Final thoughts on Greece

I’m on the plane headed back to Boston now, still more than 1,800 miles away, as I write this. I figured now would be as good a time as any to reflect on the past five weeks in Greece.

It’s hard to put into words how challenging and rewarding this experience was. I doubt there is any other Dialogue of Civilization that is more time intensive or demanding. It’s just not possible to give anything less than your whole self over to this reporting program and, at times, that was far from being easy.

IMG_2601.jpg
Isabelle and Isaac working in Thessaloniki. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

There were points during which I struggled a lot — over questions of whether it’s morally responsible for students to report on refugees as an educational experience. There are things I wish I could re-do, specifically during my reporting at the refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios, but I have made my peace with it. I hope in the end that I did more good than harm.

The experience reaffirmed for me that my upcoming co-op working on a girls’ education project in Jodhpur, India, is exactly where I need to be next. The role of journalists reporting on conflicts and social issues is immensely important but, for now, I don’t want to just bear witness and record the suffering of others — I want to try to help, and be a part of the solution.

While I learned more about who I am, both as a journalist and a person, I also got to learn more about other people on the trip. I was already lucky enough to be going on this Dialogue with Isaac, who really is one of my closest friends, though my frequent snarky remarks toward him may suggest otherwise. I’ve always been in awe of his incredible writing skills, and I’m so glad that we were able to step outside of our comfort zones together and produce, film and edit our first-ever video story. I’m also thankful that we were able to stop laughing at each other long enough to record our voiceovers and stand-ups (sorry Mike).

DSC_0153
Look! We ARE friends.

Before the trip started, Carlene said she had a gift for choosing roommates and, wow, was she right. I’m not sure how my life was ever complete before I knew Suma Hussien. She is all the good things in the world: funny, talented, smart, adventurous and compassionate, to name a few. I am going to miss all the little things with her: whether it’s getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in our Thessaloniki dorm room because we refused to close our balcony door or talking for hours late at night from our beds in our Athens hotel room.

 

Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait. 

There are so many other people I could go on and on about, but really, our Dialogue must have hit the jackpot for the most talented and kind group of people. I feel like a better person for knowing and working with all of them.

It was great working closely with professors Carlene Hempel and Mike Beaudet, both of whom have been such incredible mentors to me throughout my journalistic career at Northeastern. We were also blessed with amazing people from the American College of Thessaloniki, who never took a day off from suggesting story ideas, teaching us Greek culture and helping out with translations — Theo, Maria, Kristina and Yvonne.

DSC_0352.jpg
Shout out to Mike for suffering through my 1,000 questions about video. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg
IMG_2971.jpg
Big thanks to Carlene for dedicating so much of her time to editing my Chios story. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Okay, you get it, the people were amazing. I know this isn’t an Oscars acceptance speech, but it’s hard not to gush about all of them. Beyond the people who made this trip great, I also had some experiences that I never thought I’d have, many of which left me thanking journalism for keeping my life both interesting and humble. Those include, in no particular order:

  • climbing Mount Olympus, home of the gods
  • seeing the Parthenon for a second time
  • sitting down for iftar dinner during Ramadan with prominent leaders in the Muslim Association of Greece
  • having coffee in the home of a professor as he showed Isaac and me videos of research he did on demonic possessions in Sudan
  • reporting from one of the most overcrowded refugee camps in Greece
  • having dinner and exchanging emails with two exiled Turkish reporters who were imprisoned for more than a decade for their journalism
  • attending the Athens Pride concert celebrating equality and LGBTQ+ identities
  • feeling a spiritual peacefulness at Meteora, a monastery seemingly suspended in the air

There are probably a lot of other life-changing things that I’m forgetting at this point, not to mention all the not-so-big moments that impacted me as well, but it’s time for me to start wrapping up (only about 800 miles away now). 

So I’ll end on this note: Another thing that Carlene said at the beginning of this Dialogue was that if you can do this (meaning this intense five-week reporting program), then you can do anything. I think I finally believe her.

