me to meet new people and be more immersed,” said Malara.
Experiencing the food was also one of Malara’s favorite memories. “Greek food really raised the bar so high. It also made me realize that Greek American food is not the same as actual Greek food. It was another gateway for me to connect with the community.
You learned more about places by what food they had. For example, Crete had seafood and only butter instead of olive oil because they couldn’t grow olives there,” described Malara.
“I tried to become as local as possible. I really came into myself. I always knew who I was and it was the first time I was able to express myself with no boundaries.
I could just go and express myself and find myself. It was something I think needed to happen to me. I almost needed to get away from myself to find myself.
My family noticed that I seemed to be much happier and by slowing down, I was much less stressed. My mom thinks going to Greece was the best thing that happened to me,” Malara remarked.