Right after I got back from my Meteora-Delphi-Athens trip, I was asked to write an article for the Fulbright US student grantee newsletter, which will be published soon. Here’s what I came up with:
KNOWING THE WORLD: A SENSORY APPROACH TO SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCE
Days after I found out I had received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Greece, a mass demonstration against the current economic situation left a bank in Athens burned to the ground and three dead.
When I told Americans where I was headed, each immediately asked, “Aren’t you worried about the situation there right now?” Even now, everyone constantly asks about the state of the economy here.
But actually, while in Greece, I’ve heard the economy mentioned in conversation only twice.
In the spirit of Fulbright, I’m here to tell you that despite everything you have heard, life in modern Greece is thriving and intensely vibrant. There are many people left unemployed, and ships in harbors unable to unload their cargo for sale; but the sense of what it means to be Hellenic is fiercely alive. It is the current carrying each day, which is, after all, just that: a day in the life, somewhere else. With this in mind, I’ve made it my goal to help the rest of the world know Greece—the real Greece, beyond economic news, feta and Santorini.
But how does one go about this? Indeed, we are faced with an impossible but wonderful task as human beings: to know the world around us. Our modern news system helps us skim the surface, but it takes firsthand experience to truly gain knowledge.
Because of this, I’m of the belief that giving people sensory experiences is one of the best ways they can understand more about a place without actually going there. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Learn to cook a traditional dish from your host country. Make it for your friends, and share the recipe! And since we also eat with our eyes, take pictures of the meals you eat and post them on the internet. I created a whole photo album on facebook of meals, from everyday grub to special-occasion dishes; it’s a great way for people to see what Greeks actually eat (it’s all delicious, but it ain’t moussaka everyday!).
Write letters to your friends in your host country’s language, with English translations. This is particularly exciting if said language uses a different alphabet. Γεια σας! There—wasn’t that fun?
Products made from common herbs, incense, or even a small cloth soaked in the sea and then left to dry are all interesting ways to share the smells of your host country.
Make mix CDs of music from your host country to give to friends and family, and include everything from traditional classics to trashy pop songs!
When getting gifts for friends back home, forgo the Someone-In-a-Foreign-Country-Loves-Me t-shirt. One of my friends will be getting a birthday box o’ random treasures: worry beads, a used bus ticket, a seashell, and other tidbits of daily life!
Lastly, remember that you must know your own world in order to share it with others: so go find it! People-watch, learn idioms, join sports teams and eat your weight in your host country’s traditional food of choice. Each mini- or mega-adventure you have the courage to seek out enhances your firsthand experience, which enhances the secondhand experience of others. Congratulations on this fantastic opportunity, and happy adventuring!
Wow. Re-reading that was just what I needed to help dispel the coming-back blues. No matter how much I love my life here, leaving home again at the end of Christmas was nothing short of excruciating, to be honest. Everything is just so easy back home! I don’t have to take the bus everywhere, my favorite foods abound (any guesses on how many times I had sushi while I was home?), my friends and family and pooch are all right there, I can read signs and understand people when they speak to me… the list goes on and on. I know once I readjust to my lovely little life here, I’ll be just as psyched about it as I was before I left. The fact that my life here isn’t easy is precisely why I’m doing it; it’s just hard to get used to that all over again. Having re-read that article, I’m going to take some of my own advice and start creating adventures again.