Luke’s Hate List

This blog post has been weeks in the making. We all know our good friend Luke Dean, someone who loves and hates with the entirety of his heart.

Since the early days of Thessaloniki, I have been keeping track of people who Luke says he hates, culminating in a sweeping and thorough hate list.

Some entries have their reasons, some do not. Just like life itself. Some entries may leave you scratching your head in confusion.

You can pretend to fill in the reasons for yourself, but the truth is, you will never fully understand and appreciate the inner mechanisms of Luke’s mind.

IMG_2727IMG_2728

 

The (third to) Last Supper

Nothing is better than good food with a good view and good company.

Yesterday, Isaac and I went to interview a political science professor who studies Islamic traditions for our video story about plans to build Athens’ first public mosque. We struck up a lot of interesting and engaging conversations with him, and after our interview, I asked him if there was anything we had to see in Athens before leaving in three days (now, just two days—ah!)

He suggested Psaras Taverna, a traditional Greek cuisine and seafood restaurant perched atop a hill overlooking the city. When we returned to the hotel after our interview (and a long Metro ride home), Isaac and I were exhausted. We literally face-planted onto my bed. But one thing kept us from falling asleep on the spot—we were also hungry.

We rallied a group of people to follow the professor’s enthusiastic suggestion and head to Psaras. And wow, it did not disappoint!

If anyone is looking for a restaurant to go to on our final night without dinner plans today, I highly recommend this place. Just look at how happy we all are in the photos below:

IMG_2711
Look at these two lovelies that I get to sit next to. Bask in their beauty. / Photo by Luke Dean
IMG_2705
Look at these cute people I get to gaze at from across the table. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

A special thank you to Gerasimos Makris, the professor who not only gave us a great interview, but also wonderful dinner plans (and is a reader of the blog).

Story three & acts of kindness

Blogging can fulfill a lot of purposes—cataloging events, marking down memories, venting frustrations, complaining about annoyances and reflecting on our trip thus far. The past couple days have been filled with a lot of kind acts, big and small, and for this blog post, I wanted to highlight some of them.

The first big act of kindness came two days ago, when Anna Stamou, head of marketing for the Muslim Association of Greece, invited Isaac and me to her home within a day of us contacting her. Isaac and I have been working on a story about the planned construction of the first mosque in Athens (that’s right, Greece’s capital city, with a population of more than 300,000 Muslim people, has no official Islamic house of worship).

Anna is married to Naim Elghandour, the president of the Muslim Association of Greece. They’ve been married for 14 years, have two young children together and are nothing short of an incredible power couple.

Having sources, especially two people as invaluable to our story as Anna and Naim, open up their home to us was a blessing that I’ll never lose sight of. We talked around a dinner table as Naim prepared a salad, with them acting as interested in us—two journalism students from Boston—as we were in them.

IMG_2605.jpg
Isaac interviewing Anna Stamou, marketing director of the Muslim Association of Greece, in her home in the Athens suburb of Ilioupoli. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Later on, Anna and Naim, along with their 10-year-old son and three dinner guests, were getting ready to pray in their garage-turned-prayer-room. Praying is something deeply personal, and while I knew that filming the prayers would be great visually for our project, I feared intruding on their sacred time (feeling intrusive or unwanted is often the worst part of journalism).

However, those feelings barely had time to fester because Anna encouraged us to set up our cameras in their prayer room ahead of time. Having Anna welcome us there during their prayers was a relief, and an extraordinary act of kindness as well.

Anna and Naim both gave wonderful interviews, and they also invited us to sit down and eat with them during their iftar dinner (the meal after sunset during Ramadan in which Muslims break their fast). Though we were invaders in their home, they treated us with the utmost hospitality, with Naim pushing us to eat more and more (a cultural norm for Egyptians like Naim, Anna told us). We had other warm moments with their son Ishmael, who wanted to help us film (which probably wasn’t a bad idea, considering he has as much experience with camera equipment as Isaac and I do).

