Confused and slightly overwhelmed on the way to Paris

August 7th, Blog by Cassie Kays, Pre-Major, French/Comparative Literature France: Paris in the Summer

Wow, I’ve already been in Paris for a week!! Time seems to have flown by between class and touring the city, and I already have my first midterm on Friday!! I arrived in Europe on July 24th, a week before my programs start date, at 8 am at the Charles De Gualle airport, after being awake well around 24 hours. Confused and slightly overwhelmed, I began to search for my next terminal and hopped on another plane (with the help of a very friendly and helpful french couple) to visit one of my former exchange sisters, Louisa, in Hannover, Germany. The language barrier in Germany was slightly difficult, because I’m a strong believe of speaking the countries native language to be polite, but it was pretty easy to get around and get what I needed. So week one of my first time outside the states was the week of fun! After getting over the initial jet lag and waking up at weird hours of the night, my body had finally realized it was on European time.

Street food is the best food for you (and your wallet)

I am incredibly indecisive when it comes to food, and London doesn’t make it any easier! No matter what you are craving for, you will find it in a dine in restaurant or on the streets of London. My favorite way to satisfy my cravings is to hop on the tube to the nearest street food market and weave my way through the crowd to wherever my nose leads. Dining in a restaurant every day quickly adds up, so you will find many food stalls and chains at these markets that sell big portions for cheap (under 10 pounds). There is also something about seeing your food being prepared and cooked right in front of you that makes it even better.

Leather Lane is the go-to location for my classmates and I since it’s a short walk from our classroom. The street is lined with food stalls on both sides, along with the actual restaurants behind them. Here you will find naan wraps, shawarma, pasta, rice and vermicelli bowls, noodles, sandwiches, salads, fruits and more (that I haven’t discovered because I have yet to walk down the entire street).

My favorite place to go to is Yum Bowl. I order crispy pork with rice and steamed veggies, and it’s only for 5.50! They also have honey grilled chicken and the option to have your bowl with stir-fried egg noodles if you don’t want rice. You can also order your bowl with half chicken and half pork if you have a hard time choosing between the two. The vegetables include broccoli and Chinese cabbage steamed with a light soy based sauce in front of you. There is also someone chopping the meat into portions, then gives it to the last person who asks if you want sriracha sauce (which then you say yes!). I highly recommend going here if you want rice, meat and veggies that will definitely fill you up for a good price!

 (Rice, both meats, steamed veggies)

If your stomach craves pasta, then head on over to The Cheese Wheel at Camden Market to satisfy those cravings. What is a better way to make the cheesiest fettuccine alfredo than in a real wheel of cheese?! Yep, these guys HAND MAKE their noodles (right in front of you), cooks it, then the noodles are tossed into the cheese wheel to be thoroughly coated with the perfect amount of cheese. I added pancetta to my dish, but you can have to plain or add other toppings to it as well. The pasta-bilities are endless!

Here’s another cheesy favorite of mine if you prefer mac and cheese. I believe this place was rated one of the must eats in London by Buzzfeed or something. It was definitely worth the hype though!

Korean Burrito is another place to go to when in Camden Market. Yep, you read it right. I was jumping with excitement when I found a place that fused my two favorite foods together; Korean food and burritos! In this toasted tortilla wrap, you will find kimchi fried rice, cheese, Korean hot sauce, red cabbage, choice of meat (or no meat for the vegetarians) and some more ingredients that I cannot think of at the moment. It wasn’t as messy as I expected, but this definitely satisfied my cravings of Korean food at that time. The ladies there were incredibly nice and helpful since I didn’t know which ingredients to add in my burrito. Either way, it was delicious!

Alright, I don’t know how to make curry in a box look flattering, but don’t let looks deceive you! Pictured below is lamb curry with their house spicy sauce from the Soul Food stall at Borough Market, and it was absolutely delicious. This is Caribbean cooking with strong earthy flavors and sweet spices that is loved by many. If you’re not looking for box food, they also have the option of wrapping it up for you in a toasted tortilla with the same great ingredients just in wrap form. They also have different meats to choose from, as well as chicken curry if you don’t want lamb. It is very easy to pick and choose what you want to fit your liking. The people are are super nice and are willing to answer any questions you may have!

