Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unforgettable Journey

What a trip! The people, experiences, and places will surely be unforgettable. I can’t even begin to believe that with all we learned and moments we shared that we were in Greece for only three weeks. This is surely one thing in my life that I wouldn't trade anything else for. I am glad I was able to meet everyone in this group and learn more about geopolitics, globalization and statecraft. From the moment I heard about this program, my attention was grabbed. I knew I wanted to study abroad and this program fit perfectly. Even though these courses did not fall under my major, my understanding of the topics discussed is much vaster.

Believe it or not, for those of you that know me, I already cannot shut up and stop sharing my experiences with my friends and family. I highly recommend this program to anyone interested in the geopolitics, globalization and statecraft. To have a greater understanding of the world you live in is truly an important attribute to understanding the place where you are from. As much as I learned about the European Union, it was interesting to see the United States influence in the Mediterranean. Attending the American Navy Base was by far one of my favorite experiences. Being able to share lunch with the Commander and hear his story of his times in the military and then questioning him about the base and other geopolitical significant topics was great. It was one of those trips that just put the real world aspect into what we were learning.

Overall like I said before I wouldn't trade this trip for anything. My time spent here in Greece with everyone in our group was amazing. This trip has motivated me to look for more study abroad opportunities for next summer and maybe even spend some time traveling Europe afterwards. As glad as I am to be back, I am much sadder I have left Greece. 

New friends and new passport stamps

Finally waking up from my anesthesia coma of getting my wisdom teeth pulled the day after I arrived home from the wonderful land of Greece, I am able to pull myself together to write a final blog post. Me and Tamara flew home to the U.S. with flying colors, we even got three seat row to ourselves and as an added bonus passport control put my stamp of entry and departure next to each other on the first page which never happens. We looked through our phones and cameras rewatching all the videos and photos we took, dying of laughter in the Athens airport. When we finally arrived in the U.S. through Philadelphia we were greeted by thunderstorms and delays (could've just started crying right there), we were no longer in the land where it doesn't rain.

Just having uploaded all my pictures to my computer, it gave me a chance to relive all the great days we  all had together. Hiking through the gorge and not falling off the mountain was a major accomplishment for me, getting through the long and slow car rides with the bus crew will always be a funny memory, and learning how to bargain in Chania is now an actual skill. As for the beaches and pool bars... I don't think I will be able to go to another beach ever again and be as happy as I was on the beaches of Greece. Water will never be as clear (or salty), fresh water showers will never be as accessible, and chairs, umbrellas and drink service will never be as perfect.  

I cannot even begin to describe how privileged and grateful I feel to have been given this opportunity to study in Crete. Even though I chose to participate in the program for the sole reason of going to Greece and the Political Science just being the catalyst to my travels, I can honestly say that I now know a little something about geopolitics and statecraft considering I knew absolutely nothing before this being a English Com major. It was a rewarding program and I even have a certificate to prove it. Going into this program I really didn't know anyone personally (besides Tamara seeing that she's my roommate) but going home I can say that I have made new friends that I have made a real connection with and now I will have 15 new people to say hi to on campus.

Lastly, I cannot express my gratitude enough to Mr. Kapsomenos, for being a gracious host and allowing us to rowdy, obnoxious college kids to stay at your institute. The ladies: Eva, Cleo, Tasulla, Elfrenia and Lea (sorry if I spelt any name wrong) thank you for cooking, cleaning and essentially being our Greek moms I love you all and will miss you and will never forget all the things you did for us. Vasalikis even though I didn't take your class you were still a great teacher and always welcoming, and thank you for being a fellow beach bum and driving us to the beach. Theo, thank you for dealing with the bus crew, we were loud, we sang off key, and we complained about your driving but we love you anyways. And finally, Professor Vamvakas and Professor Kulich, thank you for creating this program, it was an eye opening and learning experience and I love every minute of it.

Lea, Me, Eva, Cleo, & Tamara

Bus Crew

'til next time Greece! υγειά μας!

Happy sad glad

I am happy that I am tan and have escaped my Boston bubble. I am happy that I also spent last  semester studying European politics with professor Kulich-Vamvakas. To continue learning about the intense geopolitical and economic standings of the Mediterranean region, while actually on the soil is amazing to me.

