10 Nov 2021

Making Greek Friends

As I reach the halfway point of my time here in Athens, I have started to reflect on what I have experienced here and how it has impacted me. There is a lot of wonder in the little details, in the church bells that wake me up in the morning, in the gray tabby cat that greets me with a loud meow outside of my apartment building whenever he sees me, in the busy streets and in the bright orange sunsets. But what has truly made me feel welcome in Athens is the friends that I have made through daily interactions around the city and the country. 

Before arriving, friends and acquaintances that had been here before warned me that Greeks tended to be more upfront in their interactions than Americans. I wouldn’t say I am a shy person, but I’ll admit I was a little bit intimidated by these hypothetical people I had yet to meet, but who would surely become a part of this new life I was about to create for myself in Greece. 

In my first few weeks here, I was in a comfortable bubble of speaking English, hanging out with my fellow CYAers who were quickly becoming close friends, and frequenting the same places, eating the same food, playing it all very safe. It made sense, I was testing the waters before diving in, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing Athens through a very thin veil. I was curious, eager, to take off the veil and discover what this city was like outside the manufactured, outside the comfortable. And then Crete happened. 

In Crete, by chance, and thanks to my charming friends who were way less shy than I was, we met a couple of young people who invited us to good food, a couple of drinks, and most importantly, a great conversation. I made a friend that night with whom I talked for hours. We talked about Greece, we talked about America, we talked about my home in the Dominican Republic. We even talked about my coffee order (which was apparently bad coffee). We celebrated our similarities and were amazed or bewildered by our differences. After spending a few weeks performing myself, unconsciously attempting to make myself more interesting, more fun, more confident in order to collect as many friends as I could, I caught myself being incredibly genuine. On this balcony in Heraklion, I had finally, even if briefly, taken off the veil. 

Upon my return to Athens, befriending other Greek young people became less daunting. Suddenly, the girl at the coffee shop that knew what I would order the second I stepped inside was a friend. The overly-confident boy at the souvlaki shop who purposefully calls me by my full government name every time he addresses me was a friend. And with these friends, I have made my favorite memories of Athens. From driving up Mount Hymettus on a foggy chilly day and enjoying the most beautiful views, to learning all the lyrics to a Greek rap song, to bearing witness to the generosity of amazing people that have made me feel embraced by Greece, by Athens. The warmth of my Greek friends (as well as their upfront nature), reminds me of the love and honesty of my friends at home, and it makes me feel like I’ve been here forever.

Daniella Castillo Vasquez – CYA Fall 2021 MediaLab Intern.