Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Local Food and Hospitality in Athens and Volos

by Carina Hilber

Sweden, New Zealand, France, and the UK are all places that were visited this summer by University of Illinois students, including some of my closest friends.  I remember talking with others about summer travel plans and seeing their reactions of surprise and awe.  I also remember the many puzzled looks I received when I said that I would be going to Athens, Greece. I learned that I was going to Greece at the same time the media reported riots, political unrest, and an economical crisis in Greece.  Parents, professors, and friends were worried about the trouble I might run into in the capital, as well as possible anti-American sentiments.  The embassy did not give any recommendations against my travels, and so on the 21st of June I set off on the trip of a lifetime.

Upon arrival to Athens I was in shock; coming from a small town I had never experienced a city such as Athens that was so full of life.  Our study abroad professor had visited a few times prior, and whenever we went to a restaurant or to a shop that he had been to before, many people recognized him and greeted him as an old friend.  It was amazing to see the camaraderie that developed from a short visit, maybe once or twice a year.  Eventually our study abroad group ventured out without our professor, which was somewhat difficult given our extremely limited Greek vocabulary.  However, each time we managed to get through with the help of hand signals, some laughs, and lots of smiling.  Sometimes we would even receive a Greek lesson from those we played charades with.  Once, when my roommate and I went to look for bathing suits, we met a store owner who dreamed of coming to America.  She seemed enchanted by the cities and asked us what life in America was like.  Upon leaving, everyone was in smiles, and we wished that she would be able to fulfill her dream someday.

During our study abroad we took a trip to Volos, which was a four-hour drive and included multiple water, food, and bathroom breaks.  During a stop for food, the owner of the restaurant came over to talk to us while we waited for our group. We conversed about where we were from and what we were doing in Greece.  Then, he decided to show us around his restaurant and teach us about the traditional foods and herbs of his region.  He sent us away with food, herbs, and an invitation to return for a special lunch on our way back.  These wonderful experiences made me think that, contradictory to the media’s reports, people are still living life to the fullest, despite current hardships.  Especially in Greece, where the people were excited as ever to share their life stories, wishes, and experiences, in order to befriend a study abroad group from the US.

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.

Carina Hilber is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and resides in Rantoul, Illinois.

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