IMG_0668.JPG
Ishmael Elghandour, 10, monitoring the audio during his father Naim’s interview. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Just as we were leaving, after a fulfilling day of reporting, I felt something dripping from my nose. When I instinctively raised my hand up to it, I saw that my nose was bleeding. We were walking toward our Uber, camera equipment in tow, and I asked Isaac if he had a tissue.

“My nose is bleeding, and I don’t have anything,” I told him.

“I have something you can use,” he said, as we loaded our tripod into the trunk of the car.

When we got in the car, it was dark and Isaac reached down into the floor as if fishing for something out of a bag. Instead, he came back with his own sock, which he had just taken off, and said, “Here, you can use this.”

This story has garnered a range of reactions, from “Aw, that’s so sweet!” (Paxtyn/Suma) to “Oh my god that’s so gross I’m going to throw up” (Hsiang-Yu). But in the moment it felt very sweet, because Isaac was willing to let me wipe my gross bloody nose all over his perfectly good sock, and he didn’t even hesitate before handing it over. It felt like a manifestation of that saying about how a selfless person is someone who would give you the shirt off his/her back.

That concluded our first day of successful video reporting on our third and final story. I think the story topic is very important, and it’s just an added bonus that I get to undergo this new challenge with my best friend.

This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.

“Treat yo self”: Exploring Athens on a rainy day

Yesterday, I woke up on our “free day,” which is really just a code name for “more time to work day.” After our breakfast at the hotel, I dutifully headed over to a coffee shop along with several others to work on blog posts and send out emails for my final story.

After a couple hours, Luke said he was going to head back to the hotel to take a bubble bath and watch “The Handmaid’s Tale.” While I have nothing against baths or that amazing show, it was only just after noon, prime time of the day, and I could not let Luke miss out on a beautiful day in a new city.

tumblr_ojj1eujYRv1qa4l1ko7_540.gif

“NO,” I said to Luke. “You have to go explore the city!” Luke, with a look of confusion in his eyes, asked, “With you?” I paused. I need to blog, I thought. I should send more emails, I told myself. But then I realized that I had already done those things, and I didn’t actually have anything else scheduled for the day. So I told Luke, “Yes!”

Something that I somewhat regret about our three weeks in Thessaloniki is that I didn’t experience the city and enjoy myself as much as I should have. Of course, I came here to work, and my number one priority is having stories to show for my time here. This is an educational experience, not a vacation.

But at the same time, I feel myself being pulled to the city. And in Thessaloniki, there were too many nights spent in my room typing away at stories (which is partially my own fault because I work slowly). A couple weeks ago, when I joined a group from our Dialogue on a Saturday night out, the reactions ranged from: “Olivia, I haven’t seen you in forever!” to “Olivia, I thought you were dead???” That pretty much sums it up.

So on one of our few free days, Luke and I walked through the open air market, window-shopping for souvenirs and talking about life. We were having a lovely time when suddenly, dark grey clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. It started pouring rain out of nowhere, and Luke and I took refuge inside a church. We had unknowingly stumbled upon a gem.

The church that housed us when we were cold and wet. / Photos by Olivia Arnold

After walking around the church and appreciating its artwork, we decided to brave the rain and go outside again, but it was relentlessly soaking us. We needed to make a game plan. So we decided to head to the nearest cafe. But first, we took a selfie.

IMG_2560.JPG
Our reactions to being caught in the middle of torrential downpour in Athens. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
The torrential downpour in Athens that we were caught in the middle of (see reactions above). / Video by Olivia Arnold 

We ducked into a nearby cafe and snagged the last remaining seats, which happened to be located at the bar. We deliberated over what to get—coffee, maybe? Scanning the menu, Luke asked, “Rosé?” It was a special Rosé, one from the Greek island of Crete. “It’s only 2 p.m.,” I responded—a  bit early for wine.

But then, Luke uttered words that had never been more true: “It’s our free day.” He was right.

Treat-Yo-Self.gif

It was our free day, and we were trapped in this cafe for the foreseeable future. And so we ordered our Rosé, and began a day of revelry. We also ordered some spicy cheese dip that was really, really good.

