Thursday, August 30, 2012

CHALLENGING CURRENT PERCEPTIONS OF GREECE

by Kevin Banas

When preparing for my study abroad experience here in Greece there were a couple factors that people around me, and the media were making a big deal about. Everyone was saying that the Greek economy is on the verge of catastrophe. They said that the country was heading for a “great depression”, and that riots are occurring all over the place, making it a dangerous and unstable environment to be in. Not to mention, Greeks dislike Americans, and I will be treated badly. However, after spending over a month in Athens, with several side trips to different areas in Northern Greece, including the Peloponnese, and multiple different islands, I can say with confidence that what I have experienced here has led me to believe that these perceptions of Greece have been blown way out of proportion.
   
First off, regarding the economic situation here in Greece, if there is a “great depression” heading this way, I for sure have not noticed anything to make me believe this. Of course, I have walked through areas with abandoned shops, graffiti covered walls, and less well off areas; however, Greece is, to my knowledge, a second world country. They have had these areas long before the economic crisis began. With that being said, everyday I leave my apartment and walk down the streets, the cafés are always full of people drinking their coffees, smiling and conversing. Furthermore, personally I have noticed many more homeless people living in Chicago than here in Athens. Every time I have gone out to eat dinner the restaurants are always packed with people, tourists and locals. Not to mention the fact that you can still find people going out to the clubs on a Tuesday night, and staying out until 4-5am in the morning. Now if this country was on the brink of disaster, do you really think the environment would be this way? I have made relationships with over 10 different Greek people from across the country, and have not heard them discussing any personal problems with finances, or anything of that nature. So, in my personal opinion, there is an economic problem here in Athens; however, it does not seem any more serious than what I have noticed in America.
   
Another thing I saw in the news before coming to Greece was descriptions of the riots. Angry protesters throwing flaming cocktails, tear gas, and arrests dominated the news about Greece. However, I have been here for over 4 weeks and not only are the people all in a good mood, there have been no signs of any protesting anywhere. A couple of processions have passed areas around my apartment, though all of them have been religious-related.
   
Lastly, to answer any questions about Greek-American relations, or ill treatment from any of the locals: if there is any of this going on, I have not experienced it. All of the personal interactions that I have had with people here have been very positive. One thing that I have noticed about the Greeks is a genuine care for others’ happiness and well-being. Whenever we received a lecture from a Greek graduate student or professor, they would always track the students’ expressions. If we are yawning, or seem disinterested, then they would move onto a different area that we seemed more interested in. In general they seemed a lot more interested in teaching us what we wanted to learn, rather than what they wanted to teach. Also, while on our coach bus tour of the ancient sites of Greece, our tour guide would always make sure that everyone was in a good mood. If people seemed tired, she would take a break and give us a couple hours to sleep.

One of the great friends I made while abroad
On an ending note regarding my time here, I have come to one basic conclusion about the Greeks, which is that they are probably the most passionate people I have ever come into contact with. One of the Greeks that I had the pleasure of spending time with here stated it perfectly. He said, “the Greeks are a very passionate people, if they like you, they love you….if they dislike you, they hate you.” Walking down the street in Athens, waiting for the metro, or just sitting at a café, you will always see Greek couples hugging and kissing each other no more than one foot from other people. However, this is normal for people here. All of the Greeks that I have befriended here talk about meeting up again if they are in the US, or getting a drink before I leave. They truly like us, the students, and have our best interests in mind.

All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed my month here in Greece. I loved every ancient site that I’ve visited, every restaurant that I’ve eaten in, and every person that I’ve had a conversation with. Now that I’m leaving, of course it’s a sad moment, and I’m going to miss it, though I am ready to come back to the US. However, more importantly, it is not that sad of a day because I know that I will come back here sometime soon. It is too rich of a country, culturally and historically, to not return to.

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Kevin Banas is a senior studying Environmental Economics and Policy. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago.

0 comments:

Post a Comment