A small tragedy

Disclaimer: This title of this post prompted a worried text from my father. This blog post is a joke. It is about cake. No reason for alarm.

I was having a wonderful day at the American College of Thessaloniki on Tuesday when tragedy unexpectedly hit. I’ll explain.

Our language class with Maria was great as always. There was even a special treat: she made us halva, a traditional Greek dessert made with olive oil, semolina, honey and sugar. Class was followed by an engaging presentation about Greece’s economic crisis and the European Union by George Anastasiadis, an economics adjunct professor at ACT and an advisor for international hedge funds looking to invest in Greece.

But then, as I was diligently doing work in the cafeteria, Hsiang-Yu presented what initially seemed to be an incredible opportunity: having a bite of her chocolate cake. I was eyeing the chocolate cake earlier when we first arrived at ACT, but had decided at the time that 9 a.m. was too early to consume such a dessert. Now, I had a second chance.

Just look at this beautiful chocolate cake offered to us at our very own college cafeteria. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

As I tried to scoop some of the cake, my heart beating with excitement, my plastic spoon inexplicably snapped—despite the fact that the chocolate cake was SOFT. Modern science will never be able to explain the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. I suspect a wormhole opened up at the exact minute that my spoon grazed the cake, and some malicious energy source that has not yet been discovered by man destroyed my spoon.

Me with my broken spoon and Hsiang-Yu’s uneaten chocolate cake. / Photo by Hsiang-Yu Wu

The wormhole may have broken my spoon, but it couldn’t break my spirit. I continued to eat my couple of bites with the bowl of the spoon (I made Isaac look up what this part of the spoon is called, referring to it as the “scoopy thing”).

The cake was amazing, as expected, and it tasted even better knowing that I had persevered in the face of unexpected tragedy.


When you’re not with your mom on Mother’s Day…

It’s Mother’s Day today and I have a lot of wonderful strong women in my life to be grateful for. I was inspired by Carlene’s post to write something up myself about today’s holiday.

My mom with my brother Jared and me, circa 2001.

This is the second consecutive Mother’s Day that I’m spending away from home, and somehow my mom keeps finding it in her heart to forgive me. That’s because she is endlessly supportive of me. Just look at how the woman responds to a simple text of me digging for praise for getting on the right bus in Thessaloniki:

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No one gives you high praise quite like your mom.

In addition to offering support, my mom has a lot of great qualities—she is creative, passionate, intelligent, ambitious, funny, strong. She is the first person I call when I’m overwhelmed, and she always knows what to say to calm me down. When I’m upset with other people, she helps me see things from their perspective and empathize with them.

She does everything with her whole heart. She wants everyone to be treated with kindness. She would do anything for me and my brother. She has taught me how to be independent, and to live courageously.

My mom is also a badass feminist. We visited Seneca Falls in New York a couple years ago.

Mother’s Day may be a scheme to sell Hallmark cards and flowers, but I’m buying into it. Because it’s really not too much to ask to take the time out of your day once a year to remind your mother that you appreciate her.

So Mom, I appreciate you. Happy Mother’s Day. Much love always.

Photos: Students explore open air market

Our group is lucky enough to be staying right down the street from a local gem: an open air market.

The market runs every Saturday, and offers goods ranging from household products and clothing to fresh fruit and fish. The market scene was overwhelming—with customers clogging the streets and vendors yelling encouragements to purchase their products.

Amid the hectic atmosphere of the market, I was able to snag a box of strawberries for 2.50 euro, which ended up being delicious. I’m hoping to go back to the market again before we leave to pick up some more fruits and veggies.

Paxtyn, Ellie and I walking around the open air market in Thessaloniki. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
Paxtyn eyeing the extensive candy selection. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
Paxtyn bagging up her prized candies. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
One of the many vendors selling fish at the market. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
A man weighs strawberries at a market stand. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
Me searching for the best strawberries. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten
Me again, buying those strawberries. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten 
The strawberries I bought from the market—which were delicious. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Thessaloniki book fair brings publishers together as industry suffers


The Thessaloniki International Book Fair started 14 years ago to promote cultural exchanges among international publishers. But after nearly a decade of the economic crisis in Greece, the country’s book industry is hurting.

“The truth is that every year, less and less visitors come to visit. And I think this is because people for some reason don’t read as much as they used to,” says Anastasis Chariopolitis, who runs the Parisianou Publications booth at the book fair. “One part of this is because of the economy, and the other is because of the digital era we’re living in.”

The Thessaloniki International Book Fair, which runs May 11 to 14 this year, is an annual event that typically attracts 400 book publishers. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The Economic Times in India reported last year that, since 2008, more than 400 small bookstores and larger chains have closed in Greece. A devastating sign came in September 2016 when Eleftheroudakis, the largest bookstore in Greece, shut its doors after 118 years of business. The bookstore, located in Athens, offered a wide range of books from and about Greece, along with English-language books, maps and travel guides.

Eleftheroudakis began as a family-run bookstore in 1898 and later blossomed into a chain with branches in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos and Alexandroupoli. One by one, the shops became victims of Greece’s debt crisis, with the Athens location marking the final closure.

“We are preparing our next ‘bookshop,’ but we will not do it as long as there is not a positive and stable business environment in our country,” the Eleftheroudakis family said in a statement at the time.

