**DISCLAIMER** (Sept 3,2017)
I have just finished my study abroad about 4 days ago so now i have time to catch up and write my blog and adventures!!
OKAY LETS BEGIN!!
August 17th, We visited the Hotel Des Invalides, which Louis XIV had built to serve as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers. It is also the resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte! It is such a big place, and contained many different museums. My favorite exhibit they had was the World Wars visit. History of the world wars, and history in general, is extremely important to me because I feel that we’re to learn from history and our mistakes and grow from them in order to not repeat the wars and the mistakes of our past. After the visit some of the group went to a cafe near Père Lachaise, one of the biggest cemetery’s in Paris, and had some snacks before going back to our housing for the night.
August 18th, Friday was just a day of class and then we were free for the rest of the weekend!! After class, my friends and i went to go see Dunkirk (Dunkerque en Français) at the movie theater. The movie theater itself was very different and also very small, the movie played in English but had french subtitles so it was easy to understand and correlate the words i didn’t understand in french to the words i heard in English. Afterwards we just headed back to get some rest because the whole week before was super busy, and the week ahead would be even busier!
August 19th, some friends and i took a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens again, and we found a small version of the Statue of Liberty that France had gifted to the US back in 1886.
After being in Europe for a couple weeks, we finally decided to try the french version of Chipotle! Usually i don’t eat meat in the US because it makes me sick but i have had a lot more luck in Europe, with other food that aren’t meat too. Fast food is fast food where ever you go, but personally i think that the fast food in Europe doesn’t taste like the fast food in America. We then walked around after being full of food, and shopped a little! We tried to go to the catacombs the line was too long and they were closing soon so we just got some food at home and played card games for the night!
August 20th, a couple of us got up early for a post-mass performance to hear the organist play the Organ. It was really something spectacular. I have played music for over 7 years and i just love hearing music being played so to me it was a really great experience. After listening to the organist, we went and got crepes at one of the little cafes and myself and my friend, Sarah, went to the Cemetery Montparnasse, and the Père Lachaise Cemetery because for once of our classes we needed to research a famous French person buried in one of the two cemeteries. The cemeteries here are very different than in the US too. They are very crowded and have very extravagant or elaborate tombs. Just walking around the cemeteries took a couple hours, and after wards we headed home and worked on our projects, and went to sleep so we could rest for the week ahead.
August 22st, probably one of my favorite days on the trip was this day. We went to the Hôtel de Ville, which is the city hall of Paris, and it was really extravagant on the inside and outside, we had a guided tour around and i still am in awe of all the beauty in Parisian buildings. After the class visit, my other friend , Xiyi, and i went to Le Mur des Je t’aime and Sacré Cœur. We climbed way too many steps that day, but it was worth it to see the view of paris. And the wall of i love you, is a wall that has the words ‘I love you’ written on it in every language. It was really an amazing sight to see. And i was able to get little souvenirs for my friends, because at the bottom of the hill from the Sacré Cœur, were a ton of little shops for souvenirs. It was a very eventful day.
August 23nd, EARLY EARLY MORNING!! We got up for our group trip outside of Paris to visit Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte! We took a charter bus about an hour out of the city to look and have the hands on experience of our history lesson. Both the castles were beautiful but were simple compared to the upcoming visit to Versailles. There’s not a lot to say but more to show for the two castles. *side note; i did get attacked by a swan though because it didn’t like my white shoes, i think maybe it thought i was another swan, but who knows*
August 24th, another early morning with the first stop being the Louvre! I got to see so many amazing works of art that I’ve always wanted to see. We only had a couple hours in the Louvre, and let me say as a word of advice, if you go to the Louvre and want to see it all, plan on that taking a couple days! The place is huge!! After wards we had class, until around 5pm, and i was so tired i just took a nap after wards and then did some homework.
August 25th, the day we went to Versailles!! Versailles, was probably one of my favorite group outings. The inside is so beautiful and the outside gardens are HUGE, you would need a whole day or two just to see all of both. The weather wasn’t happy that day so we had to wait under some arches until the storm passed before we could walk around the gardens. But it was so beautiful and after the storm cleared it was really nice!
