Sunshine state of mind: A dispatch from Greece


Stephanie Hempel, Columnist

Yesterday I spent three hours sitting in a coffee shop conducting research about Greek churches while sipping very slowly on something iced that I cannot yet pronounce.

After the study break, I gathered with friends around a table of octopus tentacles, small scaly fish and fresh baked bread. The sea food inspired small talk, which inspired ice cream. We walked a few streets over to a bakery that served gelato scooped graciously into waffle cones.

Walking through the streets of Volos at night can make a person feel a bit more alive. The mountains overlooking the city erupt into the fading night sky, the simple halo of their silhouette the only division.

We found ourselves at a pool hall full of international students from all over the world. I was quickly drawn in by a French student who walked me through the streets of her hometown Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world.

We discussed French politics, American religion and how universal music is. After a glass of homemade Greek wine and a lesson in the culture of cheese, we parted ways exchanging contact information with plans of meeting in the future.

It would be an understatement to say that I have absolutely fallen head over heels in love with my study abroad trip.

Not every day here happens to be so glamorous.

There are days you sit under blankets in your room watching the rain caress the plants from your balcony window, and sometimes you have an ache that lingers in your side that you can’t quite put your finger on. I’ve started to identify this jab as homesickness (a feeling I personally never anticipated myself to have) a longing for the comfort of those I love.

Luckily, though, there are no bad days in Greece. Not even when you’re hiking down a mountain on Easter Sunday in the snow, rain and sleet with water seeping into your shoes.

There is always a lesson to learn here from the sea, the lights skimming on the reflection of the water, the people who balance on two legs like breathing history books walking the streets like religion, teachers without knowledge.

The other day I was on a train traveling to a nearby city when I saw groups of Syrian refugees huddled together at a station with large trash bags hung over their shoulders. When the train stopped they dashed like mad ants to the train cars. Finding no available seats, they lined the isles of the train with their bags and shuffled their bodies in front of the windows from end to end.

I felt the day bag I packed for myself pulsing on my lap with guilt. Sunscreen, a map, water for my hydration, a snack for my hunger, money for my ease and comfort.

These people wore layers of sweaters on a sixty degree day because it was easier than carrying them on their backs. Before my eyes stood the headlines of my American newspaper, staring back at me with nothing but honesty and kindness on their faces.

Monday was the start of my fourth week here.

There are only sixty four days left on my calendar until I have to part with this beautiful land. It seems too early to be thinking about departure when I’ve only just arrived, but with such valuable lessons like these, I can’t help but think about how temporary this trip, this social conflict, this life really happens to be.

I’m enjoying every single second, every flicker of the church candle, the chatter of the school children on the afternoon bus, the lights on the string bridge in the dark, the rise of the morning sun and the welcoming of night, the knowledge that around 4 a.m. here, you and I can both see the stars.

Don’t forget to open your windows.