This is the end of my food post. I hope this gives you some idea of your options for food in London! These are just a few of my favorites that I have tried during my time here, so I hope this encourages you to try them too, and discover your own favorites!

“Distance means so little when someone means so much.” – Unknown

I find it uncommon among students to talk about being in a short term “long distance relationship” while studying abroad. Before I left, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether or not my boyfriend and I will stay together while I’m in London. I found the question strange because why would we break up if I’m only going to be gone for three months? I learned that there are couples who actually do that, but my boyfriend and I decided to stay together while I’m away. Three months is the longest time we’ve ever been apart from each other, so it was definitely hard to break away from our hug at the airport. Although this distance is temporary, I think it is important to think about your relationship with your significant other while you study abroad whether it’s for three months, six months, or even one month. Some relationships weaken with distance, but others get stronger. I believe that two people can overcome this challenge if both are willing to put in the same time, effort and love to make the relationship work.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is time. Guess what? The world has time zones and the difference from Seattle and London is eight hours. When I’m awake, my boyfriend is asleep and vice versa, so the time we have to talk to each other is limited. I sometimes catch myself getting annoyed at how long it takes him to respond to me, but then I remember we are not in the same time zone and he also has a life at home. It is tough to go from constantly seeing and talking to each other to a few hours of texting back and forth and facetiming every once in a while. One thing that we do to get our minds away from the time difference is to keep ourselves busy. We are currently both in school, so any time spent on homework and/or studying helps. I am constantly doing something here in London, therefore, it is easier for me to keep busy while I wait for my boyfriend to wake up or finish with his classes. Being busy will kill time and getting that “goodmorning” text in the middle of the day always lights me up.

We live in a time in which technology (more or less) dominates our lives. Social media and smartphones especially make it easier to communicate with anyone, anywhere. I am grateful for FaceTime because 1. I don’t have to rack up my phone bill with minutes and 2. looking into each other’s eyes and hearing their voice makes everything feel alright again. It is hard to find time that works for the both of us just because I’m usually busy 10-12 hours a day doing London things, and he has both this personal and school life to live. I also live in a room with two other people so when my boyfriend and I do FaceTime, it has to be a time that works for us all. Usually, neither of my roommates mind since we each do our own thing when we’re laying in bed, but some nights are short depending on what we did that day, so obviously we would be tired and head straight to bed. It’s easier for him to squeeze an hour or two in his day to FaceTime me, which is usually before bed, so that would happen every couple of day or so. Remember that it is okay to not FaceTime every night, or text each other constantly throughout the day just because it isn’t so practical. As much as it kills me, I have learned to be patient and to simply look forward to his name popping up on my lock screen. Time works differently for everyone of course, so it is best to communicate possibly even more than usual with your significant other while abroad.

 

Here are a few things that I like to remember and have helped us these past couple of months:

