A Big Fat Greek Study Abroad Experience

by Nick Vasiloff

Say the word “Greece” and most people conjure up images of the Acropolis, baklava, postcard-perfect islands, gods and goddesses, or the Hollywood comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But Greece is so much more than ancient temples, mystical mythology, delicious food, and beach bums. To a student thinking about a European destination for study abroad, Greece offers a distinct and rich experience unique from other locations.

Santorini Island, Greece
Santorini Island, Greece. Photo by Donna Perry

Maybe you’re a history, art, or archaeology major longing to get close to some of the world’s most renowned ancient relics. Perhaps you’re a tourism and hospitality major wanting to know how the booming industry is run in one of Europe’s most visited countries. Or, you’re a poli-sci major interested in the latest European geopolitical developments.

Greece provides a first-rate look into all this, and much more. But what makes studying abroad in Greece a truly one-of-a-kind experience?

It all comes down to one Greek word: Κέφι (pronounced “kehfi”). Κέφι doesn’t have a true English equivalent — it is one’s spirit, soul, or intrinsic unique quality. It is Greece’s Κέφι that makes it unlike any other place to study abroad.

Κέφι: A Pure Spirit

Students studying in Greece encounter this Κέφι in the hospitality and kindness of the Greek people … in the smell of the Greek sea and the warmth under the Greek sun … in the sense of awe and wonder one feels upon walking through ancient ruins and placing your hand on the very stone pillar that an ancient Athenian once touched thousands of years ago. Greece’s Κέφι is everywhere, and its influence is unmistakable.

For example, taking a ride on the metro may be a common activity for any study abroad student in Europe, but in Greece it is worlds beyond simply getting from point A to point B. Greece has one of the nicest and most affordable metro systems in Western Europe, which is always a plus — but taking a trip on the Athens metro is also a true academic experience as well, one that gives its riders a glimpse into the ancient past.

When the Athens metro was being built, work on the system had to be continually stalled because archaeological remains were found as workers excavated the tunnels. So today, as one waits for the train to arrive, one can browse glass-encased displays in the station of the various antiquities found by the archaeologists in that area. There’s pottery and jewelry, and even the remains of a human skeleton! This dichotomy of ancient and modern, academic and cultural, is a constant presence for international students in Greece — even somewhere as basic as the metro line.

Parthenon, Athens

Parthenon, Athens

Pages and pages have been written about the stunning beauty of Greece and its islands, its crystal waters, and the color-soaked sunsets that paint the Aegean sea. Even so, it’s not possible for even the most gifted writer to capture the real magic of the place. But it isn’t just the beauty of the landscape that makes Greece an enchanting country — it is also the heart and soul of the Greek people.

Greeks are always ready to tell you just how amazing their country and culture really is. Long-term visitors to Greece constantly experience the fullness of that national pride. On one occasion while I was studying abroad in Athens, having dinner at a local taverna, my waiter was so excited to learn that I was in his country that he offered to take me out the following afternoon to meet his friends and introduce me to the “real” Athens. They showed me the special spots, unique restaurants, and great panoramic views not mentioned in the tourist guidebook. Getting that inside look into the culture from the viewpoint of the locals was an invaluable and unforgettable gift.

The amazing thing is that these stories are a dime a dozen. Studying in Greece opens up a plethora of priceless opportunities, as one engages with a culture and people distinguished for their warmth, hospitality, and unmistakable Κέφι.