Today is my last day in Thessaloniki. Tomorrow, I will get in a bus headed for Meteora, where we will visit ancient, massive, beautiful monasteries. The day after we will continue on to Athens, where we will spend the remainder of our study abroad experience. And then I will return home, stopping first in the Frankfurt airport and then boarding a direct flight to Seattle.

Throughout my life, when everyone else said that time had “passed so quickly,” I always felt the opposite. In my mind time seems to pass much more slowly. Usually this is exhausting, and it makes me less patient to get through things (like high school, my first semester philosophy class, etc.). However, for these past three weeks it has been a blessing. I feel every day is full, and when I think back on all that I have done in the past three weeks, it’s hard to believe that it has only been that long.

In the time we have been in Thessaloniki, I have gone to nine different churches and spoken to dozens of priests, church workers and congregation members while pursuing a story that is still to be determined. I have gone to two refugee camps and two apartments of Syrian refugees who were relocated for better living conditions. I have tasted countless new Greek foods, my favorite being bougatsa (a cream-filled pastry covered in powdered sugar and cinnamon). I have gone on a boat bar twice, hiked five hours on Mount Olympus, toured a winery (including free samples), wandered the streets alone and with friends, attended a soccer match, swam in the Aegean sea, video recorded a head shaving, gone to museums, conversed in Greek, conversed in Spanish, conducted interviews in Kurdish and Arabic, written 17 blogs and gotten my nose pierced.

My new nose piercing. Photo by Paxtyn Merten

It has been a very full three weeks, and I have enjoyed most seconds of the days. Here, I have been pushed outside of my comfort zone in many respects and have been given opportunities that would have been impossible stateside. So far, I have learned…

  1. how to be very direct about what I want. Between translators and handlers, there were too many moments where I did not push for the services I needed, such as direct translations and follow up questions. After a few of these experiences, I learned how to be firm about my needs in different situations.
  2. how to depend on others for stories while still retaining independence. Typically I am most comfortable working alone, especially in journalism. That luxury is not afforded to me here, where most of my interviews have to be conducted through a translator. In the beginning, I felt powerless, unable to report on my own. Now I have learned to take some of that responsibility back for myself and I don’t need to depend as much on the translators and handlers.
  3. how to navigate without street signs.
  4. how to sound out most words in Greek (though I still don’t know what they mean).
  5. a lot of things remind me of home.
  6. I miss home.
  7. I don’t want to leave Greece.

Now, as we move on to our next destination, I feel ready to take on what Athens has to offer. Here I was getting my bearings and spent hours just figuring out how to approach certain aspects of my stories. In Athens, I feel I will be ready to get out immediately and start reporting and searching for another story.

The view of the boardwalk from the boat bar at night. Photo by Paxtyn Merten