  • Think of this as an opportunity– instead of thinking the distance is pulling you two apart, view this short term long distance relationship as a test of love for each other. Not a lot of couples go a long period of time away from each other unless you are in a real long distance relationship of course, but treat this time and distance as a measure of how much you two are committed to one another. Like I said earlier, the distance will either weaken or strengthen a relationship.
  • Expectations– be clear and open with each other about what you expect during this time apart. None of you would want to do things that will catch the other person by surprise, so it’s important to talk about these things.
  • Know each other’s schedules– I touched on this a little bit in the last paragraph, but yes, tell each other when you are busy or free so you can text or call at the right time. Know the small and big events in each other’s lives such as midterms/finals, birthday celebrations, job interviews, academic progress etc. This is important especially when living in different time zones.
  • Communicate regularly and creatively– My boyfriend and I like to play those iMessage games with each other (corny, I know), but it’s fun to do things together when you aren’t together, yaknow? Also, sending pictures or short videos of what I am doing or eating makes it more personal rather than him seeing it on Snapchat, Instagram or any other social media platform.
  • Avoid “dangerous” situations– In London, pubs (bars) are a part of the social culture here that my peers and I have partaken in quite regularly. If you know you and a groups of friends are going out drinking or to a nightclub late at night, then telling your significant other ahead of time is imperative. Do not be careless about this matter because your partner will be extremely worried (or suspicious), and of course upset if you put him/her in a position where they feel extra powerless/lacking in control. They won’t be there to take care of you, so you need to be responsible and take care of yourself. Recognize the dangers before entering into a situation.
  • Enjoy your time alone– you might be alone, but you are not lonely (unless you chose to feel like it). You don’t have to let your world revolve around your significant other. Take this time to hang out with friends, family (for the person at home), or find a new hobby.
  • Honesty is the best policy– Talk about your feelings (yes, you have them) of fear, insecurity, jealousy or whatever else. Don’t hide these feelings from your significant other. Let them give you the support you need and this also gives points in the communication category too.
  • Stay positive– Inject positivity in this long distance relationship to keep it alive. Yes, waiting is painful and you will feel lonesome, but just keep reassuring each other. Be grateful that you have someone to love and who loves you back. Be thankful for the little things.

 

There’s my two cents in what I have learned during my time abroad (apart from academics). I hope someone finds this post useful, I know it’s corny and not a lot of people talk about it, but I guess I’m one of the few who do. After rereading my post, this can definitely apply to people who are truly in a long distance relationship, or starting one. If you are studying abroad and in a relationship, remember that not everyone has or takes the chance to do what you are doing. Be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and that you are creating these life-long memories and experiences. Each day I am out and about, I always think of my significant other and how he would like to eat crispy pork belly from the street food market, shop around Oxford or Soho, take walks with me along the River Thames, and so much more. Although your partner is not with you now, there is a chance you can do these things together in the future. For now, enjoy your time studying abroad and share your memories and experiences when you get back home.

GETTING READY FOR YOUR TRIP!!!!

ADVICE try to pack clothes that you do not want to use anymore, so you can leave there and have more space in your luggage (I wish I would’d done this).

You are going to get a packing list, and I going to tell you what I use and what I did not.

  • Definitely you need more than $200. There are amazing things you want to bring back home, and sometimes it gets really difficult to get money out + you want to save the extra charges that some banks have for using your card in a different country.
  • Knowing the India currency or the currency of any other country it is very important and interesting!
  • Money belt (never used it). I have a small security purse that REI sells, and you can safely keep your more and other stuff in there. $65
  • ALWAYS BRING BACKUP DOCUMENTS; copy of your passport, insurance, the card you are taking, and your airline itinerary.
  • Mosquito net (never used it).
  • 1 pair of comfortable shoes or sandals. I used sandals of the time because of the heat. We did not walk too much, so they were perfect.
  • 1 pair of flip flops for showering. I did not bring them and did not need them. The showers at the places we stayed were very decent.
  • CLOTHES like I said bring the clothes you do not want. Bring something that you are comfortable and fresh, the heat makes you really tired. Bring something nice for a night out. Extra t-shirts!!
  • The first week was a little cold, so bring something light but warm (most of us were not ready for the cold).
  • Socks (never used it) 1 pair is enough.
  • UNDERWEAR, I brought underwear for every single day because I do not feel comfortable somebody washing my underwear, and because I did not know who I would be sharing the room with. Days were really long and sometimes you did not have time for small things like this, and I had to share the room with the boys. I am so happy I had underwear for every single day! My girl roommate regret not doing it.
  • Pijamas
  • I brought my own, but each place had clean towels. You can save some space here.
  • Camera OF COURSE!!
  • Ziploc bags, I never used them, but it is important to have some just in case.
  • Tissues, disposable wet wipes YES!!! I brought 1 roll of toilet paper which was really important. I bought small wipes to carry with me all the time and a big package that I left at the hotel (Used them all).
  • A thin collapsible duffer if you plan to purchase souvenirs. If I was you I would just leave all the clothes I do not want and put everything in your luggage, that way you are more comfortable on your way back. Many of us did not have the space, and it was very uncomfortable to travel with so many things.
  • Facial care (sunscreen)
  • Personal care (dental, hair,eye body) HAND SANITIZER, DEODORANT, RAZOR, INSENT REPELENT
  • Over the counter drugs. PLEASE bring something for a cold or cough, I got some kind of cold and had nothing for it.

