Hannah Breshears, honors history and architectural studies major, encountered both ancient monuments and contemporary economic woes last summer in Greece …..
Last summer, with the help of fellowship funding, I was able to participate in the University of Arkansas Classics in Greece and Turkey study abroad program with twenty other undergraduate students. Dr. Daniel Levine and George Paulson, two extremely knowledgeable faculty members from the university, led the group. We spent three weeks in Greece, in towns as small as Delphi and Napflio as well as the enormous metropolis that is Athens. Before returning to the States, we flew to Istanbul for five days, and were able to stay in a hotel just down the street from Sultanahmet Square, home to Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The primary goal of the trip was to immerse ourselves in the Greek culture and absorb as much ancient art and history as possible, with a short foray into Istanbul as a sort of test run for future study tours, as this was the first time the professors had taken students to Turkey.
I took two classes in conjunction with the classics trip, an honors course called Ancient/Medieval Turkish Art and Culture and another called Modern Greece/Turkey. Because I was the only architecture student in the group, Dr. Levine and Prof. Paulson gave me some leeway with my research and I was able to pursue the primarily Turkish topics I was truly interested in, namely the urban development of Istanbul into a mega city and the historical relevance of the Sultanahmet Camii, or the Blue Mosque as it has been nicknamed by tourists. These courses not only fulfilled part of the professional elective requirement for my major, but also helped to solidify a possible field of research for future thesis work. I had been interested in urban development for quite some time, but really had no relevant experience on which to base a thesis proposal. The intense research required in the months leading up to the trip, coupled with the first hand knowledge of design triumphs and blunders I gained in Athens and Istanbul during the study tour will certainly benefit me long term as I pursue future internships in the field and begin graduate school applications.
Our journey to Greece and Turkey this summer was the trip of a lifetime. The “classics” emphasis of the trip is a little misleading: while I certainly came away from the program with a much better understanding of Greek mythology and history, the course material is much more holistic in nature. As well versed as I became in white marble sculpture and ancient temples, by the end of the trip I also knew a handful of Greek dances, I could order dinner in three different languages, and had well-earned scars from a thirteen kilometer hike down the Samarian Gorge. Outside the classroom I learned how to ride the metro, convert dollars to Euros in mere seconds, and make friends even when I couldn’t speak the language. I learned how to truly enjoy a meal: in Greece there is no such thing as “fast food.” Every meal is a formal affair, some stretching on for two or three hours, with long breaks in between. The food, however, is so fantastic that you quickly forget how long it’s been since you’d last eaten. During our stay in Greece we ate fresh baked bread and olive oil for every meal, drank sweet orange juice from the trees in the field behind our hotel, and learned to love the salty sweet yogurt the Greeks are famous for.
In some ways I feel like Greece belongs to me now, especially the small towns. In those few short weeks I gradually shed my tourist persona and got to know the “real” Greece, a place with real people and indescribable beauty, but also real problems. During our stay, I swam in the Mediterranean, played soccer with Greek children and strolled through the streets in the evenings like the old men do, but I also saw the beginnings of a potentially hostile uprising. From the balcony of our hotel in Athens I could hear the people rioting in front of the Parliament building, as they became increasingly dissatisfied with the austerity measures their government was pursuing in light of the economic crisis. I learned more about world finances and the global market in that short time than I have in all my years of school, and since returning to the States I’ve pored over the international papers, consuming every scrap of news about Greece. I think that small seed of global consciousness, the fledging sense of awareness that has grown in me as a result of this trip is enough to recommend it to anyone considering studying abroad. Even if you don’t fall in love with the art and food and music and landscape of Greece, which you will, the people will steal your heart. It’s inevitable.