 It's mind boggling to see how quickly a person becomes to their surroundings. The first week or so I was astounded by everything around me, and as this journey ended I had grown accustomed to the scenery. I got used to walking out to that beautiful courtyard every morning. Of course as happy as I'll be to be home, in my bed, surrounded by friends and family, I will never forget my loft. I'm also happy with my roommates during the program. I am so happy to have been able to share this time with great people an lots of laughs. We as a group really came together, and let's not forget the love I have for the back of the bus crew. It made me incredibly happy to hear Enrique Inglesias and "Final Countdown" on the radio on the ferry to Santorini as it instantly reminded me of the never-ending bus ride to Knossos. 

Don't get me started on sad... I am sad to leave the wonderful women working for the institute who have treated all of us like their own children. It was the saddestgoodbye to hug and kiss Eva and Chleo (spelling?). I am sad to leave Mr. Kapsomenos, with his incredible stride that will always have "do the hustle" playing in the background. I am sad to leave the institute which is not only aesthetically pleasing but has housed some great memories. I will be sad to leave the family dinners filled with friends and food and great conversation. I am most of all sad to leave the beautiful weather and beaches and will miss Mylos, Eftiki Star Beach, Falassarna and stunning coastlines that are everywhere you turn.

Glad. I am glad that I will never have to (struggle to) walk up the institute hill in the scorching heat. I am glad that in the states I can get a large iced coffee so I don't have to buy two espresso freddos (because let's face it the first ones gone before you cross the street). I am glad that I can now read the Greek alphabet, something I hope I never lose. I wish to continue Greek and hopefully Vasilikis is up for private lessons via email. Oh I am glad that I wont be setting foot in an airport for a little while, I'm pretty over the lines and security and uncomfortable seats. Overall I am glad we as a group, made it through this academically challenging program with smiles on our faces, this was a great bunch and I hope I speak for us all when I say a great second run!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hakuna Matata: A tip for future travel students

The phrase above has been my guiding light throughout this trip. And, oh, what a trip it has been so far. First off, if you do not know this popular phrase, you definitely did not get the great chance to watch one of the greatest Disney movies of the 90's, maybe even of all time, Lion King. A phrase that was formulated using the Swahili language and translates to "no worries". For me, this is the first thing that comes to mind.
                Yes things won’t go your way, the people on the trip might be of a crowd you may not like, your expectations might not be what actually happens on any given day. It is at this point you take a step back and just say to yourself, Hakuna Matata, “no worries”. This might sound corny but this one phrase, this way of being has taken a stressful, emotionally draining but altogether fulfilling time in Crete as some of the best days  I’ve had.
                I find myself currently in a conflict of sorts. In less than 24 hours I will be leaving this island, leaving Tasula, Euyenia (it took me three weeks to figure its pronounce Ev-yen-e-ah, it will most likely take me a lifetime to spell it), both Cleos, Lia, and Eva. I will be leaving Mr. Kapsomenos. I will be leaving this

The Man,the Myth the Kapso
family of friends I have made on this trip. Even though I knew them before I will never know many of my classmates as well as I know this bunch now. And like a family I love them all the same. Whether it was Ben who surprised me every day with his quiet outbursts of comedy that I find so funny, or Nick who quietly, literally as quiet as can be, became someone I believe I can call a friend. There was even the dastardly duo of Tamara, pronounced like camera, and little princess Marissa being so wild, crazy and fun. Then there was the prom couple Cody and Amelia, who honestly without their comedic performances I don’t think my time here would have been quite as memorable. Diane thanks for teaching me guitar. Alan thank you for my understanding of PERCEPTION, but really thank you for lending me your ears when I got a little frustrated. Kelsey our T.A made it even more enjoyable going to the restaurant and being able to mingle with the locals over a refreshing frappe. Or even Nate and his constant search for a cup of coffee. Buck the crazy adventure man good luck and safe travels in Brazil. DW and DA the best tandem of names. I could go on forever with stuff like Adrianna’s dinner table stories of her brother which were hilarious I must say, but to make this as short and sweet as I can I won’t.

