In anticipation of Greece

It’s hard to believe that by this time tomorrow, I’ll be at Boston’s Logan International Airport waiting to take off for Greece.

As part of a journalism-focused Dialogue of Civilization offered by Northeastern University, I will be reporting for five weeks with 18 other students in Thessaloniki and Athens.

I was also selected for an overnight trip to the Greek Island of Chios, where I will report along with two other students on the impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis there. Greece, with a population of 11 million people, has become home to more than 62,000 Syrian refugees.

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Chios is the fifth largest Greek island. / Photo courtesy 2007 Wikimedia Commons

Admittedly, I hate setting pre-departure expectations for any trip. I’m a Type A personality, and I tend to get bogged down by to-do lists and accomplishing predetermined goals. Traveling is all about experiencing what comes your way, and it’s easy for me to try to over-schedule an experience.

However, I’m human. Though I’ve kept busy with mundane tasks in preparation for the Dialogue—shopping for clothes, picking up medications, calling the bank—it doesn’t mean I’ve removed expectations completely out of my mind.

I want to write stories that I’m proud of. I want to learn new skills with video and photography. I want to challenge myself. I want to meet new people, form new friendships and build lasting memories.

Right now, though the trip is nearly 24 hours away, it still doesn’t feel real. I don’t really feel excited or afraid. I imagine these feelings will kick in just as I’m heading to the airport (they always do).

I have a couple things going for me: One, I’ve been to Greece before. However, my trip last summer was very different from the one I’m about to embark on. I was on a Mediterranean cruise with my family, and though I spent about a week in Greece, I didn’t spend more than a day in any one city or island.

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I’m on the right with my dad and brother at the Acropolis in Athens in July 2016. / Photo by Lizbeth Finn-Arnold

Two, I’ve been on a Dialogue before. The summer after my freshman year, I went on a human services trip to Lusaka, Zambia, where I worked five days a week for four weeks at the girls’ and women’s shelter Vision of Hope.

Though my Dialogue to Zambia was one of the best experiences of my life, it was not always easy. I read plenty of books and articles in preparation of the trip, but nothing quite prepares you for witnessing poverty in the developing world firsthand.

Working my first day at the shelter shocked the Hell out of me. I went home and cried my eyes out. I grew up fairly privileged, and seeing suffering fills any empathetic person with guilt. You can’t help thinking: Why me? Why was I afforded a safe home and access to education, simply because of where I was born and who I was born to? I imagine these emotions will come up while reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis as well.

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Two Northeastern students and I take a photo with the two women we worked with at Vision of Hope in the summer of 2015.

We often didn’t have wifi or cell phone service or even electricity. I was used to being connected to everyone in my life at all times, and was now faced with going days at a time without talking to my family and friends. I would come to appreciate being unplugged. It truly helped me think more clearly, and I became more reflective and got more out of the experience because of it. But the withdrawal was hard.

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A group photo on a dinner cruise of all the Northeastern students that went on the Zambia Dialogue, along with some of our Zambian friends.

This will be hard for me in Greece too. I’m going to miss Mother’s Day and my little brother’s prom. I’m going to miss my family and friends and boyfriend. Thankfully, I’m making it home just in time to see my brother’s high school graduation.

But I know this is going to be an unforgettable experience. One of my biggest regrets from my first Dialogue was not journaling while I was there. It’s a really special thing to be able to capture your feelings as you experience them and chart your growth. I’m hoping this blog can serve as a sort of online journal for me.

Until my airport departure tomorrow, I’ll be saying my goodbyes to loved ones and trying to shove everything possible into my suitcase while keeping it under 50 pounds—wish me luck!

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