Suzanne Leigh Barut - 2012 Program Participant
Why did you decide to study abroad?
I was studying fine arts, with a particular interest in painting. I wasn't thrilled by my classes, performing activities like chasing chickens around the room to do quick sketches of them and doing landscape paintings in a pretty large, formal class. I understand the functionality of these exercises but it didn't reach me or interest me very much.
Luckily I came into contact with a former student of HISA, from years before, who suggested I apply for the program. I did, and when I was accepted and given work-study responsibilities for discounted tuition, I was extremely excited to go. Honestly, before leaving the country, I had no idea that studying abroad would be so significant in terms of my perception of the world and my life's options. It was just by chance that I ended up abroad, and I am very lucky for that turn of events.
Why did you choose HISA?
I looked at a few options after hearing the aforementioned suggestion. There was another program on Paros, but I saw they didn't include nearly as many trips in the semester as HISA. It seemed like a much better deal to me to be able to travel the Greek islands during the semester, included in my tuition, rather than to wait until after the semester and organize and pay for trips by myself. In the end, I did go on an extra trip afterwards, back to Turkey (we had gone there for our mid-term semester trip as well), and Yuko from administration helped me to plan it and get a good ticket and hotel.
Another factor was the course offering. I was very attracted to HISA's Goddess Woman's Study course, and to interrelated media. The final factor that sealed my decision was the work-study option. I ended up taking photos and doing some office work, which was pretty educational, and the discounted tuition allowed me to have some more spending money on the island, because I paid for my tuition from my own savings. It turned out to be the RIGHT decision.
What was your favorite part about Paros Island?
There is so much to love about Paros Island. I'll list a few: blue waters, clear skies and clean air, mountains , the floral smell of the house gardens, Greek food (saganaki or fried cheese, souvlaki or gyros, and tzatziki or yogurt dip especially), Turkish food, Bouzouki music, cute stray dogs and cats, a general peacefulness, Rakomelo, vegetable markets, goat herds, the Saloon Door and Sativa Clubs, the Dubliner club, Pinoklis Restaurant with live music. And then we have a winner; if I had to pick a favorite place, it would be Pinoklis Restaurant on the beachfront road, with live traditional Greek music, “Rembetiko,” every week. It's a genuinely transformative experience to hear skillful, soulful performances and gave me insight into the collective psyche of Paros (if there can be said to be one).
What makes studying abroad through HISA unique?
HISA teachers and staff struck me as especially attentive and open minded. In philosophy, any subject could be discussed with fairness to different points of view. The coursework all wove into our own experiences and the island life and history. Even in the studio courses, I felt a pull to be more experimental and to focus on growth rather than sticking to a strict concept or outcome-focus. When I can concentrate on growth and experience, and analyse these things, I feel more engaged in my time and end up with more to take away in terms of ideas for the future and understanding. This is not a program where you go to learn information, it focused on applicable knowledge and understanding, which I feel are sorely overlooked in many other larger, more general institutions.
How supportive were local staff throughout your time in Greece?
From the beginning the staff were helpful. They helped me to connect with a group of Buddhists on the island with whom I practiced yoga for a bit. When I got pink eye( I assume from petting the many street cats), the owner, Barry, literally walked me to the hospital and helped to check me in, (which was great because the Greek hospital system is a little different from the States and it just made the process less confusing). Since leaving the program, other staff members have helped me to get my TEFL certificate and find a job teaching in Turkey. I've wanted to opportunity to work there, since my family is Turkish, and HISA staff were familiar with jobs in the area. They have been helping me with job hunting and visas and I'm not even a student there anymore. They are genuinely friendly people.
What's one thing you wish you could go back and do over again?
That's a funny story. When I first came to Athens (I got there a few days early) I wanted to explore the city on my own but needed an energy boost, so I downed a couple of cans of the cold coffee you can buy from the kiosks. Normally my tolerance for caffeine is pretty extreme, but Greek coffee is another level. I was so hyper that night that I couldn't sleep until early the next morning and was exhausted the next day. The next day we went to the Acropolis and museum with the school and I was miserable from sleeplessness and probably dehydration. I'd advise others to allow for more rest the first few days after travel, and do not eat or drink anything too extreme, because your body may fight back.
What was a typical day like for you in Greece?
Classes run from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; nothing too early or late. My painting classes started at 10:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and we'd have a break in the afternoon until 2 p.m., when we would have creative writing or goddess, depending on the day. Later, interrelated media would begin at 5 p.m. Between classes I'd walk around town or go to a cafe. Some days I'd take a book to the beach or work more on a project in the studio.
On the weekends we usually had trips around Paros or to other islands, so we would meet the group early and get on a bus or boat and travel together. After the last class I'd usually stop by the gym or the track around the local field to get a run in.
At the Acropolis in Athens
What is something you enjoyed doing on your free time?
One of the teachers, Jen, introduced me to a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) instructor in Paroikia tow named Nick. He spoke English; I think he was from the States as well. I started attending the classes pretty regularly, about once a week. After returning home, I've looked for a gym to continue to practice in, because I enjoyed the challenge and physical benefits of the sport, but haven't been able to keep it up, especially since moving to Turkey. I didn't have a lot of time to do it, but I'm glad I did, to stay in shape while eating so many souvlaki and baklava.
What was your accommodation like?
We all had private rooms at Jimmy's Hotel. The rooms weren't all the same because I think the building is typically a hotel, so some rooms were bigger than others. My room had two beds in it and a patio facing an orange tree. There was a kitchen area, a TV ( I can't comment on the channels as I never watched it), a writing desk, chairs for the porch, and small desks. The kitchen had pots, cups, silverware, all the basics. The hotel had another kitchen and two common rooms, and a laundry room, which was pretty busy but I found I could wash clothes at night without waiting.
The whole place was family owned, with the daughter Maria working at the front desk and Jimmy, her father, being in charge of the hotel. My first conversations with locals were with them and they were incredibly friendly and later helped me with my Greek. My first semester, there had been a litter of kittens born nearby the hotel and they had just started walking around. We got to feed and take care of them. The hotel was a little far from school and the town center, I timed the walk at 12 minutes, but it was next to the beach and much quieter than the center of town, which I enjoyed. I think some of the students would have preferred a more central location.
How has studying abroad impacted your life and future?
I've refined my life goals since studying abroad. At this point, I want to stay abroad indefinitely. I'm currently working in Istanbul and loving it. It would have been much harder to find and get this job, much less think about looking for work abroad, without my time at HISA. My first exposure to Turkish culture was through the HISA program's mid-semester trip.
I'm truly thankful for the exposure, guidance, and teaching that helped me to grow confident enough to live and work abroad.
It hasn't been easy, of course, but I know I'm becoming a more capable person, and that knowledge is more fulfilling than anything else I could have gained. I'm glad HISA provided my first exposure to life overseas, because I had the freedom to explore and find what interested me and I had support to make the frustrating parts of travel much more bearable.