At the Thessaloniki book fair, Ethel Kidoniati, an account manager for the Athens-based company Eurasia Publications, says she does not believe E-books are to blame for the industry’s financial woes. Eurasia Publications, which is run by Kidoniati’s brother, offers genres including philosophy, history and economics.

“Through the years, because of the economic crisis, less publishers are coming, less and less people [are buying],” Kidoniati says of the book fair. “It’s been very bad. The economic crisis affects the books.”

Chariopolitis says financial hardship likewise hit Parisianou Publications, which is located in Athens and publishes poetry, children’s books and histories.  

“This company I’m working with, [in] the last almost 10 years, lost almost half—50 percent down in sales,” he says.

Anastasis Chariopolitis, a salesperson at Parisianou Publications, says the company is exploring printing books for other companies to increase its revenue. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Thanasis Sylivos, who is operating another booth at the book fair, helped launch the Greek music magazine Metronomos 16 years ago. Sylivos, 45, now owns Metronomos, which has grown into a newspaper and magazine company in Athens. He says he believes that Greeks genuinely want to buy books, but just do not have the money to spare anymore.

“Before, five, six years [ago], [people would] maybe come by, buy six or seven books. Now, one or two,” he says.

Thanasis Sylivos, the owner of Metronomos, says he believes the Greek economic crisis hurt his company’s sales. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Though the future of the book industry in Greece seems uncertain, several people say they still think of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair as a fun celebration of what they love most.

“We love books,” Kidoniati says. “It helps the culture…the education, everything. We believe in the industry.”

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

Day 1 reflections

After my second full day in Thessaloniki, I feel like I’m finally able to begin processing what has happened so far.

First impressions: The city is beautiful. I want to pet all the stray animals even though Carlene told me not to. Greek is a really hard language to pick up.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

We kicked off our first day yesterday with a walking tour around downtown Thessaloniki. We met at 8:20 a.m., which I would normally consider brutally early, but I was completely fine for considering I had been up since 6 a.m.

I had gone to bed the night before at 9 p.m., shortly after returning from our welcome dinner in which I struggled to keep my eyes open while scarfing down pizza at Casa Bianca. I felt particularly lucky that morning as other students complained about grappling with their jet lag—waking up at 3 a.m. or only sleeping a couple hours. Meanwhile, I slept comfortably for nine hours throughout the night without even stirring.

I remarked to Carlene that, after feeling close to passing out from exhaustion the night before, I had never felt so alive. My morale was high as I hopped onto a public bus along with the rest of our group to head downtown and meet our tour guide.

The walking tour was a wonderful chance to take in the atmosphere of the city. I found my eyes bouncing all around, hoping to catch glimpses of passing people and snippets of their conversations (even though I mostly couldn’t understand the language).

A man stands near the edge of the waterfront. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The tour featured an inside look at the Rotunda, a monument constructed in the early 4th century supposedly as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius, though it never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it was transformed into a Christian church, then a Muslim mosque and then a Christian church again. Today, the Rotunda is a museum and the oldest monument in Thessaloniki.

The purpose of the Rotunda changed several times throughout the centuries. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

In addition to checking off seeing the Rotunda on my Thessaloniki bucket list, I was fascinated throughout the city by the preservation of ancient monuments in the middle of bustling urban areas. The old structures looked out of place amid their modern surroundings.

Ancient structures coexist with modern buildings in Thessaloniki’s downtown area. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

I also noticed graffiti covering nearly every surface in the city—businesses, residential apartments, street lamps. Much of the graffiti conveyed anti-police or anti-capitalist sentiments, reflecting local frustrations amid Greece’s ongoing economic crisis.

Most importantly, Thessaloniki has the most adorable stray cats and dogs all over the place. A couple of dogs started following our group around and when I looked into their sad eyes, I really felt like we had a connection. As I mentioned earlier, Carlene specifically instructed us not to pet the animals, so I refrained—my most difficult task of the trip thus far.

A stray dog with sad eyes followed our tour group around. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

After our walking tour, I sat down with a couple others to grab gyros, Greece’s classic on-the-go meal. It was my first gyro since my trip to Greece last summer, and it was just as good as I remembered (even better, since I was tired and hungry after the tour).

I’m all smiles just before devouring a gyro, my favorite Greek food. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Though these experiences were enough for us to call it an enriching day, we didn’t stop there. We headed over to the U.S. Consulate, where Consul General Rebecca A. Fong gave our group a presentation about her career in diplomacy and then fielded a wide range of questions about Greece’s economic and refugee crises. She spoke about dealing with the unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy objectives, but upholding her patriotism throughout years of changing administrations.

The talk was incredible, and I was pleasantly surprised with how candid Fong was with our group and how much time she set aside to talk with us. I was also honored to be in the presence of one of the few high-ranking female diplomats.

Overall, the day was perfect. If the first day is any indication of how the trip will go, I can’t wait for all that I will learn, see and experience. 

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

What’s in my kitchen?

We’ve been in Thessaloniki for less than a day now. I’ve only managed to catch glimpses of the city so far, mostly through a sleep-deprived haze after 15+ hours of traveling.

Along with my roommate Suma, I’m staying in a studio apartment with two beds, two desks, a bathroom, a kitchenette and a balcony.

Though we were beyond exhausted yesterday, we still had to go food shopping—because you need to eat, right?

We picked up the basics, and I found that I really loved the look of the food labels in Greek. Check them out:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!