My overall experience was, in one word, eye-opening. I grew up in a small town in Iowa (which most people in Greece would call a "village"!), so I have unknowingly been very sheltered. Living in Greece was incredible. I got to learn a ton about Greek culture and meet people from other Balkan countries like Serbia and North Macedonia. I also got a chance to visit Paris and travel to three different cities in Italy. In addition, my closest group of friends was actually a group of guys from Africa. So I got to learn more about life outside of Europe, too. Overall, I learned more about the world in those three months abroad than I have the previous twenty years of my life. It was an absolutely incredible experience that I will never regret.
The most valuable learning experience I encountered is that the stigmas we have in the U.S. are unique only to us, and the same is true for the Balkan countries or all of Europe. There were people I met who wouldn't say where they were from or keep tried to keep it quiet because of the stereotypes between Balkan countries. It blew my mind because I never grew up thinking that, so it seemed silly and sad that they felt they had to do that. I enjoyed all of their company. At the same time, they didn't understand when we Americas were talking about the stereotypes we have, for example, between people from different states. Most are funny, like Midwesterners and Ranch, but not all are. I started to think about all my stigmas and stereotypes and realized how silly they are. Overall I learned that we all have different stigmas around the world, but that is just what they are, stigmas, and they can be changed.
My favorite experience from this trip was the Greek cooking class we got to take as part of our Greek Culture and Experience course. I got to help make some traditional dishes like dolmadakia, spanakopita, and tzatziki. Then we all got to eat a meal together family-style like all Greeks do. I loved getting to try all the traditional food and eat it in a customary way. It was also nice being in a kitchen again since we didn't make our own meals at the college.
What did you not expect?
Something that surprised me is how fortunate we are to live in America. It may sound cheesy, but it's true. They don't get paid very much in Greece, so everything you buy is cheap. You can get a filling lunch by buying a gyro for four euros and be stuffed at dinner for only ten euros. That is nice when we visit because we get paid much more than the Greeks, but it is not for them. Those "low" prices are after the past few years of inflation and after the switch to using the euro in 2002 instead of the original Greek currency. Talking to my teachers, I found that gyros used to be two euros and fifty cents when she was younger. It made me realize that the standard of living in the U.S. really is high, which I was always told but only understood after going to Greece. Now I know not to take anything for granted.
What advice would you give?
I would tell students who also want to study abroad to start early and do their research! I knew I wanted to study abroad, so the first time I went to my academic advisor, I told her that was my plan, and she helped me make it possible. That allowed me to do research on the potential colleges I wanted to attend and find a college that gave me a few major-specific courses to complete. Then I could complete my four-year plan properly. I would also suggest applying for as many scholarships as possible. Both study abroad-specific scholarships and also the ISU general application because most of your general scholarships can also go towards your abroad experience. I would not have been able to study abroad and have this incredible opportunity without the aid of scholarships so apply, apply, apply!
How has this experience impacted your life?
This experience has given me so much more self-confidence. I had never been to a big city before and rarely used public transportation before going to Greece besides CyRide. While in Europe, I was almost always in a big city, and I navigated trains, taxis, public buses, trams, metros, and airports all in different languages. I became more comfortable asking for help, and I learned that most people are always willing to give it. Now I can go through the rest of my life, personally, in school, and in my job with more confidence, which is a great boost.
How did you learn about this experience?
I first learned about this international opportunity by talking to my academic advisor. I told her the first semester of my freshman year that I wanted to study abroad, and she told me that the best time to study was during my sophomore year for my major. Then she told me that she had sent a few study-abroad culinary food science students to The American Farm School. She connected me with those students, I learned more about it from them, and I decided that is where I wanted to go.International Connections