This summer I was given a fantastic opportunity to study abroad with Duke University in Greece. Fittingly enough, the course was titled “The History of Philosophy and the Birth of Reason,” as Ancient Greece was home to the world’s earliest Western philosophers, as well as the intellectual foundation for future thinkers.
The class was interesting enough. We learned about the world’s first philosophers, your typical Greek trio (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), and then the Sophists, and blah blah blah. I don’t want to bore with subject material you may not be interested in, but I promise you that the course was actually one of the most intellectually engaging classes that I have ever taken, and would love to discuss it with anyone who shows even the mildest sign of enthusiasm.
That being said, what I want to focus on is the important life lessons that I have learned from this trip, and how they have come to influence my worldviews.
1. The Ups and Downs of Socializing
Being a socially awkward introvert, one of the most difficult challenges for me was having to socialize with the fellow dozen students on this trip that I met for the first time. The group was very diverse, ranging from fraternity and sorority athletes to GDI’s, from the most shocking conservatives to the staunchest liberals, and what have you. Somehow, we found a way to come together as a group, whether it be through music, dance, sports, mutual friends, and of course, uh… beverages.
By the end of the trip, however, the group began to fall apart, and the cohesion that held us together soon melted away. When you spend every waking moment of your lives with someone for a month, although you may be close at first, you may just as easily become completely sick of them in due time. Cliques began to appear, and I learned how truly fragile human relations can be. In the beginning of the trip we were desperate to find common ground with one another, only to find each other unbearable within a month.
2. Taking that “Leap of Faith”
A big part of our trip was travelling throughout the islands, because, well, why not? Spending the majority of our time on a boat, we found ourselves docking in coves to jump off the ship and swim in the seas. Never having learned to swim, I was wary at first. After encouragement as well as pressure by my peers, I soon learned how to doggy paddle like a true master, and even found myself jumping off the ship with my friends into the abyss.
It was slightly worth it.
The question always is, “You came out of your way all the way here, and you’re not even going to do Activity X?” You’d think the answer is obvious, but it shouldn’t be. I want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and take the leap of faith, but at the same time, I want you to be smart. A lot of people made bad decisions on this trip, using their one-time summer trip as some sort of sad justification. Sure, this may be the only summer trip you have at Greece, but you also only have one life, and that’s not something to be thrown away. Like literally, YOLO.
On another note, here’s a tip for my men out there: When you jump from a high altitude into the water, please, PLEASE, do not forget to close your legs.
3. Culture Shock & Cultural Relativism
Probably the most exciting part of the trip was meeting locals. First off, if you’re in a foreign country, no matter where you are, make an effort to learn the language. Second of all, talking to strangers may be fun, but always keep stranger danger in mind. That being said, one of our favorite nighttime activities was going bar-hopping to have drinks and meet locals. And keep in mind, as we were in Greece, this was all completely legal. Just wanted to throw that out there.
Anyways, despite Europe being a much more progressive nation than us in some ways, they were much less progressive in other areas. For example, the American tradition of teenagers wearing obnoxiously short dresses is in no way acceptable in most parts of Europe. Sure, unsolicited sexual behavior is never acceptable no matter the situation, but at the same time, you have an obligation to understand that certain cultures are simply different than yours. Although it was disheartening to see many of the students have a hard time understanding and appreciating one of the various cultures that exist in our world, I truly believe that the exposure in itself was an eye-and-mind-opening experience for us all.
It’s almost like a Humans of New York thing. You get to hear the stories of faces you see for the first time, living in a land you’ve seen for the first time as well. You leave with a weird sense that you now have a slightly deeper understanding of the world. Sure, some stories may be complete fabrications pulled out of the back pockets of creepy men who want to sleep with you, but that’s all part of the experience, isn’t it? Safety comes first, but after that, oblige yourself to not only have an immersive experience wherever you go, but to just have fun with life as well.
Lastly, I don’t care where you are: leggings are NOT pants, and will NEVER BE pants. Thank you.