I wanted to step away from my routine and see what was outside of my little bubble. I have always been fascinated by people and cultures, so the chance to step outside of my own to learn and grow was something really attractive to me. My sister had studied abroad in college, and I saw the impact the experience had on her. I wanted to see what it was all about.
Why did you choose the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT)?
I chose by academic area. I was looking for a program in a smaller city that still had a lot of opportunities. I also wanted a school with a specific academic area, and ACT popped up as a school with a good program in that area.
What was your favorite part about Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki is a young, vibrant city. To outsiders it is a little bit off the beaten path, so there are not a lot of tourists. There are so many activities, festivals, and concerts happening all the time. The people here are the best - friendly, helpful, and a ton of fun.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The diversity of cultures that are in this area. I have met so many people from places I honestly did not have a concept of before coming here. I have had the chance to visit some really cool places on the weekends, both in Greece and abroad!
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The international programs office at ACT has staff focused on the success of the study abroad students. They were there to help us with public transportation, housing, getting settled in the city, sorting out residence permits and building community with the other study abroad students.
What was the hardest part about studying abroad for you?
The hardest part for me was to really invest in being here. I have really good friends back home and it was hard to be away from them, as well as miss out on what was happening back home. It is really important to be invested while you are there, because the reality is that even though it feels like a long time, it is only three months and it goes by so quickly.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have made more of an effort to get to know the locals and students studying abroad from different countries; it makes the experience so much more rich
Describe a typical day in your life in Greece.
A typical day would be school in the morning, and then free time for school activities or clubs, homework, and exploring the city. The program is structured to be flexible with students’ needs.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I loved exploring Thessaloniki and our neighborhood. There is something special about an afternoon spent wandering in a city, finding a new favorite gyro or coffee place.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Most people know a little bit of English, and if they do not speak it, they will find someone who does. Knowing a little bit of Greek goes a long way. They love it when people make an effort to learn the language! I picked up the basics along the way and was able to communicate fairly well by the end of it.
What surprised you most about Thessaloniki?
There is a lot more to it than meets the eye. The area where I lived is really residential, but just a couple blocks away there is a shopping district with cafes, stores, and so much going on. A short bus ride away is the downtown/Aristotle Square area, which feels like a big city. A short ride in the other direction takes you to a suburb (or municipality, as they are called here) that feels like a small town. Thessaloniki is made up of smaller areas that are each unique and fun!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Our accommodations were studio apartments with one or two occupants. There was a common room for us to study and hang out in. Each apartment had its own bathroom and kitchen. They were small, but comfortable. I enjoyed having my own kitchen.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Greece?
My sister gave me a great piece of advice about shopping when I was frantically buying new clothes in U.S. before coming. She said, "Lydia, there are stores in Greece." So do not stress about making sure you have everything before leaving; you can buy just about anything there, unless you need specific makeup or soaps, or something like that.
If you come in the summer, it will be hot! By the end, you will need a coat and winter clothes. Try to pack for the middle, by bringing summer clothes that you can layer underneath sweaters or warmer clothes for winter. If you come in the winter, the opposite is true; it will be cold but progressively warmer. Layering is key!
What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Greece?
It is going to be really hard sometimes. For the first couple of weeks, I was so exhausted simply because my body was trying to figure out what was happening. You are going to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and sad sometimes. It is part of the experience and you will make it through; just be aware that it is not always sunshine and roses.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I look at the world a lot differently. I pay attention to the world and what's going on, as well as stay in contact with the friends I have made.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
You will get out of it what you put into it. If you commit and are all into it, you will get so much out of it. It is hard not to be tied to friendships and things going on back home, but you will have a much more meaningful experience if you are living in the moment.
Would you recommend ACT to others? Why?
I definitely would recommend this program because it combines a small school feel with big school opportunities. I learned so much about myself here.
I am a better person because of my time at ACT.
If you could study abroad again, where would you go?
I would go to Western Europe, the Middle East, or New Zealand. There is so much to see!
Lydia is a student at the University of Northern Iowa, where she is studying music and global studies. She is a native Iowan, and had never been out of the Midwest until a couple of years ago when she went to Washington, D.C. Lydia has been hooked on travel ever since, especially after studying abroad in Greece.