"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Taste of Greece

by Christy Panganiban


Even before entering college I was familiar with the concept of studying abroad. However, the idea of living in a completely foreign country while balancing school and adjusting to a new environment with new rules seemed quite intimidating.  Admittedly, I had some of the same qualms during my sophomore year in college while researching the study abroad programs offered by the University of Illinois. When I first came across the “4 Week ‘Renewable Energy Concepts’” program, I had two immediate concerns: culture barriers and the question, “is it worth it?” The topic of study, however, pushed me to consider this program since being a student studying civil and environmental engineering with the interest in sustainability, it was exactly the topic I wanted to dedicate a summer learning about.

Before traveling to Greece, I had little experience living in a foreign country; I had also heard of the critical state of Greece’s economy and had been tirelessly warned by my mother of all the risks accompanying a trip to a foreign land. With these dangers in mind, I was surprised to realize how safe I felt at all times. During the first day we arrived in Greece, the street signs initially made me uneasy. After a couple days, I found that there was almost always an English translation posted or announced. Fortunately, free Wi-Fi access was very common in public places; if I ever needed a map or quick translation, it only took a moment to pull up an app on my phone. Lucky for me, every Greek I interacted with also spoke English, especially the younger people who are taught how to speak English in school. Thus, if I was ever unsure of where I was, I never had a problem asking a local Greek for assistance. Regardless of age, I found Greeks to be very friendly people who have fun practicing their English and welcoming tourists to their country. Though the culture barriers seemed daunting at first, it only took a matter of a couple days to adjust to the new environment.

For the majority of the four weeks, myself and two other students lived together in a three bedroom apartment in a neighborhood of Athens called Neos Kosmos. Within a 7 minute walk from the apartment was the metro station, small grocery stores, bakeries, and gyro shops. Some nights we cooked our meals in the kitchen of our apartment, but many times we ate out, unable to turn down authentic Greek food, including meaty gyros sold for only 1-2 euros. With Professor Zahos, we also ventured to four islands of Greece (Hydra, Poros, Aegina, and Crete) and to different sites all over the mainland. Since these trips had been arranged prior, we had the privilege of taking in as much of the breathtaking, rich-in-history country as we could in just four short weeks. We visited historical locations and toured ancient sites including Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, and Meteora.  The three of us were also given the opportunity to spend our “free” weekend exploring Santorini on our own, where we rode donkeys, visited a volcano, swam in the hot springs, and enjoyed every beach on the island riding ATVs. I cannot stress how incredibly beautiful both the mainland and islands are, but I can say with full certainty that I will be returning.

The experience was completely worth it; it seems silly that I even questioned its value. The lectures by graduate students and professors at the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA) on renewable energy concepts, current/upcoming technology, and the program called HOMER were not only relevant to my previous studies but opened my eyes to the current state of our planet. The trip to the University of Thessaly in Volos, the tour of the Center for Renewable Energy Sources, and the various technical field trips throughout the month gave me a well-rounded understanding of renewable energy sources. Through this experience, we learned how to utilize HOMER to design an optimized microgrid system for our assigned Greek islands using real-world, current data.

Without a single shred of doubt, this trip was worth all the time, energy, money, and planning it took. Besides gaining 2 credit hours, I acquired memories, knowledge, experience, and a new perspective that will remain treasured for all time.

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 theInternational Programs in Engineering Office of the College of Engineering. 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 research and apply renewable energy concepts to real-world technical and societal questions . This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant. It is planned to repeat the program in summer 2015.

Christy Panganiban is studying civil and environmental engineering and will be graduating in May 2016.
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Month Spent All Around Greece

by Neil Mulvey

Throughout college, the idea of studying abroad always appealed to me. However, with tough course loads every semester and the pressure of graduating on time, I never gave study abroad much of a viable chance. When I decided to push my graduation date one semester back, it provided the opportunity to take advantage of the extra time. My first thought was to explore study abroad options to continue to gain credit, but more importantly to fulfill my want to travel and explore a different part of the world.

While searching through the available summer study abroad options, I could not believe my luck in finding an option to travel to Greece for a month and study the relevant topic of renewable energy. Since I was young, I have been intrigued by the ancient world the Greeks inhabited along with their mythologies. A chance to go to the lands where these stories took place and to the sites where historical events occurred was one I could not pass up.

Upon arrival to Athens, Greece, I knew I would not be disappointed with my decision to join the program. After a night that featured our first Greek meal of the trip in the Syntagma district, we enjoyed a personal tour of the Parthenon. This was just the beginning to a trip including many historical sites throughout Greece including Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, and Knossos. The history is well documented and every site visited was kept in great condition which provided a very enjoyable experience.

The historical sites were not the only places that provided extraordinary experiences. Greece is known for their many beautiful islands and we had the pleasure of visiting multiple. In just one day, we took a cruise to three unique islands. The boat ride allowed great views of the Aegean Sea and passing islands which was amazing all it its self. As a group, we decided to take a weekend visit to Santorini, which is known as one of the more popular tourist islands. Crete, the most southern and largest Greek island, provided multiple experiences. Crete is where the Knossos ruins are along with the Samaria Gorge, which we spent six hours hiking through one day. Greece offers an abundance of both historical sites and natural beauty.

One of the greatest pleasures of the trip involved our experiences with the Agricultural University of Athens. The PhD candidates and professors were always extremely helpful and knowledgeable while working on our projects. They also provided relevant and interesting lectures on their courses of study. It was particularly interesting to learn about multiple renewable energy sources and machinery and their particular application to Greece and Europe. Our AUA friends also gladly took it upon themselves to introduce and immerse us into the Greek culture.

To me, studying abroad was so much more than an opportunity to gain knowledge in renewable energy. It was a chance for me to see firsthand history-book worthy sites and learn about life in a different part of the world. It is important to me to have a better understanding of what is going on not only in America, but everywhere. Living outside of the normal comfort zone for any period of time is a powerful experience that everyone should take advantage of.

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 theInternational Programs in Engineering Office of the College of Engineering. 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 research and apply renewable energy concepts to real-world technical and societal questions . This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a European Union Center of Excellence grant. It is planned to repeat the program in summer 2015.

Neil Mulvey is a senior graduating in December 2014 with a Bachelors of Science in mechanical engineering and science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interests include swimming, hiking, and anything else outside. 
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