I have loved this trip because the positives always outweighed the negative just because I always felt like there were no worries.  That is my only advice to future students, there will always be bumps in the road but even greater there is always that light at the end of the tunnel. What you take away from trips like these should be the positive moments, the great moments. Thank you to the island of Crete, the residents of Alikianos who may or may not have been able to hear us far into the night writing papers having singing circles or what have you, thank you to the superwomen of this trip who fed us full, who cleaned as clean as possible and loved us as wholly as they could. Thank you to Kapsomenos, you magician you, for always being so happy and making us feel welcome. Thank you to Theo for driving us around and making our group part of his blogpost. Finally, special thanks go to the Vamvakas family for this amazing program and their commitment to making this the safest, most productive and fun experience of a lifetime.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just submitted my final paper which is bittersweet. On one hand I can sing " schools out for the summer," but on the other it means  this tremendous experience and exposure to a culture I've come to love and feel welcomed in is coming to quick end. I have learned a lot in the past month, I have had many realizations and not only learned in the classroom, but about others, as well as my self. Learning never stops for me as I believe people are a work in progress to their very end.

I am so enriched because of this experience and this is just another stepping stone in the grand scheme, but this stone has been a diamond in which I cant necessarily pick up and bring with me. Like all things in life, everything must come to an end (I guess) and this is one of those things that has really meant a lot to me and perhaps my overall shaping. I am so grateful for the opportunities afforded to me and have no idea how my life continues to work out so well as it often does.

 I thank everyone who made this experience what it was, and those who made it possible above all else. I miss my home, parents and friends, but I will also miss the home I've been immersed into and have made here in such a short span of time. In about 40 hours I will be boarding a plane in Athens and landing in Beirut; I am beyond excited to see my family and enjoy my time in that paradise as I know it. It is in my nature to give credit where credit is due ( or atleast I try), and this has truly been amazing as my nostalgia already tells me. Just like when I left Lebanon last summer not knowing how soon I would return, the future is always uncertain and I guess when we have such appreciation to something or someone, the law of attraction naturally takes course. Goodbyes aren't my thing when love grows for me, and like all other scenarios ill say this to Crete if it can hear me, Ill see you soon.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

22 June 2013

"Samaria Gorge"

This experience was one of my most favorite of the whole entire trip. It has also been the experience that has taken the longest one to process. While hiking, up ways, down ways,  cross ways, all ways...I was screaming about how  "I would never do this again" and how crazy I was for doing this but by the time I got a little pass the half way point, my perspective began to change. The sights we began to see were beautiful and there were many opportunities for self reflection. I thought about how hard it had been hiking so far and for so many hours and paralleled that to the hardships and challenges that I experience in life.  The moment in which  I reached the end and passed the gate man my exit paper was the best feeling ever. Again I thought to my comparable challenging l ife experience and thought, if I could accomplish this (all though sweaty, smelly, bruised, and cranky) I could conquer the world. Until I realized that it was another 3 km to the beach that we all were greatly anticipating. Reaching that beach however was a feeling that I will never, ever forget. It was like winning the Olympics and I would encourage all to experience it. I will definitely hike the Samaria Gorge again!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Please, don't say goodbye

As I sit here finishing up my final project for the course, a part of me continues to stall in hopes I can somehow elongate this whole experience. In a few short and restless hours, the courtyard will again be alive as we go on one of our final journeys to the beautiful volcanic island of Santorini.

One of the most bittersweet moments was an hour or so (0 concept of time at this point) ago when professor Vaseliki came in and said goodbye since she will be leaving early in the morning. I have never been good at goodbyes, and often handle these moments terribly, but inside I have immense feelings that I can not always bring to the exterior. She was an amazing teacher and so patient with all of us, even though we may have been a tough crew to handle some days, her patience and drive day in and day out was admirable.Needless to say I believe we can all walk away with a certain knowledge and understanding of the Greek language; which was not particularly the case a few short weeks ago.

This has truly been a great experience, and although difficult at times, I am grateful for the exposure and aspire to return again one day to take care of some unfinished business. I can only imagine how much more difficult it will be as one by one we trickle out, and there becomes less and less commotion here at the institute. I have grown to love this village life, and the simplicity of it all day in and day out. The hosts here are unbelievable, and at this point are mother figures to all of us. I am so fond of the care they have taken, unselfishly sacrificing themselves and their own interests day in and day out to accommodate people whom they have just met.

