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30 Sep 2019

Chaotic in a Good Way: Adjusting to Athens

I’ve absolutely loved my first few weeks with College Year in Athens! But I’ve also found that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when settling into a global urban center described during orientation week as “chaotic, but in a good way”.

There are challenges to moving to any new city, especially when you’re coming from a small college town like mine. Add an international flight, a new alphabet and some intense neighborhood traffic into the mix, and it can be easy to feel like you’re caught up in…well…chaos. The beautiful things here—or the ones I’m curious to learn more about—definitely overpower any of that initial trepidation, though. Here’s what’s helped me feel at home in my new home for the fall semester.

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My first authentic Greek yogurt at a cafe near the Monastiraki area.

I’m learning quickly here that there are few things that can’t be worked out over a good meal and long conversation. During orientation week with CYA, we had the chance to sign up for a “taverna dinner”, where we ventured in groups to eateries around our neighborhood in Pangrati for a shared meal. It was a fun way to pick up on dining customs–many restaurants don’t start to fill up outside until 8 or 9pm–and to get to know professors and other students.

All parts of food, whether it’s making it, eating it, or sharing with others, are a great part of day-to-day life here, too. Coffee shops around the neighborhood are popular places to get together with friends or do homework, and there’s no shortage of mini-marts and fresh produce stands by the apartments for preparing my own dinners. Hospitality marks all meals out; servers have offered pastries, drinks, and ice cream to my friends and I–all for free!–during our restaurant visits.

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Zappeion Hall, a meeting and event space in the National Garden, and the path that runs just outside it

Food also opened new ways for me to explore the area, whether that’s buying nuts or banana chips from a sidewalk stand or walking the full street of fish, fruit, and flower vendors at the citywide farmers’ market on Fridays. (The phrases I picked up from CYA’s “Survival Greek” sessions during orientation help a lot here!) Traffic rushes aside, Athens has been great to me as a pedestrian, and I love having the freedom to walk through areas like the National Garden and admire greenery in the heart of the city. Near the Garden, the shopping area by Syntagma Square is a useful place for finding school supplies or household items.

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Ruins of an ancient bath on the outskirts of the National Garden.

Additionally, as a classical studies student, seeing landmarks pop up throughout Athens  from countless textbooks feels like running into (very) old friends. There’s nothing like looking up from homework in CYA’s student lounge and catching a perfect, unobstructed glimpse of the Parthenon. I find that the more history I learn here, the easier it is to navigate. The farmers’ market is on the street behind Kallimarmaro, the stadium where the first modern Olympics were held; the Syntagma Metro station is close to the ruins of a Roman bath. Every site I run into around the city only piques my curiosity to learn more.

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A sunset view from my apartment balcony

In the times I need to step back and reflect, I head to the apartment I share with my three housemates. Like CYA’s other housing, it’s perfectly situated close to interesting sights downtown, but within an active neighborhood. My balcony is my favorite spot to eat breakfast on nice mornings or read, and it’s a good place to catch sight of  my neighbors heading to work or school, along with the antics of numerous cats. Up here, Athens doesn’t feel unfamiliar, but a place that I’m already a part of–and hopefully will have an even better understanding of when I finish my time at CYA.