I’m writing this post from the beautiful Hotel Europa on a mountainside overlooking the village of Ancient Olympia, Greece. I’m here studying abroad for the summer with Harvard Summer School’s Comparative Cultures in Greece seminar program, and so far it’s been incredible. The classes are interesting, the people with me are wonderful, and the country itself is unbelievably breathtaking.
I’ve known I was coming to Greece this summer since February, but as the nation’s current financial crisis escalated this spring, people began to question my summer plans. This continued as I began my travel in mid-June; notable in my memory is an old UK customs officer who, upon hearing my travel plans, lowered his glasses to stare at me and ask, “…Greece? Are you sure about that?”
But after my first whirlwind of a week in the country, I’ve decided that I’m grateful to be in Greece during all of this. That sounds weird, but I’ll explain why.
For those of you who don’t know, Greece defaulted on a major debt payment this week, and currently they are attempting to strike a deal with international creditors that would keep them in the eurozone without completely crashing their economy. Today in particular is extremely important—as I’m writing this, Greek citizens are heading to the polls to vote in a crucial referendum to determine whether or not Greece will take the creditors’ current proposal to increase austerity measures (lower wages, higher taxes, etc) in exchange for rescue loans that will keep them from collapsing. The results of the vote will be in later tonight.
Naturally, for Greek locals this has meant extreme stress, which is palpable for us students. Closed banks, long lines at ATMs, and signs urging people to vote a particular way in the referendum were the norm in our first city of the trip, Nafplio.
It would be easy for us to retreat into the tourist bubble and ignore all of this, pretending not to notice or care about what is going on. However, as I’ve said before, I firmly believe that we glean the most from travel when we aren’t viewing the world through rosy tourist lenses. We learn so much when we reach out to understand the affairs of the place we’re in, allowing us to leave with so much more as well.
This has been truer of my time in Greece than it has in any other country I’ve visited. Discussing the economic crisis in class and then going outside to see it manifested in newspaper headlines and local conversations has allowed for a more complete understanding of the situation. It’s driven me to care about an issue that I otherwise would never have connected with. It’s prompted meaningful discussions with classmates from places as varied as Greece, Australia, China, and of course the United States. Overall, it’s opened my eyes to a new area of world affairs that I previously hadn’t explored.
When I travel, I don’t only want to see a nation through the facade it puts out for its tourists. I don’t want to ignore its multifaceted struggles in favor of endless fun in the sun. It’s true that the current Greek economic crisis does not have to affect me and my fellow American students; however, I believe I speak for all of us when I say that this does not mean we intend to turn a blind eye to it. Whatever happens in Greece tonight could have a ripple effect that spreads across the entire globe, so to deny its relevance to our lives would be counterproductive.
Long story short, I’m glad to be in Greece during this tumultuous period of its modernity. In many ways, I believe you can learn the most by traveling to nations facing complex issues, rather than avoiding them. With this in mind, I’m looking forward to spending four more weeks soaking up whatever I possibly can—knowledge, awareness, and sun rays alike—in this incredible place, regardless of which way the vote goes tonight.
ευχαριστώ, Greece, for an amazing first week!