       TAKE THEM ALL, YOU NEED TO BE READY!

Under the counter medicine

  • Vitamin C
  • Dramamine $7.89
  • Melatonin $6.57 (jet-lag) (if you have never taken this before buy the 3mg).
  • Alka-seltzer $6.29
  • Pepto-Bismol $6.29
  • Imodium $9.49
  • Ibuprofen
  • Earplugs and eye cover (optional). I did not bring any, plus the airline (EMIRATES) gave us earplugs and eye covers.
  • DO NOT BUY THE ONE IN MARSHALLS IT DOES NOT WORK EVERYWHERE!
  • Map of India (YOU DO NOT NEED IT!). $15
  • Sense of humor and flexibility (bring extra of those).
  • Bring your own snacks!! The time between meals it’s a little long

    This is the one you should get!!

This should be part of your kit. I took the picture because when I went I had a hard time, so if you do too you can just look at the picture and i will be easier to find them.

Before Your Trip

This is my first time writing a blog in English, so I am so sorry if I make any mistake. However, at the same time it is a representation of me as an immigrant whose first language is not English. So here is the process that I wanted to have before and during my time in India.

Process before your trip…

 This is a process that we should all enjoy, although it is stressful, once you get the congratulation letter everything will have a different face :).

Interview…

For this I do not have much to say more than be yourself. If you do not know something it is okay to say it, you do not need to have a perfect answer. From this, you will learn (like I did) to be okay with who you are with your answers even if they sound silly sometimes. For a while I was worried that I was not going to be selected for the program because of some of my answers, but I got the good news and that opinion about myself changed….and if you are wondering about the picture in my congratulation letter, yes we took it while in India!

Visa

If you are like me and do not read the instructions, you are going to be very frustrated. For this, you will need:

  • A picture of yourself with a white background. What I did… I took a picture of my passport picture and change the size of the picture to what it was required and it work!
  • A clear picture of your passport

I thought it was going to be easier, so please take your time to do at once. However, if for some reason you can not finish it when you started it DO NOT FORGET to write down your application ID number which is on the middle top of the page. It happened to me, and I had to start over again and learn the hard way.

These were the mistakes I did while filling out the application:

  • DO NOT write your social security or your driver license enter NA.
  • DO NOT use punctuation marks. If your name is hyphenated then use a black space instead. Do not use a period if your name has a sux such as “Jr.”
  • AND write the address as they show it even though the space is not long enough. Copy and paste what they give you, and if it does not fit IT IS OKAY!

…and here goes your first investment on your trip $61.50 for you visa!

IMMUNIZATIONS

DO NOT WAIT TILL LAST MINUTE…

Go to the doctor as soon as possible so you will know what your insurance is able to cover. If you do not have insurance Bartell Drugs store and Walgreens offer the service of the immunizations that are required to enter to India. Bartell Drugs have an international nurse that will help you with the research and the decision with some the ones that are optional (malaria).

Hepatitis A $139

Typhoid $102

For me, my insurance covered the Hepatitis A, and with my doctor we decided that I was not going to take anything for Malaria. However, I paid for the Typhoid at the community clinic in North Gate and I paid $76.78, so it was more convenient.

DO NOT FORGET to ask your doctor for CIPROFLOXACIN for traveler’s diarrhea. Most insurances cover this. WHAT I DID TO NOT USE IT… I was really worried about getting sick during India, so my cousin who traveled to Nepal recommended to take probiotics as much as possible BEFORE and DURING the trip. I was eating two yogurts everyday, kombucha, and I bought some probiotic pills called “Pearls Complete” that he recommended. I got them through Amazon for $15.49…. and I never got sick of my stomach!

