Marialeen Ellis - 2013 Program Participant

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I was very involved at school, so studying abroad wasn't something I really thought about until after seeing one of my friends pictures and hearing about all of her travels and experiences. After looking at my school's study away website and researching various programs, it quickly became something I was dying to do. I got set on it and was determined to go - even through a family crisis and the resulting hardships, I stuck to it and with the help and support of my family, friends, my study abroad coordinator, and the amazing team at Athena Study Abroad, my dream finally became a reality!

Study abroad students in Greece
Grecian adventures are better with good company.

Why did you choose the Athena Study Abroad Greece program?

During the semester that I was applying to programs, I was taking a history class on Ancient Greece, a subject I had been fascinated with for years. At that same time I was working on my senior thesis and wrote it on the lives and roles of women in Classical Athens. So, picking Greece as my host country was really an obvious choice. Even more so, I knew that I really wanted to be on one of the gorgeous, picturesque Greek islands and when I stumbled across the school on Paros Island, it was like love at first sight. As a liberal arts program, the school offers classes that focus on the historical and cultural background of the Cycladic islands, as well as many courses in the arts, language, and creative writing. It was perfect and I was immediately sold. I honestly believe that I didn't choose my program though; I feel like it chose me.

Student enjoys view of Santorini
Completely smitten by this Santorini view.

What makes the program you participated in so interesting?

The simple fact that it is located in one of the most pristine and perfectly beautiful places on Earth says enough. But, it doesn't stop there. The school, Hellenic International Studies in the Arts, is situated in the heart of the old town of a traditional Greek island settlement, overlooking the sea and the main port of the island. We literally were in the middle of everything and the local Greeks welcomed us into their little town and culture with open arms. We were truly immersed in the culture and spent our time there living like the Greeks, something we quickly became accustomed to.

Additionally, the staff and teachers at our school were among the greatest, most intelligent, and intriguing people I have ever met. They didn't just teach us, they imparted knowledge and wisdom unlike any other college professor. They were our mentors, our guides, and most importantly, they became our family there. And of course, being in the heart of such an ancient civilization, we were constantly surrounded by history and art at every turn! Greece is full of countless archeological sites, museums, and historical places that we were always visiting. Our classroom was everywhere. We truly experienced learning beyond classroom walls and without borders or boundaries.

Students learning about history in historic ruins
Is there a better place to learn history than inside historic ruins?

What is the best thing about the Athena Study Abroad Greece program that future participants need to know?

There are too many wonderful things to name just one, but having the opportunity to constantly travel and explore various Greek islands was by far one of the greatest aspects of our program. As I said, we learned everywhere and with no boundaries. We spent many days in "class" in unexpected and adventurous places - on the top of an abandoned monastery, sitting inside the ruins of an ancient temple to Apollo, at the local archeological museum. Everything we studied was backed up by some type of visit, trip, or hands-on experience.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

There is not one thing that I would have done differently! Well, except stay longer of course!

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

My experience abroad has completely and radically changed and impacted my life. I no longer see myself as just an American, but rather as a global citizen. I feel as if in just a few months I learned so much about the world and even more about myself. I made some of the greatest memories and developed some of the deepest friendships of my life. I became inspired, I gained invaluable knowledge, and I grew as a person.

Study abroad student posing in Greece
This place makes the soul happy.

Since I've been back, I have this unending desire to travel more, to do more, go farther, and live life in the greatest way and place possible. I now truly understand what the term 'wanderlust' means and I'd say it accurately defines my heart.

My semester abroad has stuck with me and I wake up every day longing to be back there. And now that I am finishing school, I am so excited to have just that opportunity! I've recently decided to move to France and work as an Au Pair for a year. After that, well who knows what I'll do!

I do know that I will always have my semester studying abroad to thank for opening my eyes to the world and for changing my life for the better.