Hannah Zoppi - 2012 Program Participant

City view in Greece
Beautiful Grecian cityscape

Why inspired you to study abroad?

I always viewed different countries as paintings in my mind; beautiful pictures that were untouchable. I wasn't fulfilled by learning about the world through the internet or what little I saw of it in movies. I wanted a true experience of living somewhere completely different from what I had grown up around my entire life and I knew that I would never be more fearless and driven than I am now, in my early twenties.

Why did you choose the Athena Study Abroad program in Greece?

I looked at a lot of different programs and countries, but I made sure to pay attention to any signs or gut instincts that pulled me towards one place. Sure enough, when I found the Athena pamphlet in my study abroad office I was taken immediately by the Paros program, and everything surrounding that decision seemingly fell into place. The enigma that was studying on an island out in the middle of the Aegean was so exciting and alluring that I knew the adventure was something I could not let pass me by.

What made your program unique?

Hellenic International Studies in the Arts is a tiny school with student enrollment being anywhere from eight to 30 students. The professors are inspiring and passionate, working artists who motivate the students to create the best art that they can.

Surrounded by unparalleled beauty, the inspiration is endless.

The small town of Parikia on Paros makes it feel unknown, yet very comfortable with taverna owners, shopkeepers, and locals all interested in getting to know you. It is a school unlike any other in this world, and I knew it the second I arrived.

Couple in Greece
Exploring the rustic Greek cities

What is the best thing about your program that future participants need to know?

The best thing about the program is that every person who comes to the island has a completely different experience during their time there. You can make use of it in any and every way you want, and it becomes a personal journey of discovering art as well as discovering yourself. You have a lot of time and opportunities to travel, and as much as you learn during those times, I often found that I learned the most in the moments alone, sitting on the shore by the sea.

In the two semesters I spent at HISA, I witnessed every one of my fellow students leaving with a completely different perspective of the country as well as themselves.

What’s one thing you would have done differently?

I never would have left!

What do you miss most about life in Greece?

Any time I see the Greek flag, Greek food, cobblestone streets, or the sea I am flooded with memories of Greece. Years after leaving the little island and living in other countries, it remains my favorite place in the world. The only honest word I can use to summarize Greece would be magical.

Waking up every day and walking to an art studio where I would paint all morning, pop out for a spanakopita for lunch, having long afternoon conversations at a cafe for writing class, and finally walk along the Aegean as the sun sets back to my apartment are experiences that can only truly be understood by experience.

Girl petting a donkey in Greece
A trip to Greece is not complete without meeting a donkey.

Now that you’re home, how has studying abroad impacted your life?

I make a joke that studying abroad was the best and worst decision of my life. Best, because now I am completely taken by Greece and other parts of Europe, travel, and discovering new cultures; my art has improved and I am interested in working with students and helping them travel abroad to fulfill the same dreams that I had. And then I say the worst, only because I had six months of the most incredible, wild, exciting journey and I will forever be chasing the same adventures that I experienced while being abroad. With this, I will never be content with staying in one place for too long, and I will never settle for anything less than an eye-opening adventure!

How has studying abroad changed your approach to your education and your career?

Studying abroad has changed my approach to education in that it taught me that experience is the best knowledge. Career-wise, my options now seem unlimited. The whole world was opened up to me following my study abroad experience.

Once you take the leap and put yourself on a plane across the world to somewhere unknown and you realize that you can THRIVE, the fear is eliminated.

I no longer think in terms of what job or career I can make for myself in my town or city; I step back and I think: what career opportunities can I make for myself all over the world?

Ocean view in Santorini, Greece
Santorini has my heart.

Why do you think study abroad is valuable to college students?

Study abroad is beyond valuable because it gives young people the opportunity to be exposed to the world at such a crucial age. During college years, we are told to figure out our future and make weighted decisions. When given the opportunity to study abroad, an independence and perspective you couldn't find anywhere else is gifted upon you. I could never recommend it enough.