Process Before Your Trip

Blog By Lorena Andrea Marulanda, Community Psychology, Gender, Culture and Human Rights in India

This is my first time writing a blog in English, so I am so sorry if I make any mistake. However, at the same time it is a representation of me as an immigrant whose first language is not English. So here is the process that I wanted to have before and during my time in India.

Process before your trip…

 This is a process that we should all enjoy, although it is stressful, once you get the congratulation letter everything will have a different face :).

Interview…

For this I do not have much to say more than be yourself. If you do not know something it is okay to say it, you do not need to have a perfect answer. From this, you will learn (like I did) to be okay with who you are with your answers even if they sound silly sometimes. For a while I was worried that I was not going to be selected for the program because of some of my answers, but I got the good news and that opinion about myself changed…

…and if you are wondering about the picture in my congratulation letter, yes we took it while in India!

 

Visa

If you are like me and do not read the instructions, you are going to be very frustrated. For this, you will need:

 

  • A picture of yourself with a white background. What I did… I took a picture of my passport picture and change the size of the picture to what it was required and it work!
  • A clear picture of your passport

 

I thought it was going to be easier, so please take your time to do at once. However, if for some reason you can not finish it when you started it DO NOT FORGET to write down your application ID number which is on the middle top of the page. It happened to me, and I had to start over again and learn the hard way.

 

These were the mistakes I did while filling out the application:

 

  • DO NOT write your social security or your driver license enter NA.
  • DO NOT use punctuation marks. If your name is hyphenated then use a black space instead. Do not use a period if your name has a sux such as “Jr.”
  • AND write the address as they show it even though the space is not long enough. Copy and paste what they give you, and if it does not fit IT IS OKAY!

 

…and here goes your first investment on your trip $61.50 for you visa!

IMMUNIZATIONS

DO NOT WAIT TILL LAST MINUTE…

Go to the doctor as soon as possible so you will know what your insurance is able to cover. If you do not have insurance Bartell Drugs store and Walgreens offer the service of the immunizations that are required to enter to India. Bartell Drugs have an international nurse that will help you with the research and the decision with some the ones that are optional (malaria).

 

Hepatitis A $139

Typhoid $102

 

For me, my insurance covered the Hepatitis A, and with my doctor we decided that I was not going to take anything for Malaria. However, I paid for the Typhoid at the community clinic in North Gate and I paid $76.78, so it was more convenient.

 

DO NOT FORGET to ask your doctor for CIPROFLOXACIN for traveler’s diarrhea. Most insurances cover this. WHAT I DID TO NOT USE IT… I was really worried about getting sick during India, so my cousin who traveled to Nepal recommended to take probiotics as much as possible BEFORE and DURING the trip. I was eating two yogurts everyday, kombucha, and I bought some probiotic pills called “Pearls Complete” that he recommended. I got them through Amazon for $15.49…. and I never got sick of my stomach!

Tips and reminders

I have now been in London for roughly two weeks and have learned quite a lot. Here are a few things that I think newbies should know in the first several days in London:

Stand on the right- The tube is your best friend and you will learn how it works almost immediately. For those of you who aren’t in a rush and would like to stand on escalators, stand on the right side! This will allow the other people who are walking/running up and down the escalators some space for them to do so. If you’re standing on the left side, someone will sometimes kindly ask you to move over.

British people drive on the wrong side- You’ve grown up to look both ways before crossing the street, but in London, triple check both ways before crossing the street especially if you are impatient and don’t want to wait for the little green man to signal you to cross. Vehicles have the right of way and it will basically be the pedestrian’s fault most of the time. In case you forget which way to look for incoming traffic, look down.

Be aware- Londoners are constantly on the move. Everyone walks so fast and always seem to be in a rush. If you’re not in a rush, continue to be aware of your surroundings and watch where you’re going. As far as accidentally bumping into people, they are mostly nice about it. Just apologize and everything will be fine. Other than that, try to keep up with the crowd and be confident in what you decide to do. It will definitely be scary at first, but once you get the hang of the tube and walking on major streets, it’ll be easy! Tip: since you will be walking a lot, remember to stay hydrated! Keep a bottle of water with you so you can sip on it throughout the day. Walking around all day is tiring and sometimes the tube gets warm.