IMG_2563
How it all began—with Rosé and spicy cheese dip. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

From there, our “treat yo self” day continued for the next five hours. Highlights included: four bar/restaurants (each with unique atmospheres), being the only ones on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis, enjoying live Greek music, sifting through absurd amounts of Hawaiian shirts and kimonos at a thrift store, Luke involuntarily reacting with disgust when a waitress told him they didn’t accept American Express and being rejected in our sad attempt to get a bartender to play “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus. Also, a few glasses of Bloody Mary’s and Sangria were involved.

Our view from the 360 Cocktail Bar. / Video by Olivia Arnold

Overall, it was a wonderful day. It was a great way to get a feel for the city, and the best part was that we were engaged, talking the whole time, and I got to know Luke a lot better (he’s great).

Today is a new day, Monday, and now we are back to work. I’m currently sitting at a Coffee Island down the road from our hotel as I write this, reminiscing about our day of fun. Though we may not be able to enjoy rooftop bars every day (Luke may quite literally have gone broke, Theo is considering starting a lunch fund for him), I’ll always have the memories to warm my heart as I go back to working hard on my stories again.

IMG_2583.jpg
I have to admit that my workspace at the moment has a pretty killer view.  / Photo by Olivia Arnold

One year later, at the Acropolis again

Almost exactly a year ago, I went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with my family that made several stops in Greece—one of them, of course, being Athens. With only a day there, we did what all tourists do and headed to the Acropolis.

Two days ago, our group toured the Acropolis and its archeological museum. Finding yourself in the same spot a year later but thousands of miles away from home is a strange thing. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I was there, and think about how my life has changed since I first looked at the Parthenon with fresh eyes.

IMG_9009.jpg
My brother, mom and me in front of the Parthenon in July 2016.

A year ago, I had just finished up my sophomore year at Northeastern and my first co-op at The Boston Globe. I was newly in a relationship with my boyfriend, who I’ve now been dating for over a year. I hadn’t yet tackled my junior year or started as an editor and later editor-in-chief of The Huntington News. I hadn’t moved into my first apartment or accepted my upcoming fall co-op at the Institute of Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development in Jodhpur, India.

Sitting in the museum, I remembered the wonderful tour that my mom, dad, brother and grandma received around the building, and the blazing heat that we endured when climbing the steps to the top of the Acropolis. I felt a pang of homesickness wishing that they were there with me again.

At first, when I heard this Dialogue was going to be in Greece, I was slightly disappointed that it was in a country I had already been to. But now four weeks into our Dialogue, I’ve realized that these two experiences could not be more different.

Our visit to the Parthenon reinforced this idea for me. Even though I was walking around the same museum and looking at the same ancient temple, I was experiencing it with different people. And I was a slightly different person myself. It’s like reading the same book twice—you always pick up on something new, or at least gain a deeper understanding or appreciation.

One year later, some parts of life have changed for me, but one thing remained the same: the Parthenon was magical.

IMG_2597
Isabelle and me mid-climb of the Acropolis. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten
IMG_1248 (1).jpg
Luke and me being cute next to the Parthenon. / Photo by Suma Hussien
IMG_2704
Sophie and me at the top of the Acropolis. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten

This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.

Photos: Ferry becomes a sunset cruise

Yesterday, we had a relaxing and rejuvenating day at the beach on the Greek island of Aegina. We swam, we tanned, we ate seafood. Some of us left sun-kissed, while others rocked more of a lobster red shade (namely me, Danny and Paxtyn).

A group of us took the last ferry back to Athens at 7:30 p.m. and we were lucky enough to witness a magnificent sunset along the way. Though I usually write long-winded blog posts that cover every detail of our trip, I’m opting this time to highlight one small thing that made me happy, and provided a special moment for us all to share together.

IMG_2548
The view of the sunset from the deck of our ferry back to Athens. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
DSC_0370
Me watching the sunset. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg, braids by Paxtyn Merten
DSC_0371.jpg
Me again watching as the sun dips further down. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg
IMG_2549
The sun left behind rays of golden lights and a purple and pink sky. / Photo by Olivia Arnold