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From Iowa to Athens: Adjusting to Life Abroad

by Maddie Willey
Athens, Greece | AIFS Study Abroad

Athens, Greece: a concrete jungle containing over half of Greece’s population. Concrete buildings that go on for miles and that I can never stop staring at. Places filled to the brim with millions of years of history. Walking in the same paths where great philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle walked and lived.

Athens never fails to leave me in awe.

Athens and her people are bountiful. I could go to the downtown area every weekend and still find something new to explore. I never thought that I could fall in love with a city that appears to be mostly concrete. When you look at Athens from above it is comprised of white concrete. You may be able to make out some parks or green spaces, but it is primarily buildings. But how can so many building that look the same seem so beautiful? I am still trying to decipher that.

Maybe it’s the history that those building contain and cover. If you dig almost anywhere in Athens, you will find ruins of ancient cities. Maybe even a few layers of them.

Back to the Beginning

During my senior year of high school in Minnesota, I was so ready to leave my hometown and move on to a bigger and better city. I now go to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, which means I went from a town with a population close to 18,000 people to an area that was around 217,000 — almost 200,000 more people than I was used to. But I loved it. I loved moving to Des Moines and having any store I wanted to go to within a 15-minute drive. In my hometown, most stores I wanted to go to were about an hour or more away. On top of that, by going to Drake University I was still able to get the small community feel since the student population is about 5,000. With all that said, going to college helped me discover how much of a homebody I really am.

My freshman year at Drake was exciting, but I was also a wreck. I missed my boyfriend who was back home in his senior year of high school. I missed my family and my friends. I was more of an introvert and didn’t really have any friends outside of my classes or on-campus job, and my random roommate and I didn’t really talk either. I did not have the first-year college experience that I was expecting.

Finding My Footing

My sophomore year was way better. I became closer with one of my co-workers when we ended up having a class together and learned we lived on the same floor. We grew closer and did so many things together, whether it was getting food, going to musicals or plays, helping each other with projects, and more. I still had my moments of homesickness at college, but it was so much better because I had people to hang out with and talk to.

Taking a Leap of Faith

After these experiences, I was scared to study abroad for a full semester in Athens, Greece. I didn’t know how I would do adjusting to life abroad, or if I would get really homesick and not enjoy my time. Now, halfway through my semester, I am still doing well. Of course, I still have moments where I miss my family, but nothing compared to how I usually am, which comes as a big surprise as we are now thousands of miles and eight hours apart. I think it helps that I am usually busy and have things planned out to do.

The week leading up to my departure date I was surprisingly not that anxious either. Usually, when I have had events like this come up, I start freaking out and my fear takes over my excitement. This happened when I went to the Bahamas for my J-Term class, as well as my spring break trip to the Tennessee area doing service work. When those events got closer, usually the first few days before, I would start panicking and wish that I wasn’t going, that instead I would be able to be home and spend time with my loved ones. But then as soon as we left, I was nothing but happy and excited for new experiences.

A Moment of Second-Guessing

I did have a moment though when headed to Greece. I elected to do the flight package with AIFS, which means before heading to Athens I would first fly to London and spend about two days exploring with some of the other students in my program. London was fun; I made the most of my time there and saw lots of the must-see sights. But when it came time to leave London and go to the airport for our flight to Greece, we ended up being in the London airport for quite a few hours. This gave me a lot of time to do some thinking, which is not always a good thing for me. My anxiety was going strong and I was worried for what was yet to come.

Adjusting to Life Abroad

Being in London felt like a small vacation, but flying to Greece made everything so real — that I would be gone and living abroad for almost four months. I was scared that I wouldn’t like or get along with my roommate, that I wouldn’t find or make any friends. But I was worrying about things that I had no control over. I was bringing myself more stress than I needed to, and my mom helped me out by reminding me to take things one step at a time and make small goals.

I did have one moment of panic during my semester, but it was similar to the kind I always seem to get before the solo trips I take and adventures I go on. Otherwise, since being in Greece, I have been put together. Yes, there have been some hard times, especially related to communication. That is what happens when you are eight hours ahead of your loved ones. Often, when you are going to bed, they are either still in work/school or just getting done. When I wake up in the morning, they are asleep or just going to bed. Weekends are the toughest because I don’t have classes to distract me when they are sleeping.

Why It’s Worth It

But even with those hardships and adjusting to life abroad, I couldn’t imagine not having taken the leap to go abroad. Being in Europe you have an easier time traveling and going to countries you want to see. Italy was a big destination for many students on my program. From Greece, it was only a few hours via airplane, compared to an entire day of travel if you visited Italy from the United States. The sights I got to see there were amazing and the city I visited was beautiful. On top of that, the other trips I took inside and outside of Greece were so interesting and fun.

As I mentioned, making friends in college was rough for me, but I quickly made friends with two girls who also did the London flight package. They have been my ride-or-dies as I have been adjusting to life abroad. We often hangout, go get food, or head downtown to go walking through all the local shops. These girls are people that I never plan on losing contact with. We have made so many unique memories together while traveling and exploring Greece.

Adjusting to life in Athens, Greece | AIFS Study Abroad

My immediate roommate and I also got along really well. This wasn’t something I was used to because of my experiences with roommates back at Drake University. But my roommate and I would talk all the time, and sometimes cook together. We even went on a trip to Germany together.

My family actually came to visit me in Athens around Thanksgiving so I could show them around my “home away from home.” I told them and showed them all of the cool things I have seen and learned about. Greece had so much history and every time I went on a trip somewhere I was astounded by the information I was told.

Going abroad and adjusting to life there can be a scary experience but you only get out what you put into it. No matter what nerves that come during the traveling abroad or the prep for it, it will all end up being worth it.

Adjusting to life abroad in Athens, Greece | AIFS Study Abroad
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