Layer up!- One thing that made me feel like I was still back in Seattle is the weather. London is practically the Seattle of England, and if you’ve lived in Seattle long enough, you will know that the weather is unpredictable. So far, it hasn’t been that bad, but there were a couple of days where I wished I had another jacket. It could be cold and windy in the morning, then by mid-afternoon, you could be sweating because the clouds have gone away and the sun is beaming down on you. Even if you check the weather the night before, check it again in the morning because it would have most likely changed.

Since we’re on the topic of clothes…- London is a fashionable city, therefore, you will see most of the people walking down the streets a bit “dressed up” than what you’re used to. As a college student back home, I am all about comfort. I live in my leggings and hoodies, but you will never see any Londoner wear that in public. With this being said, use this opportunity to dress yourself up and strut down the streets of London! A lot of their clothes are simple, yet well put together. I brought a lot of basic, solid color tops, along with a few pairs of jeans and leggings with me on this trip. Even if you have a cute trench coat, blazer or parka, it will definitely dress up your outfit.

No snacking!- On the second day of orientation, one of my British professors told us that we will never hear the refrigerator door open and close throughout the day because British people don’t snack, unlike us Americans. We had to get used to eating only three meals a day, which I’m still struggling with. Back home, I normally pack snacks to class and eat throughout the day. Over here, you won’t see anyone pull out a granola bar in the middle of the day. I couldn’t help but buy snacks at a nearby grocery store so I can stick to my “bad habit,” but we’ll see if I can only eat three meals a day, haha.

HAVE FUN- Yes, cliche, I know. YOU ARE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. Also, yes, if you are reading this post then you will most likely be interested in a study abroad program which means dun dun dun, you’ll still be a UW student taking classes in another country. Even if you’re in a place for school, that’s only a fraction of the experience. Use this opportunity to explore your environment and try new things. It will be scary, but you will never know until you try, and you definitely don’t want to regret anything. It might be a long time before you’re in Europe, or wherever else besides America, again, so travel around to nearby countries for the weekend with a couple of friends and have fun!


I might do similar posts in the future since I am sure I will learn a lot more things these next several weeks and I am glad to share tips and tricks. Keep an eye out for that!

Until next time,

Brittney Phanivong

 

 

 

Arriving in London!

Blog By Brittney Phanivong, Science Technology and Society, English London: Spring in London

The worst part of traveling for me is the plane ride. But views like this make me feel better. It was so beautiful up in the air, which made me even more excited to reach the ground again. My plane landed around 9:30am on Wednesday March 22, 2017. Going through passport control took awhile, but after I reached an officer, he didn’t interrogate me as much as what I’ve heard from other people. He asked what brings me to the UK, and I told him I am here for a study abroad program. He asked for my paperwork (which was given during our study abroad meeting back in Seattle, so it’s important that you don’t lose them!), then it was awkwardly quiet while he read the letters and tried to find a stamp to stamp my passport. Once I was good to go, I went to claim my baggage, then met up with one of my flatmates, Hailey, who arrived from Portugal. We were both starving so we stopped by a cafe in the airport called Costa and ate sandwiches. After our stomachs settled, we both freshened up because believe me, after staying on a plane for several hours, you are going to want to wash your face, brush your teeth and possibly change clothes (specifically, undergarments).

London has a significantly better transportation system than back home in Seattle, so it was fairly easy to hop on a train from the airport to King’s Cross, and ride the underground to the closest station to our homestay. It was super nice for our homestay’s mum’s partner, Claudio, to pick us up from the tube station. He was so nice and friendly, and when we got to the house, we met his nephew, Clemente, who was also very kind. Clemente and Claudio showed us to where we will be living, which is in a large attic room where there were three beds and a couple of desks and chairs. I am roommates with three other people: Hailey, Mira, and Kaden. Kaden has his own small room near our large room. Once Hailey and I settled in, I took a well needed shower and then took a nap. The nap that I took was way longer than I wanted it to be, but when I woke up, there was sad news. I received several concerned messages from my friends and family because there was a terror attack at the Westminster Bridge in London. It was terribly sad that this event occurred. My prayers and thoughts are with all those affected by this attack today. It was definitely a scare for some of my loved ones because I wasn’t responding to their messages as fast as I could because I was asleep. But everything is okay with me, I am safe and unharmed!

