Quick Tips from a Semester in Athens A.K.A. So You Want to Study Abroad in Greece

Λοιπον! You want to study in Athens, eh? You’ve certainly got some gumption, don’t you know they’re rioting over there? Just kidding, it’s really not so bad. You should do it. And when you do, here is some advice to take or leave, as you’re free to do with any advice you receive. 

  • Walk around. It is both good for you and the best way to experience your neighborhood of Pangrati. It’s full of small side-streets, dead ends, and stairs. Walk all over that place. It’s a fun place to live.
Find this park. It’s in Pangrati somewhere. I’m not telling you where.

Find this park. It’s in Pangrati somewhere. I’m not telling you where.

  • Get to know your local shop-owners. Have a friend in a cafe, a bakery, a souvlaki place, and a taverna. They’ll give you free things, and you’ll be able to ask them any questions about life in Athens that you want honest answers to. This doesn’t mean don’t try a lot of different places, however. Variety is the spice of life, or some pithy quote like that.
  • Learn the metro and the bus system. They can take you anywhere, and you should go anywhere you like. In fact, once you’ve learned about Pangrati, Kolonaki, and Plaka, you should take a map and hop on public transportation, to wherever. Explore your new home. I challenge you to be able to answer anyone’s questions for directions as well as any local by the time the semester is over.
  • Do you have an activity, extracurricular, or sport that you like? Or even one you think you might like? Talk to Nadia, and ask her to find an opportunity for you to do that activity. You’ll meet people with similar interests as you, and, more importantly, you’ll make Greek friends. Do this. It will make your stay feel more like home.
We’re throwing a disc at Messenia. Same passion; cooler location!

We’re throwing a disc at Messenia. Same passion; cooler location!

  • Similarly, learn Modern Greek while you are here! Don’t just get by on the survival Greek they teach you during orientation. Challenge yourself to be able to hold a conversation. Learning Greek will help you make local friends, and having Greek friends will keep you accountable to learning more Greek. Win-Win!
  • Two words: Greek Dancing. Learn it. Love it. Listen to Greek music. Ask your Greek professors and friends what music they listen to.
  • It doesn’t rain in Athens much, but when it does, it dumps. Take a walk in the rain. Get soaked while the locals hole up inside cafes and look at you like you are crazy. Other things that Greeks think are crazy: wearing shorts/short sleeves in anything below 85 degrees Fahrenheit weather, asking smokers to stop smoking, or wearing flip flops in any weather.
  • That rioting thing earlier? It is true that Greeks express their political opinion often and publicly. However, most demonstrations are not dangerous. You’re at more risk of bodily harm going to a football match. Speaking of which, go to a Greek Superleague football match. Just don’t sit in the rowdy section and leave five minutes early if it looks like they’re going to clear the stadium by using tear gas. Which they are willing to use, if the game goes poorly for the home team and the fans are upset. Either way, you’ll be fine because you’ll use common sense.
  • Learn how to make a traditional Greek dish while you are here. You have to have something to bring home to impress your family members!
Our Greek Cooking class brings us Spanakopita, Bifteki, Fries, and Tzatziki.

Our Greek Cooking class brings us Spanakopita, Bifteki, Fries, and Tzatziki.

  • Either use the opportunity of being in Greece to travel around Europe and the area, or travel within Greece or near Athens. If you like staying in Athens, make sure you spend time on the weekends getting to know it. If you want to stay inside on your computer, don’t spend the time and effort of getting over here to do it.
  • In a perhaps conflicting vein, stay in with your friends. Gather together, eat gyros, drink some ουζο, and watch a movie. Make time for both of these things.
  • Day Trips from Athens: Temple of Poseidon at Σουνιο, the islands of Αιγινα or Hydra, Marathon, Corinth, hiking at Mt. Parnitha.
The view from the Temple at Sounion.

The view from the Temple at Sounion.

  • Sorry, CYA, but learn how to do your laundry in your bathtub. Actually do it. You’ll save money you can use for travel.
  • Learn to eat dinner late. Greeks don’t eat dinner until 8pm at the very earliest. It’s a strange match-up with the program lunch, which is served from noon-3pm, but you can make it work. Also, don’t expect everything to work on time. Because it won’t. And then you won’t be disappointed!
  • If you like to cook, be prepared to be starved for spices. Greeks cook with oregano, olive oil, garlic, and salt. On the flip side though, Greeks look down on any oil that isn’t olive oil. So be prepared for some delicious fried food.
  • If you’re in Greece for a major holiday, try to make it to a town which holds major celebrations for that holiday. I got to experience Carnival, Easter, and the Greek Independence Day, and they do not hold back on celebrations.
  • Keep a blog, if you can. If you already journal, you’re just sharing your work. If you don’t, blogging will help you keep track of this utterly unique time of your life.

Those are my thoughts, based on experiences good and bad. But mostly good. I have fallen in love with Greece, for all of its faults, and I hope that you do take the step to spend time away from home and friends and live here for four months.

This Blog Post is also going up on the CYA Student Blog. If you’re interested in hearing other students’ Greece experiences, definitely check it out!