Studying abroad in Greece during election time

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By Alexa DiBenedetto

Choosing to study abroad in Greece, one of the most economically and politically unstable countries in the European Union, was not a decision that many of my family and friends understood. However, I knew that no matter what the circumstances were, I was going to come here for the semester and experience it first hand. And it has been nothing short of my wildest expectations.

Everyone back home, especially my dad, warned me to stay away from any demonstrations, riots, and things of that nature. But when I got to Greece and started taking classes, my teachers told me to do the exact opposite.

They stressed the importance of witnessing these political phenomena as they were happening rather than on the news because there was no better way to learn about what was going on in Greek politics and economy than seeing it first hand.

Admittedly, I knew nothing about the intensity of the political situation that Greece was in before coming here. Through learning in class, going to see public demonstrations, riots, strikes and reading the news, I have learned a lot about the current state of affairs of Greece as a whole. For instance, after the May 2012 elections, no single party in Greece was able to win the majority of the votes for seats in Parliament, so a coalition government was the next solution. However, this failed to be created, so a new election was called for.

In June 2012, after a second general election, no party attained the majority, but a coalition was formed between the New Democracy and two other parties (one of which is its main historic rival).

This new government now has the difficult task of keeping the people of Greece happy while also following the mandates set forth by the EU to get the second half of their bailout package.

These mandates, primarily austerity measures, are widely disliked by the Greek people, which is the main cause of the strikes and demonstrations we see today. So while there is a lot of political and economic turbulence in Greece right now, I really only see its effects when I purposely place myself in the middle of the demonstrations, and would have no idea anything was going on if I wasn’t told about it beforehand.

Being in Greece right now also gives me the opportunity to experience U.S. politics as a foreigner. On a short bus ride to the beach in early September, the man collecting tickets, after hearing me speak in English, immediately asked me what my thoughts were on the upcoming elections in America.

After telling him what I thought, he proceeded to tell me how much he supported Obama and began listing off all of the specific policies that he favored and the flaws he saw in Mitt Romney’s strategies.

This was surprising to me, as most Americans barely even know this much information about the presidential candidates they intend on voting for. The man was so interested in the outcome of the November election and said he was following up on campaign news as often as he could.

Though he had never left Greece before, he had very distinct opinions about what would help our nation get through its own debt crisis. Walking around the city, I also notice that once people learn that you are from America, they immediately ask: “So do you like Obama?” While this is probably just their way of relating to Americans, having people ask me this always makes me feel like they respect and understand where I come from, and it makes me want to learn more about the politics of Greece to express my respect for their culture.

Overall, being in Greece while it is not only experiencing a political and economic crisis, but while America is on the verge of a history-making presidential election is a true hands-on learning experience that I will surely remember for the rest of my life.

The experiences I’ve had here so far, and the ones that I hope to have for the rest of my term here would not have been the same if the circumstances I am living through were different. Seeing these changes in Greece have educated me about the state of unrest not only in Greece, but in the United States as well.

 

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