Tomorrow is our first day of orientation, which means I have to wake up fairly early just to give myself some time to travel to central London to the place I will be meeting the rest of the students from the program. I am incredibly excited and I will update you all about the rest of my week soon!

Roma Culture and Discrimination in Greece

The past week has been one of the most academically and emotionally challenging weeks of my life.  Monday through Thursday were packed with a full daily agenda that included debriefs, interviews, visits, discussions and mediation.  We spoke with lawyers, government officials, police chiefs, prosecutors, business owners, teachers and professors from the non-Roma community.  We also spoke with Roma from the Roma Association in Nafplio and a Roma camp near Athens.

As our study of discrimination got started with a seminar at the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies the previous Friday, I became concerned that we may not hear from the Roma side at all.  The speakers were from the local non-Roma community and painted a picture of the Roma that made them sound like they wanted nothing to do anyone outside of their community.  Indeed, it was unclear from our program director how much time we would be spending with the Roma or if we would hear from them at all.

The voices we heard described the Roma as coming from a culture very different than what the non-Roma Greeks and other Western societies were used to.  Stealing was described as part of their culture, as was not wearing shoes and living in tents.  Some speakers went so far as to claim that the Roma had tons of money and received additional funding from the government.  It was hard to believe what they were telling us, and the story got odder and odder with each speaker.  There was even talk of child abuse: not letting children go to school, not giving them proper clothing and health care, etc.  These discussions left me perturbed with the entire program, I didn’t want to come here and change their culture.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to meddle in their affairs uninvited.  If they didn’t want to see me, who am I to barge in?

Toward the end of the week, we began hearing the other side of the story and learning that a lot of what we heard previously was either entirely or at least partially untrue.  I was reminded of the current ‘Fake News’ epidemic in America.  We went to schools that Roma children attended, spoke with their teachers and also met with a group from the Roma Association.  What I saw was not a culture of isolation and distain for popular Greek values, but the life of the very poor and marginalized.  These were not people basking in wealth and uninterested in jobs or education.  The parents wanted their children to go to school, but struggled to put shoes on their feet and food in their bellies.  Government aid was non-existent.  There were no school busses serving Roma camps and most families lacked cars or money to put gas in them.  If they had the opportunity to live in a house instead of a tent, they took it – but most didn’t have that choice.

Of course, there are criminals and drug addicts in the Roma community, but that is not their culture – it’s just as much a problem in non-Roma Greek society as it is among the Roma.  The only significant cultural difference I noticed was the practice of wedding at a young age and having children.  Seen from the Western eye, this is strange and problematic.  Children are frequently wed at age 15 and immediately begin forming a family.  At the same time, they stop attending school if they were lucky enough to be going to one in the first place.  Some parents told us they have their children wait until they are 20 to be married so that they are able to receive a better education.  Of course, being poor and having children exacerbates financial strain, but I struggle to accept the solution being that they stop having children.

As for the other things claimed by the non-Roma Greeks to be part of Roma culture, I see these as no more than a way to mask intensive institutional racism.  The non-Roma Greeks use this narrative of a culture that rejects Western values to justify discrimination.  Being poor and unable to clothe and feed their children is not ‘cultural’ at all, it’s living in poverty.  Having a government that creates laws so that Roma do not have the same opportunities for education and employment as non-Roma is institutional racism.  The situation in Greece makes me both sad and angry.  I heard from non-Roma Greeks about how exotic they thought Roma culture was and how they envied the “free people.”  In reality, what they envied was a fantasy in their heads.  The Roma themselves have the same basic needs as every other human and the non-Roma Greeks need to get their heads out of the clouds and realize how their self-induced fantasy is perpetuating a system of discrimination.