August 27th, we had a optional cooking lesson with our professor Hélène! She taught us couple of french meals that we then prepared for the class for the next day for lunch and dinner. Our professor contributed to much to the program from her knowledge to her cooking to her help in general everyday things! She really made the program great and is another reason study abroad was so amazing
Wow, its been super busy this last week! We already had our first midterm and i got an A! For the beginning of the week, we just had class in an actual class setting. Then Wednesday we went to Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie. I remember in the beginning of the orientations our director told us we would have a to walk a lot, which i understood, but i never actually imagined it would be as much as it has been! Thursday we went to some old Gallo Roman arenas and to Cluny museum. Then Friday we had our midterm, and afterwards went to the Pantheon. It was really magnificent but also I kinda creepy because it was all tombs, but there were some pretty significant people buried there. Afterwards, i took my own mini trip down the street to Palais De Luxembourg, which was simply amazing, the palais and jardin were breathtakingly beautiful. That night some friends and I also went out for the night and had some good food! The next day we went to the museums again because the program got us a 4 day museum pass to use for the one full day off! This last Monday we went to the Basilica of St Denis, another amazing yet kind of creepy sight because of all the tombs. Then yesterday we visited the outside part of the Louvre and i got some medicine because i was starting to get sick, but i definitely feel better today. And today we got up bright an early at 6;30am to get on a train and got to Chartres to see the church and the country side. Ive tried to condense my writing today because I’ve been really busy and tired, and its easier to read and follow! So thanks for reading, and ill write again sooner (hopefully) than this last time!
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.
July 31st 2017
After having my plane delayed about 2 hours in Amsterdam, I had rode the train down from Charles De Gualle (north of Paris) to the southern end of Paris to arrive at the Cite Internationale Universitarie de Paris. This will be my home base for the next month. I will admit it was only slightly nerve racking because of the lack of cellular data, and never having rode a train on my own, but I used my French to help navigate the way. I arrived at the student housing around 4pm ( approximately 7am Seattle time) tired and hungry. The first night I walked down to a Italian restaurant where I ordered a pizza in not-so-amazing French. I apologized to the owner of the restaurant for my poor French where he apologized for his poor English in return and said to not worry because my French will get better. I went back to housing after ordering my pizza and got inside just before a down pour, and called it a night.
Tuesday August 1st, the other 27 students arrived, either really tired, or also used to European time as well. I had found a group of fellow hungry students and we went to another cafe down the streets from the university. After having a well deserved meal, a couple of us headed to the super market and picked up baguettes to munch on and got to know each other on the front terrace, and tell stories about our trips to Europe and trips of where we’ve been.
Wednesday August 2nd, was when we started classes. Now this is the first time I had been back on an early schedule since summer break had begun, and our professor also noticed that as we all tired to stay awake with glossy eyes, which fortunately she had allowed us to end at noon. After class, a couple of us had seen it as a prime opportunity to head to the Eiffel Tower!! We sat in the Parc du Champs De Mars and munched on some more baguettes, and watch the Tower light up and shimmer at the 10pm. It was truly a spectacular sight, that i never even imagined I’d actually be seeing. Still being tired and groggy we then headed back and got back to the university around 11pm.
Thursday August 3rd, we met in the lobby at a bright and early 7:30am and headed to breakfast next to Notre- Dame cathedral and then proceeded to climb over 700 steps to reach the top of the towers that over looked the Seine and the city of Paris. Then around 2pm we headed back to he university for 2 hours of French 210 (history of Paris class) and 2 more hours of French 390 (pronunciation and speaking class).
Friday the 4th, we had the two classes again, but only until 2pm! Which meant the beginning of the weekend! We had done the touristy thing, and went on a boat ride on the Seine, and walked around the 1st arrondissement some more. One of the cutest sights that I saw there was the bridge and gates with the locks for lovers. There was sooo many, it’s really insane to see it in real life as well. We then continued our walk and we got to see the outside of the Louvre. And went back for some dinner around 7pm.
Saturday the 5th, a few of my friends and I went to the mall, because I didn’t pack enough clothes and it was prime time for some cool french clothing and gifts for my family and friends. After shopping we walked around some more and found another cathedral to enter and admire. We returned around 4pm and I stayed in that night to do the load of homework that was due for Monday.
Sunday the 6th was free musée day because it was the first Sunday of the month and it was definitely something to take advantage of. First, we went to the Pompidou, which was a modern art museum. Then we had some lunch a small Italian restaurant, and took the metro to the next stop. My favourtie musée of the two was Musée de l’Orangerie, where i was fortunate enough to see Claude Monet’s famous work of Water Lilies! Such beauty and detail within the art. We continued through the museum and saw other works by Monet, as well as Picasso, and Matisse. I ended the day by coming back to the housing and going to sleep in prep for the next morning! Now I continue to adventure and learn and hope to write more often so my entries aren’t as long! Wish me luck on my schooling and I’ll keep you all in the loop! Until next time!
(P.S. In case any of you were wondering, I’ve walked an average of 4.5 miles per day. So far these past two weeks I’ve walked 56.59 miles.)
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!
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.
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,
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!
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.