The beauty of the landscape is truly indescribable, and pictures provide only a glimpse of this natural and healthy vegetation in close and far sight, from the flower beds, to the streets, through valleys and finally behind the silver lining of mountain ranges. I feel as if I just arrived here, as the time has literally elapsed so quickly; days have blended together, and although at times I feel as if we haven't stopped, I believe that is what has made it so enriching and complete of an experience. The learning here never really stopped in my opinion, whether it be in the classroom during class or in the minutes after, conversations with fellow students or locals, car rides, excursions and many other minute aspects of everyday life we have become so accustomed to.

It feels as if there has been revelation after revelation and I am so extremely nostalgic even though there is still a couple days to go. I cringe inside everytime I hear about departure times or anything relating to leaving this place. The village people have been extremely accommodating themselves, whether it be the Muy Thai instructor down the street, Costas and Andrios in the general store at the bottom of the hill, or even the hair dresser earlier today, everyone has been very welcoming and open to conversation. The embrace of a smile and the willingness to be out of a comfort zone  is something that I extremely appreciate. Communication has not always been easy, whether is be with the women of the institute or town locals, the effort to understand and work through the language barrier says a lot to me.

I appreciate everyone who has been a part of this trip, as you have all enriched me and helped me grow, it may have been difficult always being in the same confines but all in all, I have certainly come away with one of the most rewarding and exciting month of my life.

Thank you all so much for sharing this with me, and I wish you all the best of luck moving forward!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

This Must Be The Place.

Three days left until I leave the island of Crete. 

72 hours will break down as follows:

 Approximately nine more family-style meals, a handful of sing-alongs, three classes, two major assignments (an exam and a paper), and one last celebration on Sunday night with a group that has become closer than I ever expected.  

 Did I mention I should be writing my final paper?  Instead I’m at the beach, with a laptop, appreciating a view that I may not see for quite some time.   By the way, did you all know that there something called a view tax?  This means one can be taxed for choosing a house with a view of a beautiful New England landscape (or any landscape for that matter).  I learned that today and thought to myself, what if a blind person bought a house having been completely unaware that it had an excellent view? Ah, I digress.  The next three days are going to be emotional, at least for me.  I have established along with another individual on this trip that I become too sentimental at times.

  Happiness is seen among some of us to return home and eat buffalo chicken, or to see our family and friends. Dread is palpable among others who have made a home here, found close local friends, and fallen in love with this place.   Excitement can be seen in those who will continue to travel, and apprehension in those who are scared to leave as the realistic fear hits them like a brick wall:  When will I return? 

No one really knows- maybe next summer, or maybe never. 
 I personally, am hoping for the former.

Some of us have taken pictures to look back on. Others broke a camera, or lost a phone, and maybe won’t have the opportunity to be quite so nostalgic.  Some of us will be reminded of this beautiful experience by tattoos (sorry, Professor), or by hats that were given to us at the U.S. navy base.  (Souda Bay is the largest natural harbor in the Mediterranean and can store four U.S. aircraft carriers at once). Some of us might wake up with a song stuck in our head- one we learned in our Greek class. Some of us may find ourselves in the days ahead, singing Welcome to Greece (a tune that was shown to the group on a hike that some of us barely escaped).  Some of us have already planned to move into the apartment above The Restaurant, and some of us cannot think past next week.   But every single person on this trip is well aware, that all of us will look back on it fondly.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fajitas, Minotaurs and Ryan Seacrest

