Monday, September 10, 2012

SUMMER IN ATHENS

by Nathan Yan

Coming into college, I really didn’t expect to learn much. I was going to get my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering, spend a couple years working in consulting firms, and then apply to business school and enter into the world of finance. College was simply a stepping-stone, a requirement to get to the next step of the overall plan. In retrospect, I realize now how ignorant I was about society. To me it seemed like the mentality of every college student in engineering only chose their major for job security, and why wouldn’t they? In times of economic turmoil, job security is the most logical asset to acquire. As I met people of different occupations around Greece, I slowly started to realize that people are passionate about what they do. My whole life has progressed with the naïve thought that success is measured by the number of zeroes at the end of your paycheck.

I came on this trip to Greece, a nation flourishing with history, in order to learn about renewable energy, a field I only pursued for potential entrepreneurial endeavors. I didn’t really care much for the history or even the scenery for that matter, yet on the second day of staying in Athens, my view changed. As I walked up the stairs of the Acropolis, our impromptu tour guide, George, passionately described the great history behind the Parthenon and its surrounding ruins. For the first time in a long time, I was suddenly immersed by history. I carried this awestruck mentality to every historic site we visited on this trip: Olympia, Delphi, Knossos, and many others.

Interacting with the staff at the Agricultural University in Athens and hearing their lectures and discussions, I could immediately sense their passion behind what they do. These intellectuals purposely chose the engineering lifestyle over more financially promising endeavors in order to improve society.  At the farewell dinner with the faculty, they ranted about how some of the foremost intellectual minds choose selfish lives of finance, taking money from others, versus applying their potential to more beneficial fields of study.

In the simple words of George, he said that no matter what we pursue in life, it’s always important to study two things: history and poetry. These two subjects round out one’s intellect, history for its simple beauty and poetry for its intrinsic romantic character. It’s like when you ask everyone for advice for college. Whether it was writing application essays or choosing which major to go into. The advice was pretty uniform: pursue what you’re passionate about. Like most adolescents, I passed up simple life advice only to come across it again through my own experiences.  Although this might sound too dramatic, this trip has restored my faith in humanity. It has revitalized the notion that one can be passionate about what they do, that life still holds beauty in the power of a community working together.

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.

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