Our program concluded with a visit to a Roma camp that had me holding back tears the entire time.  How can you not walk among these people and see the inescapable poverty that comprises their daily lives?  Yes, Greece is suffering a tremendous economic depression, but that is not justification for institutional racism.  The people we saw had nothing more than clothes on their backs and makeshift shelters.  They try to get electricity, but the government calls it illegal and cuts the wiring.  They apply for legal electricity service, but the government says their houses don’t meet code so they can’t receive it.  We literally saw a school bus drive through their camp with non-Roma children, that didn’t stop for the Roma kids.  The community leader was welcoming but clear about his disdain for the way that the Greek government treats them, acting with the goal of exterminating them rather than helping them.  The children were the most uplifting, but also the reason why I was holding back tears.  They had so much energy and joy, they loved to see us, play with us and tell us (through translation) that they can’t understand what we’re saying.  Their eyes are filled with love and hope.

It was difficult to see all of this and know that there was very little I could do to change anything.  One question I tried to ask as often as I could from the Roma was “How can we help you?”  The answer was consistently “Share what you learn here back in America.”  And so this blog post is the first of my efforts to do just that.  I think we always need to be careful when we hear people speak about “cultural difference” and make sure they aren’t using it as a mask for racism.  I also think that expecting those living in destitute poverty to pull themselves up the economic ladder is unrealistic, especially when their own government is working hard to prevent them from moving up.  Both Roma children and adults must be given access to education, basic health services and work opportunities so they can put food on the table and have reasonable living conditions.  When looking at the budget of the Greek government, the cost of providing these basic services takes up a miniscule percentage.  There is no good excuse for allowing the Roma to continue suffering.

Our program co-directors, Dr. Taso Lagos and Dr. Nektaria Klapaki from the Jackson School of International Studies, are working to develop one or more legacy projects in addition to their ongoing research on discrimination in Greece.  When considering how I might contribute to a legacy project, I was particularly inspired by the discussion of how important poetry and music are to the Roma.  One member of the Roma community told us that his uncle taught himself to read and write in Greek and hopes to soon publish his first book of poems.  He also told us that the Roma Association is working with the Municipality of Nafplio to organize a summer music festival featuring Roma singers.  I am hopeful that I can find a way to help amplify the voice of the Roma through their art, both in Greece and in America.  I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Lagos and Dr. Klapaki on this project.

My experience with the ten-day study abroad program in Greece has been truly life-changing.  The opportunity to travel, see the beautiful places and historic sites as well as meet the people was unique and wonderful on its own, but what made the experience life-changing was the hands-on academic component studying discrimination.  This program has left me with thoughts and ideas I never could have gained in a classroom.  I hope that my story helps inspire others to incorporate study abroad into their education.

Our group with a Roma community outside of Athens.

Dogs of Greece

Since arriving in Greece, it has been surprising to see so many stray dogs wandering the streets.  When we went on a tour of the Acropolis and asked our guide about the dogs, she said there are several reasons why the dogs have been left behind.  In some cases, families can’t afford to care for them since the economic depression hit.  In other cases, they bought the dog and never learned how to care for it.  She said it is common for people to drive their dogs to a park, drop them off and then drive away.

When I heard all of this it was quite heartbreaking.  I have grown up with dogs and love them very much.  However, our guide gave us some good news: There is a large volunteer organization in Greece that cares for the dogs, ensuring they have food and water as well as looking out for their health.  Seeing how these dogs have become a part of the community and how the Greek people care for them has transformed what appeared at first to be an awful situation into a heartwarming one.  Of course, it would probably be better if all of these dogs had homes, but it is nice to see familiar dogs as we wander the town.  The dogs are friendly and love to be petted, they seem to be pretty content with their circumstances.

Here is one of the first dogs we met, laying on the steps up to the Acropolis:

One dog in particular has formed a special bond with our group.  We met her upon arriving in Nafplio and she followed us around as we wandered the city.  One of our group members has fallen in love with the dog and named her Káltses, which is Greek for Socks.  Here she is exploring the beach:

So while there is no doubt that people in Greece are experiencing very tough economic times, it is nice to see how they still come together as a community to care for each other, and for the dogs.