Elizabeth Williamson
Student Ambassador

Email: [email protected]
School: University of Michigan
Cya Term: Summer 2021
Major: English and Education
Anticipated Graduation: 5/1/2022

Based on your experience with CYA, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester or summer abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

Traveling is one of the utmost essential learning experiences a student can embark on during their influential academic years of college. Not only was I able to engage in a profoundly intellectual conversation with my classmates, but I was also able to converse, listen, and experience life and culture that is entirely different from my own. Every moment abroad was part of my learning process as I navigated my place in the world. I chose to use public transportation to navigate the city and the surrounding areas. Through trial and error, and many google translate, I immersed myself in the bustling life of Greece.

When I arrived by plane on a sunny May afternoon, I was shocked by the mountainous landscape and urban feel of Athens. My visions of Greece had been influenced by the idyllic movies of Mama Mia and Sisterhood and the Travelling Pants. Even my quick google searches researching Greece didn’t fully prepare me for my initial viewing of the city. Over the next few weeks, I let myself be mesmerized by the beauty, simplicity, and individuality of each town, island, and community. Studying abroad opened my senses to adventures and my hunger to explore more of the world. COVID locked everyone in their homes, confining not only our physical space but also our minds. Studying abroad pushed my physical boundaries; it took my feet to unknown lands that yielded wonders that even my iPhone could not accurately capture.

While I was abroad, I took a class entitled “Writing as a Traveler” taught by Christine Harrison. Through riveting texts, books, walking tours, and research, I was able to view Greece in an entirely different light. I worked to balance my artistic and critical eye with my overall enjoyment of the experiences. Capturing my time in Greece in my travel journal became a living document that I happily brought home. I may not wander the streets of Athens now, but my pages of scrawling writing get me right back to the cobblestone streets.

My experience abroad significantly impacted my overall professional development as I affirmed my desire to teach overseas. After seeing the immense personal growth stem from my traveling and wandering, I realized that I am at the perfect age to go off into the world and explore life through personal experiences and academia. Teaching and traveling are two passions in my life, and merging them seems like the ideal situation. The faculty of CYA contributed to this decision with enthusiasm to help, listen, advise, and assist any travel or work-related questions I had along the way.

After I left Greece, I soon realized that I would never be far from the country again. All of my friends and family were eager to hear about my exciting adventures abroad. What once was so foreign to me became so familiar; it was almost incredible. As I sat at my dining room table telling of the gelato and bitter coffee aroma that wafted from my favorite bakery, I relived the fond memories. Though it is thousands of miles and an ocean away, Greece now feels close as it lays near my heart. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and learn about myself and the career of teaching abroad through CYA.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are interested in or planning to study abroad with CYA?

As I sat on the plane to Athens, I had a sickening feeling of how unprepared I was to step off the plane. What is the subway system like? What is the average price of cabs? Does Uber work abroad? How will I get to my hotel? These are all simple questions that we take for granted living in our comfort or regional areas. When planning on studying abroad, look into some of these everyday occurrences as much as you look into the exciting attractions and adventures you will go on. The mundane activities become the most fascinating, such as finding running routes through the city or learning how to say “Thank you” or “Sygnomi” when leaving a store. When thinking about living abroad, don’t get swept up in exotic nature; it is only a small portion of your time. Simple tasks and interactions make up the bulk of your experience and contribute the most significantly to your development, familiarity, and confidence abroad. I wish I knew more about everyday language for pleasant interactions with those I met. When I was able to say hello, Kalimera, to my favorite mini-market worker, I was beyond happy with myself and felt accomplished. I wish I had a firmer grasp of the nuances of daily life before I stepped off the plane. I would recommend learning a few elementary phrases, looking into the public transportation system, and even looking into local grocery stores for food. Ask yourself, what do I use on a daily basis, making a small list, and researching before embarking on your journey will help you integrate faster and smoother.

How was the political climate in Greece different from what are you used to? If applicable, describe a time when you had to navigate a political conversation during your time abroad.

During my time in Greece, I was surprised at how often political conversations arose out of curiosity. I had many greek citizens ask me about the political climate of the U.S and explain my thoughts and feelings. It felt strange but profoundly refreshing to hold open conversations about political views away from the tense environment of the U.S. One conversation I remember pretty vividly occurred on a beach in Poros where an Athenian policeman and his sister engaged in friendly discussions with me and another student. The conversation ranged from different regional political structures, BLM abroad, police force, job economy, and secondary education. I was highly grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Greece through authentic conversations such as these. It helped paint Greece not just as an oasis but a complex and interconnected world that functions much like our own.

Please select any of the following that apply to you, and that you would be willing to share about your CYA experience with other students:

Finances while abroad, Student athlete, Mental health while abroad

Favorite food in Greece?


Favorite class you took at CYA?

Writing as a Traveler

Favorite quote from abroad?

"I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself"- James Baldwin quote my mother sent me in a letter abroad

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