Only in Greece could you find a church at a gas station, and not just any kind of church but a simply beautiful one. This I learned during a pit stop during our exhausting ride home from Knossos, where we did not find the minotaur. The bus/van has been like a second home to the crew who, no matter how much we complain, has the undeniable need to always ride in the van. And I cannot forget to mention our van driver Theo, he is a man of very few words but the things I've learned about him in my time being his co-pilot are quite funny. 1) He has a extremely wide taste in music from Mariah Carey to the Rolling Stones, he even makes his own mix CDs embellished with his own custom CD label. 2) He laughs (his laugh is infectious by the way) when caravans of cars and buses drive past us on the highway because we go 50 km/hr in a 90 km/hr zone (translation: 30mph on the highway) or when cars honk at us. 3) But he will gun the engine when were on a windy mountain road or if we say we need to go to the bathroom and then he pulls on the "shoulder" and says "pee pee." 4) He can drive, smoke and talk on the cell phone all at the same time. I think that the van crew has been the bain of his existence and also his comic relief (we are all quite funny) because he finally started to laugh at our antics and sing-alongs. On the long drive home I was determined DJ since I figured out how to work the stereosystem. After an hour of searching for stations we stumbled upon Taylor Swift's "I knew you were trouble," cue the van sing-along, and then "Call Me Maybe" came on, cue the van sing-along again. It seems that we can't escape Ryan Seacrest even though we are thousand of miles away since we actually found a radio station that did the American Top 40 Countdown.

Today, we went to the U.S. Naval Base in Souda Bay. One minute we were in Crete then we handed our passports over the officers at the gate and then all of a sudden we were in Florida. Palm trees, signs in English saying "don't drink and drive" and "click it or ticket," diners, laundromats and a convenience store dedicated to Doritos, Heinz Ketchup and other American junk food. Needless to say we were pretty much in awe. For all of us it's been at least 2 weeks since we talked to any other Americans besides each other and our families so for me its was kind of strange to hear the Mid-Western accent of Commander Grimes, who ate lunch with us and gave us the briefing along with Commander Gibson. For lunch we had the army base version of fajitas which weren't exactly chipotle but they did the job of giving some of us a little taste of home again even if it was cafeteria food.

Even though all of the things I said sound rather shallow, I think that there is something to be said about the experiences we had this weekend and the cultural differences that were made blatantly obvious. We went from being completely immersed in the Greek culture for 2 weeks straight and then going into a 3 mile radius (that's probably completely false) U.S. Navy base and you would never think you were in a foreign country but on a college campus. Here in Greece there are no rules of the road and if there are no one follows them. We may complain about the way Theo drives, then again we are Massachusetts/Boston drivers, but we do appreciate the favor he is doing us by driving us around to all our excursions, and we really do have a lot of fun in the bus and I think Theo really does like his Wild Thornberries as Diane puts it. And another plus to the slowness to Theo's driving I was able to take pretty good pictures while the car was in motion.


Just got back from the American Naval Base on Crete. You know, the one in Souda Bay, the largest natural harbor in the Mediterranean, only place you can dock four aircraft carriers simultaneously. It's kind of a big deal. They also have a series of runways where they keep flying metal death machines that rain hellfire on the enemies of liberty and justice. Oddly they actually share the runway with a neighboring Greek commercial airport. There they keep the equivalent of flying tour buses that ferry countless Germans in socks and sandals to and fro paradise.

Upon our arrival they took our passports and handed out security clearance cards as we filed into a tour bus. In retrospect that seems like overkill since we toured what probably amounted to like 100 yards of pavement. Turns out the U.S. is a little secretive about their geostrategically vital naval base. The difference between the Cretan lands and the American base was striking however. Crossing the line from the village of Marathi into the Souda Bay facility was like driving straight into suburban Florida- baseball fields, green lawns, and patio grills abound. Anywho, they make a really mediocre fajita but on the bright side it was the first time I'd seen hot sauce in years and I got pretty aggressive with it. In all actuality, it was probably a very good fajita covered in half a gallon of mediocre hot sauce.

Our tour of the base was punctuated by a full briefing as to the mission of the base, and it's responsibilities relative to American interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Situated at the crossroads of three continents, NSA Souda Bay is charged with the maintenance of vital choke points in the Suez Canal and the Dardanelles. Without free access to these waterways, global shipping and trade would be severely hampered- dealing a hefty blow to the U.S. and world economy. Besides this, the Suez and Dardanelles provide the quickest maritime access for the U.S., NATO, and any western power to the Indian Ocean and any interest- military, economic, or otherwise- a state or organization might have there. According to the commanding officer at the base, nearly every military ship that crosses through the Suez to the Indian Ocean begins its journey at NSA Souda Bay and some 200 ships a year stop at the facility to refuel, rearm, and resupply.

