Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kalimera from Greece!

by Antonia Nepomuceno


Good morning from Greece! It’s amazing how quickly one can adjust to a new environment, and respond with a “ghia sas”(pronounced ya sas) or “kalimera” instinctively. At the same time, it is not until you put yourself in a new place that you realize some things will never seem normal. Like toilet paper not going in the toilet. Whether or not I have adjusted to some things, staying in Greece for four and a half weeks has been an exciting and worthwhile experience.

Being in the capital, one learns some telltale signs as to whether someone is a native or not. Greeks can wear pants, blouse, and jacket in 95-degree heat without sweating. Everyone has stylish, or faux-stylish, sunglasses. Mentioning your hometown evokes name after name of some distant relative who lives there. Say “Chicago” and the first response is “Chicago Bulls”. Eating dinner before 8pm spotlights you as not Greek. Despite my group’s lack of Greek-ness, we never had a negative encounter. In fact, people tended to be genuinely excited to be talking to someone new, different, and not related to them by some distant cousin. And they will gladly tell you which names and word roots come from what Greek word. If you have a Greek name, then you are already halfway into their family. But the people make only half the experience, when you consider that the birth of Western civilization occurred here.

Seeing things first-hand is like rediscovering everything I ever learned in school. Put those little pictures in the textbook in the middle of a living city and you have the Acropolis standing in the middle of Athens. Taking the tram, we would see the Parthenon at least once a day and barely have a second thought. Well, that is the look I’d go for, pretending to be local. Really, I’d be exploding with the craziness of the situation. Am I really staring at the Parthenon from thousands of years ago while taking the bus to get to a lecture on renewable energy?! That’s like living next to the Grand Canyon, but not even blinking an eye. Greeks live with their past sitting in clear view. In Chicago, it’s out with the old and in with the new. There, we say let’s make the skyline. In Greece, you look at the same skyline that’s been there for a long time.

While being fully immersed in Greek culture, it’s always fun to run into someone from the same place as you and compare notes on what you’ve seen and experienced. We had the pleasure of meeting a couple people from Australia, and hearing what they had to say about Greece versus home was really cool. They had the same perspective as us, the tourist, yet compared it to a totally different standard of “home”. At home, we have air-conditioning. Here, a little siesta to hide from the heat is economical and means you can stay up later and do as the Greeks do.

Although some things I have yet to adjust to, such as their “driving laws” (more like guidelines if you ask me), I have become attached to this place and its culture.

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.

Antonia Nepomuceno is studying Bioengineering with a minor in Spanish. She is from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.


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