Overall, the base was an enlightening experience as we saw geostrategy applied to policy on a base of vital importance to the United States and liberal democracy as a whole. The base itself was a testament to the global reach of the preeminent military power in the modern age. Yet it was also a testament to the adaptability of U.S. armed forces in times of austerity- the shared runway, installation of turf, and increased emphasis on fuel management all exercises to conserve and preserve in a time of tightening budgets and increased environmental awareness. Other than that it was also nice to see familiar, American faces and hear familiar American English- a welcome, if brief escape from the cultural immersion that has been the past several weeks.

Everything is glam metal and nothing hurt. (?)

American pop culture brought to the island of Crete has consistently proved to be thirty years behind.   For the group of us that ride on the bus to our destinations, this has become an incredibly enjoyable characteristic of the island.  You see, our driver on the bus has over 90 songs to choose from, all of which are either eighties hair metal/'glam rock' or a more recent artist: Mariah Carey.   It's as if these records were shipped over seas three decades ago and got lost on the way, ending up on the isolated island of Crete just a few years too late.  This has proved to be a uniting force among all of us.  The Final Countdown has become a group favorite, as who in their right mind would opt out of a sing-along?

 The dreadfully slow bus rides have become an unforgettable memory.  Whether it be tallying the cars that pass us illegally (by U.S. standards, of course), or inventing games to pass the time- our trips to every corner of the island have become some of the most memorable parts of our excursions.  I like to think of my classmates and I as a slightly dysfunctional family of sorts, not completely dissimilar from the Wild Thornberries.  I say that with love.

Yesterday, we took the beloved bus to the ancient Minoan ruins, where we saw the incredible palace and enjoyed an extremely thorough tour.  Last night, we hitched a ride on our bus to the home of Tazula, one of our hosts at the institute, for more traditional Greek food (I may have butchered the spelling of her name, I apologize).  Today, we drove to the U.S. base here on the island, where we tasted our first 'American' meal in weeks (it was actually Mexican style cuisine,  but you get the point).

As you can tell, the trips we take are many and versatile.  Until the trip to the navy base today, my contact with American norms were limited.   The juxtaposition of the two cultures has been made me realize the drastically different lifestyle I live at home.  I can safely say I appreciate life at home, but I also wonder how things remain so guarded here on the island.  It's an incredibly beautiful thing to realize the importance of a very specific identity here, as I see the preservation of not just Grecian culture, but a more specific Cretan culture as well.  Part of me would like to say we haven't experienced anything like this in the United States, but when I realize that we are able to unite over Poison (the American hair metal band) and Texmex, I realize it's definitely all perception.  We have a culture of our own, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


As we stroll through NAMFI, the Nato Missile Firing Installation, admiring the large horrifying bombs, missiles and drones, all I could think about was the beach, featured below... or any beach for that matter. Learning about the test firing of NAMFI, and the interactive videos that were featured, were incredibly interesting. The test field where we learned about the firing of the missiles was equally as interesting. I also thought that the NAMFI base being open to private institutions was interesting, and that they evidence tested is not necessarily shared between member states of NATO...

Dat Beach Doe - So pretty. If you are looking to come here for the beach, its definitely a good reason, you get plenty of time to enjoy the island of Crete, whether you like the beach or the city, its all here.  However, at the end of the day this is a study abroad course, not a travel abroad course. We are all here to learn so I think that the educational excursions are what has ultimately made this trip for me. In a few short hours  I have the opportunity to experience the American base on the Island, where they have American food, I have to stop writing shortly because tears are coming to my eyes as I imagine the taste of Burritos, Chicken Patties, and.... i'm crying, bye. 

 VIP access
 NAMFI Emblem
 The biggest baddest missle
 Back on the bus, back on the bus
 Mayor visits the institute
 Cretan Eve
 Learning the Cretan dances
 Slowly but surely
 "Do the Kapso"
 One of the many daily breathe taking views
 Traditional dancers at the cherry festival
 Mannin the Cannon
Minoan Ruins Archeological Museum
 Itsa Verya Beautifula
 Watch the throne
 Incredible detail
 Vegetation fa days
Welcome Dr. Kulich and Happy Father's Day Dr. Vamvakas!! 
Thank you!!